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I did not know people did this. What is a yard walk?

Little kid walking on a trail in the woods

I wish I knew sooner about yard walks. It never even occurred to me that people did this, but when I did, I loved it.

Now, I owe my friend, Kaye, for introducing me to yard walks.

YARD WALK: a stroll around your own backyard with an expert in identifying herbs (and other plants), who can tell you the story behind the herb. Is it is medicinal, edible, toxic, native, invasive, infamous, or forgotten? It’s a good time. You should organize a party around it. 

Kaye bought a new house last year. Instead of inviting us to a pretty traditional housewarming and touring everyone through all the rooms on the inside of the house, she made her first get-together about the outdoors. Most of us can relate to her feelings about indoor tours causing too much pressure to paint and clean and unpack. Most of us have said, “Oh you gotta see the new place. Some time, when it’s ready, I’ll have you over.”  Instead of procrastinating and pretending like she would ever feel ready for a full-blown housewarming party, Kaye invited us to a yard walk at the new place.

There are so many interesting ‘weeds’ in your yard. If you don’t have a yard, there are interesting wild things growing in your flower pots, at the park down the street or between the cracks in your sidewalk.

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An experienced yard walker can stand in one spot and point to 12 different plants around you, identify them and tell their stories. Are they native plants or stowaways from some long-ago ship voyage? Can you eat them? Are they poisonous? Are they medicine? What did people do with them 200 years ago? Did we forget about them?

In 45 minutes of walking Kaye’s yard, I learned (and retained) as much as I have in some college courses. It reframed the way I looked at my own yard…


Ok, that’s not my yard.  It’s Torrey Pines in San Diego. But it’s such a nice view. More about that later.

Many of us are looking for easy ways to connect with others, to spend time with friends or invest time in forming new friendships. We come up with ideas like bookclubs, guys nights out or cookie swaps. I recommend you add hosting a yard walking party to that list of ideas for get-togethers. Even if you or your friends are not nature buffs, it is an experience. It’s empowering to learn how to look at something that’s been hiding in plain sight your entire life and identify it.


The everyday weed in this photo is mullein. Up until the last 100 years, the leaves were brewed into a tea for sore throats. (Full disclosure, I did not see this one on Kaye’s yard walk, but I have some in my own yard.)

Problem: it’s not exactly like yard walkers advertise like lawyers. You won’t see their photo on the side of a city bus.

If you have a local university, botanical or garden center, that would be a good place to start. Many local agencies have departments that study native or invasive plants and may offer you some resources. Try the American Herblists Guild membership lists. They might not exactly have what you need, which is more like a wild plant ranger. You can do an online search for “wild herb walks” or “herblists” near you.

If you are lucky enough to have a nature center near you, they may offer foraging hikes or woodland discovery tours that are in the same spirit of a yard walk but lack some of the personal connection. I mean few things are as personal as getting acquainted with the hundreds of plant species growing in your own backyard or on your block.

Would you help me brainstorm other places to find experienced yard and herb walk guides?

Hey you. Me?

Yes, you, the person reading this article. If you can think of additional resources or you’ve been on an herbal or yard walk, please add a comments about it.

For the do-it-yourselfers, there are field guides you can buy. Peterson’s are popular, but I found myself squinting at some of the sketches not really sure if I was looking at an invasive or a native. Please don’t ever eat wild plants you are unsure of or if you don’t know whether they might be sprayed with pesticides.

When I was at Torrey Pines getting that photo pictured earlier, my family and I hiked the cliffs along the shore. While we were passing through the trails, I spotted some native wild sage. Not only could I identify it on sight, my proud mama moment was when my six year old spotted it and yelled, “Sage!”

Come on. How is that real life? But it was. Well done, kid.


If you want to learn more, visit my on-going series about forgotten herbs.


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Queen Anne’s Lace: Both Royal Diva and Outlaw

A beautiful article from The Herb Society of America about a pretty herb that most people probably overlook. Add some Queen Anne’s Lace to any flower arrangement. Snap the stem and breathe in the delicate scent of wild carrot, a cousin to the bigger roots you might eat with humus.

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Forgotten herb: chicory

Wild chicory blue flowers wildflowers

Imagine it is April 24, 1862.

You live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and set out on a beautiful Thursday morning to go pick up a copy of the local newspaper.

If you are a lover of fine hot beverages, you were about to have a really disappointing day. In fact, the day’s headlines likely made you think, “Oh darlin, we may never taste coffee again.” (You have to read it with a Southern accent.)

Oh well, you knew this day would come. There were Union blockades of the shores all around the south. You heard the bombs and gunfire, but on that day in April, the boys in blue were more than near your shoreline. They had captured the city, and no more coffee was getting through those lines.

If you’re an optimist, your second thought would be, “I’m going to find an alternative.”

Allow me to reintroduce you to chicory.

Unlike some of the less-invasive forgotten herbs, you’ve probably been around chicory your whole life without really noticing it. Do these little blue flowers look familiar?


Chicory is not native to the US. If you lived in Europe or with someone who did, you might already know all about using chicory in coffee. One of my French roommates absolutely craved it. It was in her blood as the French have a long history with chicory coffee, too. They also experienced a war-time blockade that pushed them toward the need for an alternative hot beverage.

To be fair, there are other varieties of chicory, most of which you might have know as different types of endive or Italian dandelions. Their roots can be roasted into coffee alternatives as well.

Even though Europeans introduced chicory seeds to the US during colonial times, the nation-wide spreading of the wildflower is a direct result of the American Civil War negatively affecting the availability of tea and coffee in the divided country.

Back in the day, the plant was widely cultivated in private gardens. When it was mature, the root was dug up, roasted and ground into a brewed hot drink, an alternative to coffee. It’s not really a thing of the past. Some Americans still prefer the flavor of coffee blended with roasted chicory root. Je te regard…I’m looking at you, Café du Monde.

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Chicory is not a wildflower at all. It’s an escaped prisoner. Much like my experience cultivating chives, chicory was just not well-behaved. It busted out of our ancestors’ garden centuries ago and now stretches its roots along highways and roadsides in pretty much every city in the US.

One more thing, that might just split the audience here…chicory is caffeine free.

Chicory wildflower blue flower blooms

I hope you enjoy these articles.

You can read about more forgotten herbs in the on-going series.

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Forgotten herbs

Dried calendula flowers diy for oil infusions and healing herb salve

Imagine your great-grandkid never hearing the words mint or parsley or sage?

Well, in a way, you are that great-grandkid. I am that great-grandkid.

As chain grocers and supermarkets opened stores all across the world, they favored plants that travelled well. Over time, we simply forgot about a large number of herbs and veggies that were so common generations before us took them for granted.

Funnier still, you drive by some of them all of the time and might not know it. Some of those old-time, common plants escaped your ancestors’ gardens and are now called by the same generic term, “weeds”.

clary plant

But, all is not lost. In this series I want to take you back to a time when the herbs mentioned here were well known.


Explore the series on Forgotten Herbs.  I hope you try an idea or two. Each of the pages will provide you with links to buy some seeds of your own. Maybe we can bring back the popularity of some of these herbs.

Forgotten herb: borage
Forgotten herb: nasturtium
Forgotten herb: clary sage
Forgotten herb: calendula
Forgotten herb: chicory
Forgotten herb: balsam apple

Follow me on Instagram @farmstandculture for more photos of #forgottenherbs