PHOTO: Rachael Brugger
Since moving to our farm, I’ve been in complete awe of the landscape. Not only in the diversity that exists on our acreage—forests, pasture, creeks, ponds—but also the way it has changed in the short time that we’ve been living here. Despite numerous camping and hiking trips, and time spent in my urban garden, I’ve never had the luxury of being this up close and personal with nature. Every day is like a seek-and-find game—there’s always a new plant waiting to be discovered.
On move-in day, our property was awash with daisies, the cheery white flowers spread as far as the eye could see. Daisies soon turned over to butterfly milkweed, and then black-eyed Susans started punctuating the pastures. Now it’s all about wild bergamot, with clumps of the wild-headed purple flowers growing with abandon. Hidden among tall grasses, I’ve spotted St. John’s wort and cinquefoil, and not so hard to spot have been wild blackberries and autumn olives. Just now, ironweed is starting to show it’s colors, and I’m looking forward to what else is in store for late summer and fall.
Part of the fun of this little game is that I’ve gotten to identify plants I’d only read about in books or experienced in their dried form and learn more about how they can contribute to the health of our land and of our bodies. Do you want to join in the fun, too? Below is a selection of flowers I’ve spotted on my farm. Try to identify the flower first (I’ll provide some hints in the text below), and then slide the bar left to reveal the true identification. Tally up your correct guesses, and let me know how you do!
Wildflower No. 1
Hint: I learned to identify this flower a long time ago as a little girl. The legend behind the flower (aka wild carrot) says a member of royalty was sewing a particular garment when she pricked her finger and a drop of blood fell in the center. You can distinguish this flower from others in its family because of a little red flower found among the white.
Wildflower No. 2
Hint: The heads of this plant eventually develop purplish flowers that are arranged almost like a UFO. The spiky dried flower heads were once used to “tease” wool into fleece.
Wildflower No. 3
Hint: The wood of this evergreen is praised for its sturdiness and for the lovely scent of its wood. What you might not know is that the berries can be chewed to cure mouth sores or a tea can be made from them to expel intestinal worms.
Wildflower No. 4
Hint: A signature trait of this plant is the leaves, which grow in a cross shape and, when held up to the sun, appear to be perforated with a needle. You’ll likely be harvesting the blooms for a skin-relieving salve or anti-depressant tea around June 24, the birthday of its namesake.
Wildflower No. 5
Hint: This cheery yellow flower is cousin to the daisy and Echinacea.
Wildflower No. 6
Hint: This flower is a biennial. During its second year, it sends up a tall stalk with yellow flowers on it. All parts of the plant have a different medicinal use, from soothing earaches to calming coughs. It’s even known as nature’s toilet paper because of its soft leaves.
Wildflower No. 7
Hint: This is one of the hidden gems I found on the farm. An introduced species from Eurasia, it can be used as a poultice for cuts and wounds. A more mystical belief says it can be used in “love potions”—which I take as a good sign for Mr. B and me as we transition into life as newlyweds.
Wildflower No. 8
Hint: This is butterfly candy. While I recently learned that parts of the plant are edible, if you have any in your pastures, just let it be. The butterflies will thank you.
Wildflower No. 9
Hint: The root of this plant is known as poor man’s coffee, so if you’re looking to skip the caffeine, mix it with some roasted dandelion root in some tea for a farm-based bitter brew.
Wildflower No. 10
Hint: This is the plant I’m obsessed with this season. I love to say it’s Latin name because it rolls off the tongue so playfully. A plant in the mint family, it’s particularly helpful as a cough and cold remedy. In fact, I think I’m going to infuse some in our freshly harvested honey to have on hand for the winter.
Wildflower No. 11
Hint: This is another bee and butterfly favorite—in fact, just the other day I spotted a monarch caterpillar noshing on one. This plant is also known as pleurisy root because the root is helpful in treating lung and chest conditions. Avoid letting your animals graze on it, though, because parts of the plant can be toxic to them in its more mature stage.
Identifying Your Farm’s Plants
If you also want to learn more about what’s growing wild on your property, there are a number of resources that are there to help. I have a trusty regional plant identification book and tree dichotomous key that I consult for everything—I carry them with me when I’m out hiking. There are also some websites, including the USDA’s PLANTS Database and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, that make excellent resources. For those tricky plants where you want a second opinion, check out a number of Facebook groups dedicated to plant I.D., including “Plant Identification,” “Plant Ident 101,” and “Edible Wild Plants.” And, of course, nothing beats hitting your land with an experienced forager, forester or naturalist—these people are a wealth of knowledge, and I always learn something new when I go on a hike with one of them.
I do want to point out that if you’re foraging plants for their edible or medicinal qualities, like I usually am, make sure you have a positive identification of the plant before you use it. Know the plants’ dangerous look-alikes—especially in the carrot family—and if you have any doubt about if it’s safe to consume, leave it for the bees and butterflies to enjoy.