With help from Philly’s growing number of plant-centric businesses and herbalists, you can actually learn about the stuff growing around you (and all its benefits).
It’s a Tuesday morning, and I’m eyeing the wild tangle of my rowhome’s tiny backyard as I sip my coffee. I peer at a cluster of little green leaves that’s growing in a clump of vines along the fence. I identify it as chickweed, a vitamin-loaded plant with cooling medicinal properties. Last year, I yanked it out and tossed it into a yard-waste bag. This year, I’ll make it into a pesto.
I’m not the only one doing weird things with weeds. People are very into plants these days. (This past year, one friend gave names to the trees in her backyard.) In fact, herbalism, the traditional discipline of using wild plants to treat ailments like minor aches or stress, is a practice that spans many cultures and regions. It’s been rising in popularity over the past decade, and even more so since the pandemic. It makes sense: As people are feeling more anxious and alienated than ever, they’re looking for ways to root themselves, to connect with nature — and to pay attention to something, anything, other than a screen.
This is especially easy to do in Philly — we have ready access to green space like the Wissahickon and Fairmount Park and plenty of public gardens, arboretums and historic landscapes in or near the city. (We’ve got 30 public gardens within a 30-mile radius of the city, the highest concentration in the country.) And with help from Philly’s growing number of plant-centric businesses, you can actually learn about the stuff you’re seeing. There are classes by Terra Luna Herbals, which wind you through the urban garden off Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, and herbal workshops by Nyambi Naturals in Bartram’s Garden on everything from facial scrubs to greens for gut health. There’s Broad Wing Farm near Phoenixville, too, where you can take a plant walk and hear about the medicinal properties of stinging nettle, mint and dandelion, and new community apothecary Philly Herb Hub, which provides free herbal medicine to Philly’s Black community.
Elise Hanks, owner of Terra Luna, says she’s seen interest in herbalism rise over the past few years. “Plants have a way of reminding us to slow down,” she says, “to take in the world around us, and to check back into our own health.” She makes a plant-based skin-care line that you can shop at boutiques like Moon + Arrow and Vagabond. You can find items like rose-infused facial oil at such spots as Ritual Shoppe in Rittenhouse and Marsh + Mane in Society Hill, botanical soaps from Jersey’s Salty Lemon Apothecary at Toile in Fishtown, and a vast array of tinctures at Weavers Way.
After a few plant walks, a lush green Philly world seemed to open up before me. The more I paid attention to plants, the more I realized they were, well, everywhere. One day at Martha, I drank a linden and oat tea from a garden in Fishtown; later, I moisturized my hands with a soft calendula and lavender beeswax balm from Terra Luna. But mostly, I finally appreciated what was growing in my backyard.
Now excuse me while I obsess over my weeds. Ahem, plants.
Published as “Seeing Green” in the July 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
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