By Corinne Martin
Corinne Martin’s Louisiana Herb Journal introduces readers to the wealth of healing herbs found throughout the state, with details on identification, habitat, and traditional uses. Here Martin reflects on the deep connections Louisianans feel with the outdoors and the possibility of extending those connections to include sources of natural healing.
There’s an English expression that some claim is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” As far as anyone can determine, that’s not an actual statement found in Chinese philosophy, but most of us can certainly identify with the challenges of living in an increasingly complicated world. When so many things in life are unpredictable—with the state struggling to recover from Hurricane Ida’s devastation, for example, and our continued awareness of the potential for health issues after a couple of years in COVID-19 seclusion—we would all welcome a little relief.
Well, right outside your door might be a step in that direction. One of the things I love about Louisiana is how deeply we are rooted to place—our lives are influenced by and organized around the movements of seasons. Here, where it’s impossible to escape the effects of weather, water, and sodden lands, nature’s timetable guides our food production, our outdoor activities, and even our health.
In Louisiana, we live an embedded life. We know the land around us. We know when the crawfish will be fat, when the oysters will be cold and salty and big, when the Formosan termites will start to swarm, when the lawn will need to be mowed every week and the brush will try to take over the yard. We know where the dewberry canes will be thick with sweet dark fruit, where the fish hide in the shadows, and when the live oak acorns will rain down on the roof.
Extending this knowing—this intimate, embedded way of life—to include the wild healing plants around us can act as a daily reminder of the innate groundedness of our life on earth, of how intrinsically we are linked to a place. We co-participate in our home. We take care of what we know, and love, and use.
That’s one of the reasons my morning walks are so necessary. I get to see what’s growing around me, what’s sprouted up during the night, what fruits are ripening, what flowers are opening, and what healing herbs are ready to pick. In the project of writing Louisiana Herb Journal, I was constantly surprised by the state’s luxury of medicinal plants.
One of the great things about most healing herbs is that they act gently, and often slowly, to make small alterations in our health. Many of them are edible and can be tossed into a salad, sipped as an iced tea, sprinkled on cereal, or even whipped up into a pudding! And while they do alter health, herbs act differently than most pharmaceutical medications. While drugs generally feature one very potent active chemical compound and should be taken only on a doctor’s order, plants often contain a multitude of naturally occurring chemicals, in tiny amounts. This means their activity is milder. And when an herb is taken over time, these compounds can gently move a body system toward balance, provide nutritional supplementation, and alleviate minor or chronic illnesses.
Louisiana Herb Journal is an herb book, but it’s more than that. It’s an invitation to extend Louisiana’s at-homeness in nature to include one more step—the healing plants that grow all around us. In a way, the book can become a remedy in itself, a little guidebook to the wonders and healing potential of the land around us, and an assurance that some things are predictable and secure even when so many other things are changing.
So, while you’re waiting for the complicated times we live in to let up a bit, check out your lawn, peer into the tangle of brush just beyond your yard, scan the banks of your favorite fishing hole, get close and personal with the swampy land you slog through on your way to the hunt, and see what surrounds you. You might be surprised. You might just stumble upon an old friend you thought was a foe and wrest up some unwieldy plant that could boost your health. At the very least, you could be surprised by how much healing the place where you live and play can offer—even in “interesting times.”
A certified clinical herbalist and amateur naturalist, Corinne Martin has practiced as an herbalist for more than thirty years. She recently retired from teaching holistic and integrative health at the University of Southern Maine Nursing School. She now divides her time between Louisiana and Maine.
Louisiana Herb Journal invites readers into the world of medicinal herbs, introducing fifty herbs found in Louisiana, with details on identification, habitat, distribution, healing properties, and traditional uses, including instruction on popular preparation methods such as tinctures and teas. Readers will gain a deeper recognition of the natural wealth Louisiana enjoys and the ways that our stewardship of wild plants can impact our personal health as well as the state’s ecological future.