Thursday, July 15, 2010

Photographic Herbal Adventures

I started learning herbs from an ethnobotanist and so even on the first day of class we were out wildcrafting. I remember circling around the cedar tree, giving thanks, and then gathering needles to make an infused oil. I asked her what plantain was, later she pointed out her comfrey beginning to grow for the season and I was absolutely hooked. Wildcrafting for food and medicine just made sense to me, an inherent human right had been reestablished.

We harvest a lot of food and medicine for our household. My husband Xavier matches my enthusiasm for medicinal plants with his enthusiasm to harvest wild foods. Together we make a great team.

In the past year or so my wildcrafting has taken a different tone. As excited as I get about finding healthy stands of plants for harvesting, I now have a new tool in hand - my camera.

Plant photography has opened up a whole new world of plants for me. Capturing plants on film challenges me to really know my plants well. My end goal for the photos I take is to wow the audience by letting the plant speak for itself.

In this blog post I'll share some of my favorite photos and give some of the stories behind the photo.

This is a parasitic orchid, Coralroot. I took this photo in the mountains above Escalante, Utah. We found the stand while walking around a lake. The magenta stood out in the forest and I quickly climbed down a steep hill to see what it was. The flowers are so very tiny yet they can astound us with their exotic nature.  I've never harvested coralroot but it does have a strong history of medicinal use. You can read more about it on Henriette's site. My paternal family has lived in the Escalante area for almost 200 years. Seeing this plant I wondered how many thousands of years it had lived in the area.

Bitterroot is a favorite wild edible in our household. Every time I see it I am amazed at this incredible flower growing out of the dry rocky soils. I took this photo earlier this spring while on a foraging trip for wild rose. The roses weren't quite ready so we continued on our own little hike. Walking off trail above a lake we suddenly saw one, then two and then a hillside covered with this incredible flower. Later this month on HerbMentor we'll have a video with more information about this beautiful plant.

We were recently traveling throughout Utah and northern Arizona and I immediately fell in love with Datura. Unfortunately the only place we found it growing was along roadsides. I took this photo, along with a lot of video footage, on the side of a steep and curvy small road. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes were out as well biting me constantly during the photo shoot.

Getting close to the flowers lets me see other aspects of the wild. This goldenrod spider is living in my garden valerian plant. It matches the flowers so incredibly well that we found it by accident ourselves. Since discovering this little creature we are both taking frequent breaks to check and see what she's doing.

A 10 minute hike for most people is usually more like an hour hike for me. Capturing one good photo can take me quite awhile. I like to spend time with the plant, see it from different angles, notice the ecosystem it's growing in, and literally, smell the roses. I also enjoy small details like little frogs on rose leaves. 

And spiders on yarrow flower buds. 

Last summer while stalking pipsissewa, my husband who's a tracker, pointed out a recent bear track. We never did find it on the hike. This was a disappointment to my husband and a relief for me.

Finding this green gentian (Frasera speciosa) was a complete surprise for me. A plant of the southwest I'd never even heard of it before. It was located on a really steep hillside with lots of underbrush and fallen trees below it. My husband when up first to check it out. Immediately he began exclaiming that I just had to come and see it for myself. Never having seen or heard of this plant before we just sat there in wonder. The colors and design on the plant are unreal. We stood uncomfortably on the steep hillside around this plant for quite awhile. Xavier lost his footing at one point but I managed to save him from tumbling down the steep hillside.

Another hiker went by on the trail below us. He asked whatever in the world we were looking at. "Flowers," replied Xavier. Oh, said the man, shaking his head down the trail.

Sometimes it's not about the what it's about the when. Raindrops can be some of the most magnificent art in nature. 

Sometimes it's about the perspective. This small weedy wonder becomes a giant in the setting sun. 

And sometimes it's not about the what but the where. Although my focus is macro, the joy comes from being out in nature, seeing the awe inspiring beauty of our earth. 

This blog post is part of the blog party hosted by Darcey Blue on the topic of Herbal Adventures