In The Woods And In The Nursery

We just began the process of uncovering the nursery. Such a fun job after a long winter. Each time we roll back the landscape cloth we immediately inspect the condition of the plants underneath. One little Hepatica transylvanica that we’ve propagated was already in bloom. A determined little gem! It looks like most everything has come through the long winter splendidly. Always a joy and a relief to know our plants were tucked in well for the winter, undisturbed by voles, and are now ready to have their covers lifted.

Lobaria pulmonaria

While out foraging, I came across one of my favorite lichens, Lobaria pulmonaria. This lichen is an epiphytic lichen, which means it is an organism that uses another plant for structure and derives its moisture and nutrients from the rain and air but does not harm the plant it’s living on. This particular lichen is very susceptible to air pollution and will not often be found in areas where air quality is poor. Fortunately, our air quality is pretty darn good here in the woods of Maine, so I come across it quite regularly. I harvest a small amount of Lobaria for two reasons. First, for its medicinal value. I tincture this lichen for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis, lingering coughs, and croup. Lobaria is an expectorant, an astringent, is an antimicrobial and a pulmonary demulcent. Having antibiotic properties it can help with bacterial infections. I tincture Lobaria and also gather a bit for drying to add along with other respiratory herbs and then use it as a tea. The other use I have for Lobaria is as a dye plant. Used fresh or dried, Lobaria gives a dark brown color to the yarn I am dying. I don’t often use a mordant ( a mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye and helps to fix it to the wool), but with the most recent collection, I will see if I can shift the color a bit using some copper or iron. Aren’t these plants just the most amazing things ever? I am very careful about leaving the bulk of a lichen undisturbed. Lichens are very slow growing and such an important part of our ecosystem that I find it best to be very thoughtful when harvesting. Not much is needed for tincture, for tea, or for a dye bath, so a very small amount is actually gathered.
Tomorrow, I may take my Lobaria pulmonaria down to the coast and set up a little fire and a dye pot. Curious as to what the salt water and all its minerals will do to alter the color. We shall see and I’ll keep you all posted on the results!
Hope where ever you are, you are feeling the strength and restorative properties of the approaching spring season. So very lovely, isn’t it?

8 comments on “In The Woods And In The Nursery

  1. The uncovering of the nursery sounds like big event, full of suspense! I stick all my potted geraniums in our crawlspace every winter and am always a little nervous when i go to take them out, to see if they’ve made it thru reasonably well. They look sickly at first but usually bounce back fine. Your little hepatica is a harbinger of good things to come!

    • It is always fun to uncover the rows and rows of plants. It’s a bit like the ‘summer folks’ who come back for the season, “oh, we’ve missed you, how have you been, you’re looking great”. Ha!

  2. Lichens are an indication that trees, particularly apple trees, are not actively growing. Clients do not understand that. They believe that lichens are bad for the trees. I try to explain that they are only more abundant on stressed trees because stressed trees are not growing as actively; but that they are not stressed because of the lichens. Lichens do not grow on redwoods at all.

    • This particular lichen is growing on the Ash trees here. Some of the ash are in fact stressed from the yellow ash fungus which affects their roots. I will research a bit more on how lichens select trees, I am inclined to also think that it has some to do with the configuration of their bark. The spores may find some bark more conducive to establishing themselves? I find Lobaria on other trees as well, oaks for instance but almost always on the north west side of a tree and almost always on mature trees. Lichens are truly fascinating and complex. The small amount that I harvested ( 3 Tbls spoons worth? ) is now steeping in a jar of ammonia for wool dyeing. Another small bit has been tinctured for the pantry shelves.

      • Well, naturally; particular types of lichens would be expected to prefer particular trees. None like redwoods because of the tanic acid. Also, those that are lithocarpic prefer particular types of stone. Those that are on granite are different fro those that grow on sandstone. I do not remember ever seeing lichens on serpentinite.

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