Climate change threatens native plants that are valuable sources of food and medicine

BOSTON – There are hundreds of native plants in our backyards that are a valuable source of food, medicine and even materials. But climate change threatens their very existence and the societies that depend on them.

Foraging is the art of gathering wild food sources, and it obviously requires practice.

“I would say at least half of the people who grow vegetables in the Greater Boston area would take this as weed, and I bet most of them don’t know it’s edible,” Ross Cohen told WBZ-TV.

Cohen is a naturalist and has been in contact with the outdoors with his taste buds for nearly five decades in New England. He even wrote a book called “The Wild Plants I Knew…and Ate”.

“There are edible wild plants everywhere. Whether you’re in the city, in the suburbs, in the mountains or the coast, they’re all over the place. So it’s really fun,” Cohen said.

It also hosts dozens of walking tours annually on the edge of the Waltham Fields Community Farm. On this day, where sunlight and shade meet, he was able to point out dozens of edible plants and herbs from water fruit to black cherry, grapes, millet, and corn sumac.

“Those gigantic stuff that looks like old green tennis balls, it’s black walnut,” Cohen said. “So the black walnut is a local species, and the original range was far south and west from here, but the aborigines said we like these walnuts, and we want to encourage these walnuts to grow in the places we go, so they deliberately planted them in the village. to thousands of years.”

Since then, there has been an increase in temperatures around the world which has changed the availability of some native plants locally.

“For example, black and aging cherries, I usually tell people to traditionally look for them in the first week of September, and now I see them ripening in the last week of August,” Cohen said. “For some species that need things, like migratory birds, for example, a certain fruit that is fattened to feed itself through migration, it has to be available at the time when you need it. You know if climate change spoils those relationships, it can be be a problem.”

Ross Cohen has not only witnessed the effects of climate change but also severe weather.

“I see drier periods of drought and more wetter periods,” Cohen explained. “If there is a significant long-term shift in patterns, some species will adapt better than others.”

And while we’ve been searching for food for fun, it can be a heartbreaking reality for some of the communities that depend on and live on the land.

“Honesty makes me feel very emotional,” said Linda Black Elk, teacher of food sovereignty skills at United Tribal Technical College in North Dakota.

Linda Black Elk is usually happy and optimistic on social media when she talks about searching for native edible plants, but she told WBZ-TV, climate change is making it more difficult.

“I have seen a lot of plants which my husband’s family considers very important and very sacred. I have seen them less and less frequently. As time goes on, I have to travel longer distances to get a good supply of them to feed my family.”

Food gathering has been a part of her family for generations.

“My husband and children are registered here in the Dakota with two tribes, the Cheyenne River Nation and the Standing Rock Nation,” Linda said.

But rising temperatures and harsh weather threaten some native plants and alter the timing of other plants harvested there.

There’s an elder in Standing Rock Nation, said Linda Black Elk, when she was a little girl remembering that she harvested it on average around June 19, and now we get that plant on average on June 5.”

She is an ethnobotanist and teaches at the United Tribes Technical College on the interrelationship between people and plants.

“It’s how traditional foods, wild-harvested foods, and garden foods nourish us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically,” she explained.

She believes that every plant has a purpose and that food is medicine.

“Onions, for example, are considered a cooking ingredient, but when you eat an onion, you’re taking medication to lower and stabilize blood pressure. You’re taking medication that will help treat congestion in your lungs and sinuses,” explained Linda Black-Elk. “Onions are an amazing medicine we don’t even think about.” .

And even the herbs in your garden.

“Dandelions are all medicinal. There are other amazing clinical trials on the uses of dandelion root, the treatment of different types of cancer, the treatment of diabetes. Dandelions are wonderful and it’s crazy to me to see people sprinkle them in their garden and then go to the large grocery chain to buy and then packs of dandelion root tea. Organic,” she said.

When asked if she thinks medicinal plants will survive climate change, her response is hopeful.

“If we take some action now, I feel like there’s still hope. If we start looking at plants as our relatives, we may not be able to ignore them, we may not be able to ignore climate change. I think it’s very important to get out and really get to know all these organisms, these Relatives around us.

Like Aboriginal societies, they hope that people will better connect with the land in time. That’s why she also shares social media recipes and how to find hundreds of edible and medicinal plants that grow in places you least expect.

“How many of you care about the plant that grows in the sidewalk crack on the way to work every day? I think if we knew the name of that plant and knew that the plant had some wonderful uses for food or medicine or even substances, we might start to look at this plant and the world a little differently,” Linda Black Elk said.

Linda Black Elk recommends keeping track of when things will bloom, and when they will bear fruit. She also said that sustainability is very important, especially when harvesting native plants.

“You never take too much, and you never take them at the wrong stage, if you’re root harvesting, you’re basically killing that plant, so make sure there’s plenty of others to go to seed around. But I think there’s something to be said about harvesting plants that isn’t The original, as much as you want!”

She said garlic mustard is very invasive around the Northeast and it’s good to try. To learn more about foraging and tips about edible and medicinal plants around us, follow her Instagram And the Facebook.

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