The Brandon News

The Brandon News and Brandon Shopper
January 16, 2002

Weeds, Ways of Days Gone By

By MONICA BRANDIES Correspondent

Ila Hatter was one of our excellent instructors when we went to our first Elderhostel last fall.
She is a descendant of Pocahontas and was raised on natural remedies and a love and respect for nature.

Her recipes appear in wild foods cookbooks and her – workshops have been featured on TV and in several national and international magazines. She currently lives and studies in the Snowbird Cherokee Indian community of western North Carolina.

For five days we listened in fascination as she shared the richest nuggets of this lifetime of information with us. Ila showed us leather britches, beans strung up and hung to dry. The same method was used for cabbage leaves and pieces of pumpkin, apples, peaches and plums well before the people had canning jars or freezers. It still works.

She had cornhusk dolls, buckeyes to put into our pockets to ward off arthritis and traditional tonics and medicines that many of us remembered.

When Catherine Marshall’s book “Christy” was made into a movie and then into a series for TV, Ila Hatter was consulted to make all the medicines, hang the bunches of herbs from the rafters and to make sure these and the plants shown, like the bittersweet on the porch, were authentic to the times.

She had a crazy quilt that had belonged to her mother’s Aunt Dora that was used in one episode where the youngster got sick and woke up under the quilt whose various patches, some velvet and satin, felt so good. I remember seeing that on a re-run and will watch for it with special interest the next time.

Ila’s grandfather had a corner store and knew the original Dr. Pepper. Her mother had the first Dr. Pepper float. Both that syrup and Coca Cola started out as medicine.

She took us out to study the plants she had mentioned in their wild habitat. She also shared meals with us. It was in the food line that -I learned she had been a flight attendant and she is indeed charming, attractive and outgoing enough to fit that role. But she is also down to earth in the best of ways.

It is always reassuring to be reminded that everything we need is provided by Nature and to learn more about how to find and use these things. Someday we may need to. In the meantime , just knowing all this adds interest to a simple walk on a country road or even around our gardens where Nature often gives us a weed we didn’t know we needed.

I brought home a copy of Ila’s book, “Roadside Rambles, a Collection of Wild Food Recipes” (available for $8.95 plus $2.75 for shipping for one to five books, from Ila Hatter, P.O. Box 2522, Robbinsville, NC 28771). On the title page it says, “These recipes are presented, to other ‘gourmet grazers’ from the members of the ‘Incredible Edibles’ club. All recipes have been served and enjoyed at wild food feasts over many years. My daughter gave me a sign once that read: `many guests, have eaten at

this kitchen and gone on to lead normal lives.’”

And further on she says, “Many of our green plant choices are common weeds – ‘A weed is a plant whose virtues have not been discovered,’ or plants used in earlier times and now neglected in favor of garden vegetables.

Ronald Rood wrote, “The weed is the real thing. Cultivated vegetables are imitations. Every vegetable from asparagus to zucchini is the descendent of a wild ancestor.'”

In the Appalachians, she says, “On any 1-mile walk you can expect to find at least 50 wild edibles:” There may not be that many in Florida, but there are still a great number. Some of them are less tasty than others and some are harder to prepare for the table.

Nevertheless, the book has all sorts of information you can use, and when I learn all of it. I’ll pass it on to my children in Iowa who can use the rest.

There are rules for this gourmet grazing. The book says

Collect only what you need, Leave some plant to go to seed.

When gathering yarrow lops, Leave the roots to grow more tops.

Mints and such you’ll find abundant, Flowers and leaves are most redundant!

She stresses that it is always important to be a conservationist and to know what you are gathering, to respect the rights of the landowner and never gather on private property without permission. Even more important, you must learn the few deadly or dangerous species.

And keep in mind that some people have allergies to certain foods, even corn or strawberries. At least 10 of the plants featured are so common in Florida that I already know them and many others, we can grow in our gardens if we can’t find them elsewhere.

For each she gives a description for sure identification and several recipes for use.

Garlic, she says, is a sign that a garden was once there, for it reseeds for generations, up to 100 years. The health benefits of all forms of garlic and onions go back to the Egyptian tombs.

She also showed us many medicinal plants. If poison ivy is in an area, no doubt there is another plant nearby, such as jewelweed, to cure it.

Best of all, she gave us a great respect for old ways and old remedies and also, for modern conveniences. I cherish the book she signed as “A Kindred Spirit.” If you order one, ask her to sign it for you, too.