Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pearly Everlasting Time

It’s pearly everlasting time. Often found in wild dried-flower arrangements, pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, has a number of medicinal uses. Just the same, few, if any, depend upon this plant for medicine. But one of its uses would probably enjoy wide appeal if only more people knew of it.

The little white, globular flowers, when chewed, assuage thirst by keeping the mouth moist. When hiking, I like to chew on a few pearly everlasting flowers. Besides their thirst-quenching capabilities, these flowers have a mild but pleasant flavor…at least to my way of thinking.

The plant averages about 18 inches, but can grow as tall as three feet. The leaves, long, thin, grayish-green above and whitish beneath, grow alternately up the stem. The flowers, described above, are held atop the plant in clusters.

Late summer marks the height of pearly everlasting season. When present, these plants often appear in fairly large colonies. They prefer poor, even sterile soil, so common in much of Maine.

So next time you see pearly everlasting, stop and take a minute to pick some flowers. At first, they feel quite dry in the mouth. But with a bit of chewing, they swell and release their flavor. I much prefer these to chewing gum.

By the way, a friend tells me that he enjoys sweet everlasting in a tea. The trouble is, sweet everlasting does not grow anywhere near my friend’s house. I'm convinced that he is picking pearly everlasting and thinks he has sweet everlasting. The same guy also claims to use sweet goldenrod in a tea. That does not grow here either. He is mistaking Canada goldenrod for sweet goldenrod. This all points out the value in making a proper identification. In my friend’s case, there is no harm, since both the actual and imagined species are harmless. But if a look-alike plant was toxic, and someone mistook it for a good one, possibly bad results could occur.

So get a good field guide before using any plant internally. That said, be sure to try the flowers of pearly everlasting. They may become a regular part of your outdoor ventures in late summer.

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