The idea of using plants to detoxify the soil first nudged my brain when I was in New Mexico and heard tales from Los Alamos Laboratories that jimson weed (Datura stramonium) was being researched as potentially valuable for decontaminating radioactive waste. I was very much concerned because the plant itself is toxic to both animals and humans. The plant has profound sacramental and medicinal uses but overdosing can be fatal.
At the Bioneers Conference, Paul Stamets discussed mushrooms for remediation of highly toxic waste, including radioactive sites. The mushrooms, he said, were safe to eat despite their employment for such dangerous and noble purposes. Similar accounts of fungi have been coming out of both Afghanistan and Iraq but if the fungi are not needed, why encourage them to proliferate? In short, while I might be grateful for their efforts in remediating depleted uranium, I am not keen on more fungi in my own yard.
Finally, when I read that yarrow has secretions (from the roots) that elevate disease resistance on the part of plants in proximity to yarrow, I was excited because here we had a very safe plant. I bought a lot of yarrow seeds. More recently, I planted the Fat Mama sunflower and learned that sunflowers detoxify the soil . . . so the plot was thickening! These seeds are the ones preferred by birds and the seed head can grow to two feet in diameter. I am thinking of all the nice compost the stalks will make!
More recently, my colleague in Germany began discussing the horrific complications boys were suffering due to the xenoestrogens they were inadvertently ingesting. I became determined to find proactive ways to clean the soil and water. We can, of course, wallow and wail or we can do something.
Xenoestrogens are practically ubiquitous. Twenty years ago, we saw the handwriting on the wall when discovering that fish, male fish, were lacking sexual differentiation and they were incapable of doing their part to sustain their kind. The warning went out then not to use plastic baby bottles for male infants, but I suspect some heard the bell ringing and other did not.
Though the problem is serious in inland water, both lakes and rivers (and Florida swamps), it is affecting oceans as well. Debris twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific Ocean and ensnares aquatic life and makes reusable grocery bags and other life style changes an urgent issue.
What do I do when I am obsessing? I contact Richo Cech. He recommended using calamus and yerba mansa to clean up soil, one yard at a time. So, yes, I ordered seeds for myself as for you. Both are medicinal herbs so you can detoxify your soil and produce medicine at the same time.
Calamus might be indigenous to India where it is known as vacha and is often used in formulas for the mind. In Europe, it is sometimes added to wine and was probably one of the ingredients in absinthe -- which, I believe, is back on the market in some countries. Medicinally, the root is neuroprotective and can be used where there is nerve degeneration. Calamus or sweet flag has a long tradition among Native Americans as well. Among the many interesting uses of this herb is that it helps to overcome addiction to tobacco. It is an herb to be used cautiously and after due study but planting it for soil purposes is another issue. It is grasslike with tall leaves, up to six feet high, and is hardy, even up to Canada. It can be grown in shallow water (like a reed) or dry land.
Yerba mansa, Anemopsis californica, is a Southwestern plant and is also popular among curanderos in Mexico. It is very highly respected among my colleagues in New Mexico. The roots are harvested after the first frost. They are aromatic, a bit like camphor, some say wild ginger, mixed with eucalyptus. The roots take six months to dry. It is used in much the same way as goldenseal and is much less endangered and less expensive. The roots are also taken to remove uric acid from the body and reduce gout and rheumatism. They are also antifungal and can be used in rinses for athlete's foot as well as bacterial skin infections.
Yerba mansa can be used as a ground cover and soil enhancer since little by little the oils transform the quality of the soil and the decaying leaves aerate the soil. The plant sends out runners and can be invasive, but that might be the purpose for some people. Yerba mansa tolerates alkaline and saline conditions well and can grow in such brackish conditions.
Yerba mansa is interesting to watch because there are white inflorescences in spring and by fall, the entire plant has red stains. I am sure that this conjures up a lot in your psyches so perhaps we could reflect on the symbolism.
Before you order, think about your land and soil. All of these seeds are in the planting section of the Sacred Medicine site, but not all are suitable to all climates and soil. I went over the top on Good Friday and got a bizarre plant called Gunnera manicata. It is fascinating and prehistoric looking. It requires a lot of water but on a day like today, it ought to be a very happy camper. I would like that calamus would enjoy similar growing conditions because they seem to be thirsty plants. I console myself that on the days I don't want to be out at all, there is a plant that is thriving because no dinosaurs are foraging where it wants to grow and it has immense leaves, easily four feet in diameter and if it is pleased with its environment, it will be ten feet tall and have leaves that are immense by September. I promise to take lots of pictures.