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I wish I knew sooner about yard walks. It never even occurred to me that people did this, but when I did, I loved it.
Now, I owe my friend, Kaye, for introducing me to yard walks.
YARD WALK: a stroll around your own backyard with an expert in identifying herbs (and other plants), who can tell you the story behind the herb. Is it is medicinal, edible, toxic, native, invasive, infamous, or forgotten? It’s a good time. You should organize a party around it.
Kaye bought a new house last year. Instead of inviting us to a pretty traditional housewarming and touring everyone through all the rooms on the inside of the house, she made her first get-together about the outdoors. Most of us can relate to her feelings about indoor tours causing too much pressure to paint and clean and unpack. Most of us have said, “Oh you gotta see the new place. Some time, when it’s ready, I’ll have you over.” Instead of procrastinating and pretending like she would ever feel ready for a full-blown housewarming party, Kaye invited us to a yard walk at the new place.
There are so many interesting ‘weeds’ in your yard. If you don’t have a yard, there are interesting wild things growing in your flower pots, at the park down the street or between the cracks in your sidewalk.
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An experienced yard walker can stand in one spot and point to 12 different plants around you, identify them and tell their stories. Are they native plants or stowaways from some long-ago ship voyage? Can you eat them? Are they poisonous? Are they medicine? What did people do with them 200 years ago? Did we forget about them?
In 45 minutes of walking Kaye’s yard, I learned (and retained) as much as I have in some college courses. It reframed the way I looked at my own yard…
Ok, that’s not my yard. It’s Torrey Pines in San Diego. But it’s such a nice view. More about that later.
Many of us are looking for easy ways to connect with others, to spend time with friends or invest time in forming new friendships. We come up with ideas like bookclubs, guys nights out or cookie swaps. I recommend you add hosting a yard walking party to that list of ideas for get-togethers. Even if you or your friends are not nature buffs, it is an experience. It’s empowering to learn how to look at something that’s been hiding in plain sight your entire life and identify it.
The everyday weed in this photo is mullein. Up until the last 100 years, the leaves were brewed into a tea for sore throats. (Full disclosure, I did not see this one on Kaye’s yard walk, but I have some in my own yard.)
Problem: it’s not exactly like yard walkers advertise like lawyers. You won’t see their photo on the side of a city bus.
If you have a local university, botanical or garden center, that would be a good place to start. Many local agencies have departments that study native or invasive plants and may offer you some resources. Try the American Herblists Guild membership lists. They might not exactly have what you need, which is more like a wild plant ranger. You can do an online search for “wild herb walks” or “herblists” near you.
If you are lucky enough to have a nature center near you, they may offer foraging hikes or woodland discovery tours that are in the same spirit of a yard walk but lack some of the personal connection. I mean few things are as personal as getting acquainted with the hundreds of plant species growing in your own backyard or on your block.
Would you help me brainstorm other places to find experienced yard and herb walk guides?
Hey you. Me?
Yes, you, the person reading this article. If you can think of additional resources or you’ve been on an herbal or yard walk, please add a comments about it.
For the do-it-yourselfers, there are field guides you can buy. Peterson’s are popular, but I found myself squinting at some of the sketches not really sure if I was looking at an invasive or a native. Please don’t ever eat wild plants you are unsure of or if you don’t know whether they might be sprayed with pesticides.
When I was at Torrey Pines getting that photo pictured earlier, my family and I hiked the cliffs along the shore. While we were passing through the trails, I spotted some native wild sage. Not only could I identify it on sight, my proud mama moment was when my six year old spotted it and yelled, “Sage!”
Come on. How is that real life? But it was. Well done, kid.
If you want to learn more, visit my on-going series about forgotten herbs.