Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Riverside Park’s arboretum offers an enchanting array of wild herbs

Eager with anticipation, our group climbs to the hilltop and crowds into the small clearing around a circle of stones. Kyle Denton, our guide, plucks up the stalk of a large, broad-leafed plant near his feet. I recognize it immediately as the nemesis in my yard, ragweed. Each spring I spend an inordinate amount of time pulling sprouts in a futile effort to eradicate it. I am startled and amused that he chose this of all plants to begin with.

Denton tears off a leaf, crushes it with his fingers and holds it to his nose. He passes the stalk around so that everyone can do the same. Then he puts the leaf in his mouth and visibly mashes it with his teeth. Ragweed is both edible and medicinal, he tells us. Once cultivated as a crop by indigenous peoples, it is highly nutritious and an excellent source of protein. Sadly, he goes on, now it is known primarily as a leading cause of hay fever. Its chief medicinal use, he adds wryly, is to treat allergic reactions to…ragweed.

Kyle Denton calls himself an herbalist and forager, activities that may not suggest a contemporary urban lifestyle. Remarkably, however, the places he chooses to forage are in the City of Milwaukee. He shares his knowledge and love of plants in a variety of educational settings but his favorite classrooms, he told me in an email, are “the trails and wilds of this town.” I was already hooked when he then invited me to join one of his regular “herb walks.” 

This story was published at Milwaukee Magazine. Click here to continue reading.

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