I love taking my granddaughter on herb walks this time of the year. It’s fun to discover herbs growing within walking distance of home; it’s a together time for just we two, and it’s a great learning experience. She learns how to identify some useful plants, and I learn to see the world anew through those almost four-year-old eyes!
Dandelions are a natural for this age group, they’re colourful and they’re everywhere. Because dandelions are an important part of a bee’s diet, it gives you a chance to talk about important questions such as, “What is a weed?” and “Where did the bee on the box of my favourite cereal go?” If you’re patient, you’re sure to see simple bees working in the bright yellow flowers.
Pineapple Weed, a sister to Chamomile, is a humble little plant growing in waste areas and in cracks in the sidewalk. How can this unassuming plant be of any use to anyone? Are there mosquitoes around? Crush the plant and rub it into your skin and watch the “skeeters” skedaddle. Smell the crushed plant – it does smell like pineapple, and, if you found it in an unspoiled area, chew it or take it home to add to a salad. One fun activity with young children is to stage a tea testing: make one tea with Pineapple Weed, one tea with its more famous sister, and yet another that combines both. Many kids prefer Pineapple Weed to Chamomile because it’s sweeter.
A walk in an open, sunny pasture is sure to reveal Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) with its fern-like leaves and colourful flower heads. You might wish to use Yarrow as a way to introduce the concept of Latin names for plants. It’s relatively easy to explain “Achillea” with a rollicking tale about Achilles and how the mythological Greek warrior used Yarrow to heal the wounds of his soldiers, and how, to this day we still use Yarrow leaves and flower heads to stop bleeding.
Hunting for Wild Strawberries is probably the most fun and rewarding target on any herb walk. Found in open areas, meadows, and in mountainous regions, small and sweet and easy to pick, strawberries will delight any child who accompanies you on this adventure. Little ones are really not interested in hearing that the leaves make a tea that’s very high in vitamin C, or that the root extract is used for diarrhea. But, it is good to know that a berry rubbed on the skin can help sooth a sunburn. And, at the end of your herb walk, there’s little to match the joy of eating a big bowl of the Wild Strawberries you gathered together – with or without the whipped cream.