On the Table: A visit with Iowa City herbalists Wild Rose Apothecary

Herb Nerds
Ansel Cummings is a friend of the bees.

A local CSA hopes to prune common misconceptions about weeds

Photos by Dawn Frary (See full gallery)

Most people go to great lengths to rid their yards of plants they deem to be “weeds.” These so-called weeds are invasive and unattractive and might as well just be wiped out, right?

An Iowa City herbalist group, Wild Rose Apothecary, is looking to change that perception; it’s their mission to inform weed-haters that wild-foraged herbs like dandelions, cleavers, plantain and chickweed actually have a place in our homes.

In early 2013, Christina Mitchell, Christy Andersen and Mandy Dickerson formed Wild Rose Apothecary, an herbalist and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group, with the intention of spreading the good word of the wild herb. In addition to handcrafting small-batch herbal products using fresh, local and ethically-obtained wild plants and local beeswax, they also feel it is crucial to help people in the community develop a practical knowledge of herbs. “It’s important to tune in to and take a lesson from the nature most present with us, in the local landscape,” the group said in an email. “The medicine plants here insist on staying here for a good reason. They fit in and become at home in a place that needs them.”

Plantain (a common local wild herb) has both internal and external healing qualities. It can be used to draw out dirt or infection from wounds, to treat boils and inflamed skin. It can also relieve burns, insect bites and poison ivy rashes, in addition to being ingested to soothe coughs and encourage expectoration during a cold, or to treat ulcers of the mouth, throat and stomach. Dandelion, the bane of many a lawn, is actually a “supreme liver tonic,” and a blood-cleanser that also encourages better digestion.

Herb Nerds
Evening Primrose

The Wild Rose Apothecary CSA—the first herbal CSA in the area—will begin in July and run for six months. Monthly shares will be tailored specifically to families’ needs and will include salves made from herb-infused oils and local beeswax, infused vinegars, body lotions and creams, body sprays, massage oils, homemade incense, dried herb blends, elixirs, tinctures, kombucha and snacks. Membership rates start at $25 per month for a half-share and $40 for a full share.

The herbally-curious are encouraged to take a cue from the ladies of Wild Rose Apothecary and venture out into their own backyards in search of edible and medicinal plants. Other local herb foraging hotspots include Hickory Hill Park and Lake Macbride Nature Recreation Area. “It’s empowering to take your health into your own hands. Using herbs both as a preventative and as a curative is a way to do that,” says Wild Rose Apothecary member Christina Mitchell. “Part of the medicinal benefit of herbalism is learning that a pill isn’t a cure all; that we have to slow down to let medicines work and healing begin.”

Herb Nerds

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Common local herbs and their uses

Source: Wild Rose Apothecary

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
A cell regenerative; good for light cuts, bruises, sprains and broken bones; increases your white blood cells

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Helps with lung congestion, coughs and colds

Common Yarrow
(Achillea millefolium)
Fever reducer, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory

Evening Primrose
(Oenothera speciosa)
Good for skin, GI tract and PMS symptoms

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
Remedy for poison ivy; often grows near poison ivy

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Good for the nervous system and relaxation

White Sage (Salvia apiana)
Burned for ceremonial purposes; used to clear energy and for its cleansing properties

Mint (Mentha)
Tasty; helps with nausea, fevers and digestion

Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)
Helps with menstrual and reproductive health; high in calcium

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)
A diuretic, it treats indigestion and also cleanses the blood

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Good for dry coughs and lung congestion, flower oil is good for ear infections

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Really good for your lymphatic system and swollen lymphs

Chickweed (Stellaria media)
One of the most nutritive of wild spring greens, assists in the bodies absorption of vitamins and minerals

Solomon’s Seal
(Polygonatum canaliculatum)
A supreme musculoskeletal helper

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
An iron nutritive and liver cleanser; aids digestion

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Strengthens the hair, skin and nails

Plantain (Plantago major)
Excellent skin healer; draws out infections, thorns and splinters

*Of course, before ingesting anything obtained in the wild, it is important to be certain of the plants’ identities: Consult an herb guide or website to verify anything before use or ingestion.

Recommended Resources on Foraging

• talk to local small farmers (membership site)

Dawn Frary is a photographer and artist from Iowa City. She is pleased to have learned that most of the “weeds” in her yard are actually useful. Visit her at

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