May 14, 2014

We just registered the prairie habitat on our farm Mockingbird Meadows with Monarch Watch and are expanding the plants we grow for them. You may have already read that the monarch is in trouble due to the types of crops we’re growing and the chemicals we spray on them. They’re also threatened because of a lack of habitat and food sources—something that just about all of us can do something about.

On an herbal farm like ours, we’ve found that when you focus on creating a habitat for medicinal plants, you cannot help but create habitat for winged and various footed critters, as well. A specific habitat to raise awareness about the monarch seemed logical. I remember the return of their black-and-orange magic every year when I was a kid. Milkweed was plentiful in the field next to my house, and it was hard to find one plant without a cloud of monarchs surrounding it. This is a rare sight these days, and one I would like to see my children enjoy.

Of course, my eye ranges over any landscape with a perspective of how the plants benefit human health. So in that spirit, I thought today I might write about a couple plants that you and the monarch may share.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Attract Monarchs with Butterfly Weed - Photo courtesy Theodore Webster/USDA-ARS (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Theodore Webster/USDA-ARS

Planting butterfly weed, also known as pleurisy root, has a benefit for monarch butterflies, humans and the future of the plant itself. United Plant Savers has identified it as a plant species “To Watch” on its list of medicinal plants that are threatened. It has a beautiful waxy, orange flower and serves as both a nectar and a host plant for the monarch.

While it’s not used as much today, butterfly weed has been used throughout the history of the Americas. It was an important plant for breaking a fever and for dry, racking coughs. It’s especially effective with illnesses that create a dry mucous membrane. It’s an important plant to have in our gardens for some of the respiratory diseases we have forgotten how to treat, such as whooping cough.

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum)

Attract Monarchs with Joe Pye Weed - Photo by Joseph LaForest/University of Georgia (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Joseph LaForest/University of Georgia

This herb is also called Queen of the Meadow or gravel root. It is easy to see how butterflies would be attracted to it as it has the typical flat “platform” flower covered with wispy anthers. Joe Pye weed is a nectar plant for the monarch, and for us humans, it’s a wonderful plant to get to know if you have a tendency toward arthritis or kidney stones. We use the Joe Pye weed root in tinctures or decocted tea form (aka, boiled in water). It is known to help dissolve calcareous build-up and assist the kidneys establish a healthy flow. Often the health of our kidneys are wrapped up our tendency to maintain healthy joints, so it is no surprise that this plant has this dual purpose.

It’s easy to grow gravel root for yourself. It likes a boggy soil and can often be found growing in land that is otherwise classified as waster ground. Plant it near your pond or in that low spot and it will thrive.

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