31 Aug 2010
How to describe this place
After several months of excitement and planning I have finally made it to the Botanical Sanctuary in Ohio run by United Plant Savers. It is rather as if I have reached ‘herbal nirvana’! The site is huge, extending over hundreds of acres with numerous marked trails including the ‘Medicine Trail’. Although it is autumn and hot, at least 30 degrees this week, the whole area is green and lush with squeaking crickets a constant background. Everywhere I look there are fantastic herbs from Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea species) in the prairie area to Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis) in the woodland area. The whole thing is dedicated to conservation of medicinal plants through research and education. For myself and 4 others on the internship placment lasting 6 weeks, this is a great chance to work on the site and learn about these plants, and meet some amazing people who have dedicated themselves to this work.
At first sight, many plants in the grass seem vaguely familiar, indeed there is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Plantain (Plantago major). But in the woods, there is a great difference and nothing is easy to recognise. There are numerous varieties of Oak (Black, Red, and White), lots of Buckeye ( a kind of Horsechestnut), Sycamore, Maple and Pawpaw. There are many wayside plants with great use for bites and stings including the bright orange-flowered Jewelweed. This is said to be good for the horrible rash caused by Poison Ivy which lurks everywhere. And many names jump out from hand-painted slate labels because they are plants which are on the dispensary shelf – Black Cohosh, Witchhazel, and much more. Whenever our guide and team leader, Sasha, takes us out on a trail, we spend so much longer than planned because there is so much to see and discuss. As we go we talk about tasks including fixing broken signs, clearing invasive plants, shifting fallen branches on the path, and much more.
Just 2 days in and I feel exhausted by so much to do and see, but it is not all hard work. The other interns are great cooks and fun to be with. There are hot showers and rooms kitted out with comfortable beds. We are still discussing all that we hope to do. Someone is coming to tell us about Ginseng cultivation tomorrow. In a few days there will be a herb course run in the local area and we should be able to get involved. There is a Pawpaw festival soon and we can volunteer in exchange for free entry to lots of interesting workshops. There is a Farmers Market in a town about 25 minutes drive away. Getting around is tough without a car and we are negotiating lefts with people in the local community who have been very friendly and supportive. And today i got to harvest and process real Witchhazel leaves and twigs!