when pictures fail me…
At an age when most young girls are hanging at the mall exploring shades of lipstick, Lisa King was spending her time exploring the local woodlands of upstate New York. Now she leads botanical workshops at Heathen Hill Guest House and Retreat Center in the Catskills. An upcoming weekend retreat in July entitled “Wonderful Weeds and Whoopie Yoga” promises a full plate: foraging and preparing edibles, learning herbal preparations and flower essences, and yoga with Susan “Lip” Orem.
YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts recently joined Lisa for a “weed walk” at Heathen Hill to learn more about what is growing right outside our doors, and how to look at weeds in a new light.
Sharon Watts: So, despite the bad rap, we need weeds. Why?
Lisa King: Plants that grow in areas we don’t want them become labeled as weeds. But these plants are incredibly high in nutrients which support microorganisms, earthworms, and other living things in the soil. Before pharmaceuticals, we relied on medicinal plants, or, “weeds.”
SW: What do you offer here at Heathen Hill?
Lisa King: We have all the most common, and beneficial, native plants, including the most obvious—dandelion. Along the perimeter path you will find plantain, peppermint, yellow dock, cleavers, colts foot, burdock, jewel weed, lambs quarters, lady’s mantle, comfrey, calendula, and lemon balm. Just to name a few.
SW: So let’s start with dandelion. When I was a little girl, we would hold the blossom under our chins to see if we “liked butter.” What else is it good for?
LK: My favorite! All parts of the dandelion contain medicinal constituents—the blossoms can be made into jelly or honey, and contain lutein (a nutrient needed for healthy eyes), antioxidants, immune system boosters, and lecithin, which nourishes the brain and nervous system. The young leaves have long been a health food delicacy, high in iron, calcium, folic acid, potassium, and many vitamins and constituents. The roots are valued for their ability to act as a diuretic, strengthening the liver, gall bladder, and kidneys. The dandelion qualifies as an alternative herb—one that gradually restores the proper functions of the body and increases health and vitality.
SW: How about bug bites?
LK: The common plantain is perfect for bug bites (also rashes, stings, cuts, and scratches), with its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Take a plantain leaf, tear and crush, or chew it, then place it directly over the area to treat. This will speed recovery, prevent infection, and take the swelling down.
SW: Anything for poison ivy?
LK: Poison ivy rash can be treated with Jewel Weed. The juicy stems provide a soothing gel. It can often be found growing near poison ivy.
SW: How did you first become interested in this field?
LK: I read Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when I was thirteen, and they struck a chord. I’ve always immersed myself in the natural world. During the late 60s through the 70s, the collective urge to become one with nature was so prevalent and vital. Nutrition and natural healing have always been part of my passions. A book I refer to now is The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair.
SW: When did you learn about their healing properties?
LK: I helped run an organic dairy farm, where I participated in a medicinal herb growers group. We were given a variety of seedlings to cultivate and from there I immersed myself in herbal studies. I experimented on our cows, addressing mastitis, an infection in the udder treated with antibiotics by conventional farmers. We milled our own grain using echinacea, a natural antibiotic and immune system booster, and garlic, an antibacterial. Cows are large—it takes a lot to treat a one! Our results were impressive—and our barn smelled like an Italian restaurant!
Later I moved to Asheville, North Carolina for two summers and attended the Appalachian School of Herbal Medicine.
SW: You also are the creative food person here at Heathen Hill. Do you grow most of what you prepare?
LK: We are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, so—yes! We are mostly vegan and can cater to gluten-free diets. However, we also have our own chickens for natural and cruelty-free eggs.
SW: You have a Heathen Hill cookbook as well as your all-natural herbal beauty cremes and concoctions for sale on the premises. Tell me about them.
LK: All my balms are made with herb-infused olive oil, bound with raw beeswax. I often use Self Heal (Prunella Vulgaris) and Calendula, both broad spectrum, promote rapid healing, and the calendula nourishes the skin.
The Heal All Salve was my first skin care product and continues to be a top seller. It contains local herbs, all of which have strong healing properties, The Bug Bee Gone is a natural insect repellent. It’s a combination of herbs and essential oils that are known to be offensive to pesky bugs, mosquitos and ticks. It smells good and is safe for everyone, children and pets included. One of my newer products that is proving to be a winner is St. John’s Wort Balm. It was designed for my own use to help relieve the pain and inflammation I was experiencing in my hands during the busy gardening season.
SW: What can we expect from your workshop weekend?
LK: Well, a healthy, yummy lunch, for one thing! You will turn other weeds into herbal preparations: teas, decoctions, salves and creams. During the weekend we will be mindful of flowers, discovering clues behind the science of their soul-healing essences. You will learn how to make a flower essence, and more importantly, how to identify which flowers will help to heal you. And there will be a yoga class on Sunday with Susan, to tie up the package.
My weed walk ends and I am just in time for a restorative yoga class filled with some Catskill locals. The sound of birds chirping and the scent of green drifts in the windows as we settle into bolsters and blankets. Yes, it’s summertime—ripe for getting out of the city and going barefoot up here at Heathen Hill.