Last night under the Full Long Nights Moon in Cancer, a vision for a native plant revival here on Long Island came to me. (While this article is geared towards Long Island native plant gardening, it can readily be applied to any given area.) There was what sounded like an owl hooting in a tree not far from my bedroom window, a very unusual sound for these parts, which compelled me to research the presence of owls on Long Island. This initial search opened up doorways to reading about the native wildlife here. I finally deduced that it was indeed a great horned owl I was hearing through this youtube video, and finding that great horned owls do in fact inhabit NY. (That led me to much research about owl medicine/teachings of course, which amazingly has a lot to do with the moon, feminine energy, and the harbinger of new cycles!, but that’s for another post…) This was synchronistic because for quite some time I have been curious about which herbs are native to my homeland, Nassau County, LI and only hours prior to hearing the owl hoot, I finally started some meaningful research cross-referencing native LI plants with at-risk native plants listed by United Plant Savers. Had the owl not come, I wouldn’t have delved as far into the research and the vision…and so under the full moon, with the help from a great horned owl spirit, I put down on virtual paper this vision that I hope will somehow be the beginning of a return to the land and plants and animals of this beautiful land called Long Island……the crazy part is after writing this and going to sleep, the great horned owl came to me in a dream as well, crystal clear and so very beautiful!!!! Here is what I wrote shortly after the owl flew away (in real life):
Being born and raised in Nassau County, Long Island, I have become very curious about those plants that are native to where I call home. I believe that the plants that grow naturally in a given area are intrinsically linked to the people living there, sagely providing the needed nourishment, medicine, and gifts that the lifestyle and environment demands. We do not choose where we are born, but I believe one’s birthplace is the product of millions of years of human history and fate and not a mere coincidence. While many of us are relative newcomers to this land, I consider myself a Long Island native because I was born here and grew up calling this place home. If this is our home, then the native plants and wildlife are our long-time neighbors.
While our society has moved further and further away from living closely in partnership with our other native species, they continue to grow and make themselves available to us, though unfortunately we haven’t upheld our end of the partnership as faithfully. Many native plants are at risk or on the United Plant Savers’ to watch list. Others are more prolific but I feel our partnership has weakened and that distancing is detrimental to all life forms here on Long Island. I look to the ways of the native peoples of Long Island who have inhabited this land from as much as 12,000 years ago to learn how to live hand in hand with our plant and animal neighbors rather than separately from them. Of course, these ideas can be applied to any person in any place! My goals in researching and compiling a list of native herbs of Long Island are:
1. to raise awareness of and spark interest in the plethora of medicinal herbs whose home is the same as our own and thereby deepen the sense of connection of the people to the land
2. to encourage Long Island natives to actively cultivate and honor these native plants in order to conserve the rich and dynamic plant life of Long Island for the benefit of all living creatures on Long Island (and the larger web of life)
3. to empower Long Islanders through the framework of promoting sustainable, local, and community-based production of native medicinal herbs for self-reliance and reducing dependence on imported/non-native/mass produced/inorganic medicines
I firmly believe that all we need we are given, if we only open our hearts and minds to these gifts. By studying, exploring, gardening, and partnering with native plants, we will re-establish the long-time connection between these plants and us, their present-day people. Like Adele Dawson, herbalist, taught, herbs and people are partners in life — both providing for each other, as part of a greater circle that has been long neglected but not lost.
Ways we can partner with the native medicinal plants of Long Island (or wherever you live!):
1. Start a small native herb garden in your yard or your community.
2. Visit natural parks and learn about the native plants in their natural habitat.
3. Teach children* to value sustainability through the use of local resources, starting with learning about the plants that grow closest to home and what their gifts are to us. Introduce the concept of partnership with the environment and how we can help plants thrive as well. (*oh, and I happened to meet this very teacher Friday morning and her telling me about how she teaches students to garden inspired me to look into native gardening yesterday as well, how much more synchronistic can this get?!)
4. Adopt a native Long Island at-risk plant or a to-watch plant from the United Plant Savers lists.
5. Advocate and tell friends and family about the importance of conserving and partnering with native plants.
6. Establish a connection to the land — explore your roots here and foster a relationship with the land that you can be proud of and feel grateful for.
7. Research your town, find out about the customs and practices of the peoples who inhabited it before you and learn to live more in tune with the land and its seasons.
8. Support local agriculture. Join a CSA and eat organic, locally grown foods that are in season and give back to the earth rather than deplete it.
9. Join a local botanical society or visit a state garden such as NYBG.
10. Grow native plants that will not only help you and your family, but also other members of our community such as the bees, butterflies, birds, and animals.
Check back soon for a list of native Long Island herbs, trees, and shrubs that are on United Plant Savers’ at-risk or to watch lists, as well as a general list of native plants, herbs, animals, and flowers of Long Island and other resources for further research and action!