Texas's vast expanse of 268,580 square miles contains 7 distinct bioregions each with its own set of influences and characteristics, giving rise to a great variety of medicinal plants across the state. The Texan herbalist encounters an abundant variety of botanical options, especially if s/he travels beyond their home bioregion. Also in plentiful supply across Texas, is wildness. The spirit of freedom accompanies open, expansive spaces and some of the cultural and ecological expressions of that are wildflowers, wild plants, large wildscaped yards, and a growing wild land restoration movement.
From the point of view of an herbalist, a wild plant is revered for its greater potency as a medicine. A cultivated plant is cared for and protected by its cultivator; a wild plant must rely on itself for survival. In these circumstances the plant's biochemistry rises to the occasion and produces more protective phytochemicals, more predator-offending aromatics, more antioxidants, and more bitter leaves. It has to be stronger to survive and ultimately this makes the medicine it provides stronger, too.
Weeds are a category of plants that represents a whole other level of uber wildness. A weed is so wild and opportunistic that it has earned a negative reputation for persisting and proliferating too successfully where humans do not want it. Weeds tend to produce an immense quantity of seeds and have very efficient methods of dispersing them. They may have large taproots allowing them to handle a variety of living conditions including inhospitably dry ones. Those large roots also have a capacity to access a massive amount of micronutrients from the soil, making them super powerhouses of nutrition. Some of the opportunistic wild and weedy plants of Texas are Juniper, Prickly Pear Cactus, Mullein, Chickweed, Lambs quarters, Purslane, and Ragweed. Chickweed, Lambs quarters and Purslane are examples of highly nutritious weeds. They are excellent edible wild foods packed with vitamins and minerals. Chickweed also has soothing and cooling qualities and can be taken internally or externally but is most popular as a topical preparation for wounds and infections. Juniper is quite dominant, and its pollen quite disruptive to humans, yet it too has its medicine. The beautiful blue berries of the Juniper tree have traditionally been used for infections of the urinary tract and kidney. The wonderful Prickly Pear provides many herbal remedies, if you can skillfully get around its prickliness. The interior of the pads has a mucilaginous gel similar to aloe. It can be used to soothe and cool inflammatory heat and it is a folk remedy to support healthy blood sugar regulation. The Texas wild weed crafting experience has a unique twist to it because the state does not have any public land. Harvesters must respect the landowners by befriending them and getting their permission first. The upside to this is that the decision to collect plants requires a greater commitment to the process and it encourages creating community and local relationships.
Written by Christina Bertelli, Certified Clinical Herbalist