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Herb walk showcases edible weeds

A walk in the woods is like taking a trip to the pharmacy for Doug Schmoll, who shows some of the wild plants that will be featured Saturday during an herb walk at Timberlake Orchard in northern Kandiyohi County. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange1 / 2
Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange2 / 2

When Doug Schmoll walks into his 74-acre woods and grassy meadow, he doesn't curse the stinging nettles that bite his hand, the cleavers that cling like velcro to his clothing or the yellow sea of dandelions. He glows.

That's because Schmoll doesn't see weeds: he sees plants that are edible, nutritious and a source for homemade tinctures, teas and salves that benefit the body.

He claims nearly every "weed" is edible and has nutritional value.

"It's just a pharmacopeia out here," said Schmoll, stretching his arms out toward the undergrowth of the woods at his Timberlake Orchard, northwest of New London.

On Saturday, Schmoll will host two "herb walks" in the woods and meadow to help people identify wild plants and learn what to do with them.

Bordered by a large apple orchard, vineyard and bee hives, Timberlake Orchard has a wide variety of wild plants for people to identify.

The event is expected to draw a couple hundred people.

A number of specialists who've spent years studying wild and culinary herbs, including herbalist Marcia Neely from Benson, will be there to lead some of the outdoor workshops, including sessions on herbal vinegars, bee keeping and how to raise winter vegetables.

Vendors, with products like natural skin care products, will also be there.

But the focus will be on the "weeds."

During a walk through his woods last week, Schmoll stopped every few feet to point out a different plant and offer a quick commentary on its potential health benefits.

Dandelions are "one of the most nutritious things you can eat," said Schmoll as he stooped down to snap a couple fresh leaves from a plant that he popped into his mouth. The greens have more vitamins than head lettuce and make a nice addition to salad greens, he said.

He pointed to plantain, a flourishing plant in most of west central Minnesota, that he said can be used as a poultice. The velvety leaves of the mullein can be beneficial for lungs, Solomon Seal is good for joint and muscle injuries and catnip is good for the gastrointestinal system, he said. The bark from the slippery elm staved off starvation at Valley Forge, said Scmoll, adding that Native Americans used wild plants for nutrition and health for centuries.

The "star herb" featured during the walk will be burdock. Most people dislike the large-leafed plant and autumn burrs it produces. However, Schmoll says, the burdock roots can purify the blood and the leaves can be used to heal wounds.

The herb walks are a way to educate people about the correct identification, application and use of wild plants, he said.

The information is not intended to be diagnostic or carry medical implications, he said. He added the settlers learned about the value of plants from Native Americans and a portion of modern pharmaceuticals are still plant-based.

Schmoll, who owns and operates Potpourri Health Food store in Willmar, held the first herb walk at his orchard in 1997. Every year since then he has helped organize and lead herb walks at a different location in Hutchinson.

To register, call Potpourri Health Foods at 320-235-5487.

The walks will be Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. There is a $5 fee for participants.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750