Food & Garden: Common wild herbs in the Upstate

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By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:

The climate here in the Upstate region of South Carolina supports many different types of herbs. Because of the wide range in plant habitats and yearly temperature, herbs that naturally grow in plant habitats such as alpine, swamp, grassland, woodland, humid-continental, desert, forest, bog, sub-tropical, balds, and tropical all thrive in the different growing conditions throughout the seasons here in the Upstate.

Some wild herbs have always grown here in the Upstate, and others have escaped garden cultivation over the past hundreds of years and have now naturalized. Below is a list of wild herbs that are fairly common to the Upstate, along with their general uses.

Caution should always be used when using wild herbs, be sure to look up the correct amounts to use and their possible side effects before using any of them. There are many herbs that are safe and useful when taken in the right amount, or toxic when to much is taken. There are also toxic plants that look very similar to the wild herb you are trying to identify, so learn subtle differences along with the herbs distinct characteristics before attempting to collect seeds or cuttings from it for propagation or personal use.

• Partridge Berry - Used as a female uterine tonic and fertility tonic.
• Joe Pye Weed - Used as as a general tonic for colds, and the dried leaves are burned as an insect repellent.
• Pennywort - Used to improve memory, vitality, eyesight, and to help with pain
• Yarrow - Used to speed the rate of healing cuts and bruises, also to help stop bleeding.
• Peppermint - Used for cooking, also to strengthen gums, and helps with an upset stomach.
• Bee Balm - Used to help rid your body of chest congestion and other bodily toxins.
• Wild Grape - Used for food and the leaves make a vitamin rich tea.
• Wild Rose - Used to make a vitamin rich tea, the rose hips can be made into preserves.
• Jewelweed - Used to treat Poison Ivy/Oak rashes, also as a general skin tonic.
• Goldenrod - Used as an antiseptic, an anti-oxidant, also to speed up wound healing.
• Kudzu - Used to help treat alcoholism and alcohol related problems, also used to increase circulation
• American Beautyberry - Used to help repel insects with it's leaves, an herbal tea can be made from the roots.
• Striped Wintergreen - Used as a flavoring, as a tea for kidney complaints, also as a wash for skin infections.
• Carolina Allspice - Used as a cinnamon flavoring by drying the bark, also as a tea for kidney problems. 
• Watercress - Used as a spicy flavoring by eating fresh leaves, also protects DNA against damage.
• Juniper - Used as an antiseptic wash by soaking the berries in hot water, then using the wash on wounds.
• Lobelia - Used cautiously as a powerful antispasmotic.
• Red Clover - Used as a powerful anti-oxidant, as a general tonic tea, also used to help fight infection.
• Rosemary - Used as a tea to help with memory function, as a flavoring, and an antiseptic mouth wash.
• Ajuga - Used as an aromatic, bitter and mildly narcotic tea, also as an astringent wash.
• Self Heal - Used as an anti-oxidant, antibiotic, also has cancer fighting properties.
• Ground Pine - Used as a tea to help with digestion issues, the spores can be inhaled to stop a bloody nose.
• Willow tree - Used as a tea or compress to help relieve general pain from injuries, similar to aspirin.
• Spiderwort - Used in cooking, the leaf juice is applied to insect bites to help relieve itching.
• Mimosa julibrissin - Used to help relieve depression and anxiety with it's flowers and bark, used as a tea.
• Mountain Mint - Used in cooking, it is a spicy tasting mint. Also used as an antiseptic and to treat colds.
• Persimmon Tree - Used for food. A Tea made out of the leaves is vitamin rich and has a cooling effect.
• Gill Over-The-Ground Ivy - Used as a tea for fighting colds, also as a salad green with a peppery taste.
• American Groundnut Vine - Used to help with diabetes. It is considered a staple food for outdoor survival.
• Lemon Balm - Used to help relax nerves and remove stress from your body, also adds a lemon flavor cooking.
• Lambs Quarters - Used as a cooked green similar to spinach. This herb is full of vitamins and minerals.
Above are only some of the herbs that are most commonly seen here in the Upstate. There are plenty of herbs growing wild here in the Upstate that are just not as commonly seen or have yet to be utilized for their medicinal and nutritional value.

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