The first week of July comes to a close, and the second half of our year 2019 commences. July shows the colors of deep summer as the bright blue heads of the chicory wave along the roadside. The pale, muted flowers of springtime have changed to the flamboyant oranges of the pleurisy root and the common day lily, and the woods are lush and green.
It seems that these attractive flowers of chicory were once used for medicinal purposes, and also for food. To my surprise, I discovered that chicory roots are boiled and eaten with butter. I have always thought that chicory roots were used only when they were roasted and ground, to add a bitter, mellow taste to coffee, and also used as a substitute for coffee.
In American Indian texts, the whole plant was used as a medicine (heart, digestive, stomach and liver tonic). In the “Back to Eden” book by Jethro Kloss, he made the statement, “God has provided the remedy for every disease that afflicts us.” I feel that many of the wild herbs and flowers hold the answer to our afflictions. I’m tempted to try out the boiled chicory roots.
Pleurisy root, also called butterfly weed, is part of the milkweed family. Its beautiful deep orange color attracts the Monarch butterfly, as the larvae dines on the leaves. The attractive color of this plant is often used in flowerbeds, and was once used as a medicine for infections of the respiratory tract. It was also used for wet coughs, stomach problems, colds, smallpox, influenza, whooping cough, pleurisy (hence the name) and bronchitis. There is not enough scientific information for this herb, but there must have been some evidence of its usefulness as it was so widely used.
I saw the mullein plant with its tall yellow flowers blooming beside the road this week, and its woolly leaves reminded me of the fairy houses we used to construct on the road bank. We dug out a square, which we furnished with miniature furniture. An empty matchbox made a perfect bed, and the fuzzy mullein leaves made velvet blankets.
However, Daddy had another use for the plant. He swore by it for a deep chest cold, although I can never remember taking it. One time my late daughter-in-law, Sarah, was suffering from such a cold. I took mullein leaves and boiled them in milk, and approached her with a cup of it. I remember how she screeched and backed away from me. “Stay away from me,” she shouted. “I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 10-foot pole!” I couldn’t get close to her, and now I don’t know if it was effective or not.
In Appalachia, the plant has been used to treat colds, and the boiled root administered for croup. The yellow flowers constitute the active ingredient, and oil has been derived from them to soothe earache. There has not been enough research done on this plant to find out what all its properties can accomplish. What research has been done shows that it has expectorant and cough suppressant properties that makes it useful for symptomatic treatment of sore throat and croup. Antiviral activity of mullein has been reported against herpes and influenza. It makes me wonder just how many herbs grow in our mountains that could be used for various ailments.
Along with the wild herbs, the wild black raspberries are getting ripe, and the blackberries were turning red. Andy said the blackberries were hanging heavy on their briers a few days ago, and when he checked later, it seemed that a blight had hit them. Criss wondered if the constant rainy weather and hot sun after had literally cooked them. I guess time will tell if we have any blackberries.
There is nothing much better than a fresh black raspberry pie, unless it is freezer jam made from the berries. Our hills produce so much delicious wild food that it is a shame not to make use of it. When we were kids, we waited eagerly for the blackberries to ripen. After we picked all that Mom required, we were allowed to pick some to sell. We received the magnanimous sum of 50 cents a gallon.
There are other wild foods in season, although I have never attempted to try this one. When our son Mike worked at Carbide, he had a new taste experience. One of the men he worked with brought deep fried locust bloom and heated it up in the microwave oven for the men. Mike said it looked like potato cakes, and had been spiced up with some sort of hot sauce in the batter. He said it was really tasty, and promised to get me the recipe. Unfortunately, we don’t have locust bloom in our area here so I never did get to try it.
Gardens are finally beginning to produce some vegetables. Our yellow squash is coming on, tender and tasty. We like to share our produce with neighbors, and give some to our friends. It seems that the more we share, the more the Lord increases our yield. I’m so thankful that we live in a neighborhood (up the holler!) where neighbors feel like kinfolk! We are happy for them when good fortune comes their way, and grieve with them when sorrow comes. We have neighbors on up the holler that we have come to love. She is a Korean War bride, and shares her cuisine with us.
She makes the best egg rolls I have ever eaten, and brought me fried rice with shrimp on her birthday! You can’t out give her — we shared some early yellow squash with her, and the next day she brought down squash casserole! Thank you, Chin! You are a blessing to us!
We hope everyone had a delightful and safe Fourth of July. When I was growing up, our family usually went to Big Laurel Creek that flows into Elk River for a picnic. Those old times are a bright spot in my memory and it seems that as a person grows older, they relive the past so much. I am thankful for the blessings of the past, and that I still have the mind to remember them.
Quotation by Brigham Young, “True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what is right.”