What do you know about wild plants?
Have you ever considered what you would do if there were no grocery stores? What if you had to go out into nature and get your own food?
Would you know which plants are edible? Which ones you can cook or process and eat? And which ones are poisonous?
I’m asking you these questions because I recently went on a half-day guided trip into nature where I quickly realized that, despite many past trips into nature and the wild, I was virtually clueless about the natural environment around me.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. After all, with all the conveniences of modern day living, there seems to be almost no need to understand the natural world around us. But I have to ask you:
Is our modern world making you sick?
Despite all of our modern day conveniences, do you ever get stressed or feel anxious? Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night? Do you feel like you need to exercise more? That you need to eat less – or eat healthier?
The problem (as I see it) is that our modern day world is making too many of us more stressed and chronically ill than ever before.
What, then, do wild plants have to do with any of this? Well… They directly and indirectly have everything to do with our modern day ills. Let me explain…but first I want to ask you:
What in our modern world is making you sick?
There are so many things in our modern lives that contribute to our un-wellness – also known as dis-ease. Take, for instance, toxins in the food we eat, the air we breath and the water we drink; artificial lighting that contributes to cell damage and poor sleep, a lack of connection to our community; and the overall stresses of modern day living with our constant go-go-go.
The solutions to these problems is too often to medicate or otherwise numb the pain of everyday life – with things like prescribed and over-the-counter medications, drugs, and alcohol.
Here I’m offering a better solution. It’s something that generally doesn’t come with the negative downsides and side-effects of drugs and alcohol. So then, next question for you:
What’s the solution to all of your modern day problems?
Two words: Wild plants. That is, the solution to many of your problems can be found by getting back to nature. And you can do this by getting to know the wild plants in your environment.
Here are the 7 things you should know about wild plants:
1. Wild plants are a means to get you back to nature.
By investigating wild plants you are getting back to your natural environment. This means you’re getting away from the artificial environment that’s been constructed to make your life easier.
But, for better and worse, your body isn’t very well adapted to such an easy lifestyle. Rather, your body is designed to live with stress. And I’m not talking about the stress that comes with your job, financial concerns, etc. Rather, I’m talking about stressors like:
- Cold weather.
- Scarcity of food.
- Plants that make you sick.
- Animals that can kill you.
- Moving your body (or what you might call exercise).
Check this out to find out more about these beneficial (hormetic) stressors.
Getting back to nature puts you in an environment that is familiar to your biology. Thus, overall,
2. Getting back to nature calms you.
In this review, researchers summarize the research that has been conducted in this area since 1992. They conducted field experiment, involving 420 subjects at 35 different forests throughout Japan. After sitting in natural surroundings, these subjects showed decrease in the following physiological parameters compared with those in an urban control group:
- 12.4% decrease in the cortisol level,
- 7.0% decrease in sympathetic nervous activity,
- 1.4% decrease in systolic blood pressure, and
- 5.8% decrease in heart rate.
In addition, it should be noted that parasympathetic nervous activity was enhanced by 55.0%, indicating a relaxed state.
3. Getting back to nature helps you sleep better.
What happens in our modern world when we have artificial lights on at night while we stare at the screens of our various devices? Though the answer is more complex, essentially you ruin the quality of your sleep.
What you should be doing instead… is turning off all artificial lights at night (at about the time the sun sets) and going to sleep within a few hours thereafter. If you must have some lights on at night, be sure to dim them as much as possible. Also make sure you’re using incandescent or halogen lights rather than the more disruptive fluorescent and LED lights.
Ideally you’ll awake to natural light at sunrise. This ideal amount of light and darkness helps to set your natural circadian rhythm by producing melatonin (which helps you sleep) at the right times of the day.
You want to produce melatonin when you go to bed at night. If you’re looking at blue lights that come from artificial lights then you are delaying your melatonin release and delaying quality sleep.
Conversely when you awake to natural sunlight it tells your body to stop producing melatonin so you awake alert and refreshed.
If you really want an effective way to set your circadian rhythm and improve your sleep quality, there’s a better way: camp outside (far from artificial lights and) under the stars. And don’t use any artificial lights. This will ensure you’re getting the right amount of light.
4. Harvesting wild plants keeps you in shape.
Of course the act of getting out in nature and harvesting wild plants means that you’re moving your body. This is a good thing and will help to keep you in shape. But don’t just take my word for it. Check out this article that tells you how access to nature reduces depression and obesity.
5. Wild plants are a source of food.
I suppose this point should be obvious to you. However, I have lived most of my 40+ years in Colorado making frequent trips to the mountains. During these trips I would hike, mountain bike, camp, snowboard and do other outdoor activities. And looking back at all these years of trips into nature, I never really cared to think much about the plants around me.
It took a simple half day in a forest north of Los Angeles to rediscover the plants around me and the benefits they provide (as well as dangers to watch out for!).
6. Wild plants are useful to you for more than just food.
During this trip I also learned that plants can be used as cordage. That is, you can use many plants to make rope, baskets and many other things.
7. Wild plants can help you make fire.
At the end of the class we used some basic materials to start fires. Of course you can simply carry matches and lighters with you – which is highly recommended. However, it is comforting to know that we often have the resources around us to build our own fire – without the need for lighters or matches.
8. (bonus!) Wild plants can help you self-medicate.
This isn’t something we discussed in the class but this is something that could prove useful for you if you want to find ways to help remedy diseases. After all, our modern medicine – with all its prescription medications – are often based on ingredients extracted from nature.
What can you do to improve your health now?
Get outside, in the wild, in nature and get to know the plants and world around you!