Herbal Explorer

Lise Wolff’s knowledge of herbs fascinated those who came to hear her talk on Tuesday

By Jane Otto, Hutchinson Leader, July 26, 2001

Many came from miles around to listen and learn while riding hay wagons through Don Popp’s woods in rural Hutchinson as part of the fourth annual herb walk.

The mosquitoes were no match for herbalist Lise Wolff as it was her talk that netted the attention of the more than 35 people there. Wolff interspersed humor with her knowledge of herbal healings. As she snipped off the top of a stinging nettle, often called burn weed or itch weed, she explained how “wonderfully edible they are”.

“I’m not into bold or strange,” Wolff said. “That it tastes good and be good for you is my bottom line.”

Stinging nettles contain about 10 percent protein and are similar to a multi-vitamin. Wild foods, in general, Wolff said, have a very high nutritional content. The top of the plant before it flowers can be cooked and eaten with a little butter and lemon. “It tastes green,” she said.

Cooking time, however, is essential, Wolff said. “If you eat nettles when not fully cooked, your throat swells and you wish you hadn’t done that.”

Anyone who has brushed a hand against nettles knows how they burn. If that happens, Wolff said, break open the stem and rub it over the burn. She said, “The stem contains an acid to neutralize the base that just stung you.”

Common weeds such as nettles, prickly ash, yarrow and burdock, which is often mistaken for wild rhubarb, were the stars of Wolff’s show. Weeds that never seem to go away and viewed as a gardener’s enemies are full of medicinal and nutritional value. “There is much that is useful and good in your woods and not appreciated enough,” she said.

The bark of prickly ash is good for the digestion and alleviates pain in the nerve endings. Burdock aids in skin irritations and respiratory ailments. Wild yarrow, which is white or pastel in color, is “really good fro stopping blood,” she said. “Everyone has their gushing blood stories.”

Wolff told of an incident when a drunk woman had fallen and banged her forehead on a cement sidewalk. The thudding sound was what attracted Wolff. A friend with Wolff ran to the woman’s aid exclaiming that Wolff was an herbalist and could help her. Wolff said 911 was called, but meanwhile she went to her nearby car where she always has a huge stash of herbal tinctures.

Wolff applied a couple of drops of yarrow tincture to a rag. In that time, a puddle of blood had formed on the sidewalk by the injured woman. Wolff told her to gently place the rag on her forehead. After a few minutes, to the woman’s amazement, the bleeding had stopped.

Yarrow’s Latin name stems from Achilles, the warrior who packed his soldier’s wounds in yarrow to staunch the bleeding. It’s also excellent for nosebleeds, Wolff added. Placing a yarrow leaf in the nostril can stop even the worse nosebleed within 10 minutes, she said.

And it’s an excellent mosquito repellant. “Supposedly,” she said, “the military did studies on it and found it to be more effective than Deet.”

Someone asked if there was a difference in using dried herbs purchased from a store or fresh plants for tinctures such as yarrow or burdock. Wolff said the potency of fresh plants far exceeds those that are dried.

Dorie Buck, an herbal walk organizer along with Popp and Doug Schmoll of Willmar, said she was pleased with the turnout. Each year, the number attending has grown. A woman from Minneapolis who attended last year, said her familiarity with Wolff’s work resulted in her return. One fellow came from Evansville, a town northwest of Alexandria, in search of how to use what grows in his own back yard.

Buck hosts a monthly health meeting once a month that usually features guest speakers on such topics as herbalism. To learn more, call Buck at (320) 587-4673.