This article includes quotes from my favorite wildflower book, Michigan Wildflowers by Helen V. Smith with illustrations by Ruth Powell Brede, first published in 1961.
It’s “teasel time” on the Palouse; the teasels are blooming!
Teasel is in the Valerian Family. Valerian was a Roman emperor, notorious for being forced by others to persecute the Christians. The “valerian” herb is considered a rather potent medicine. Teasels are not native to the Americas.
“Teasel is a troublesome weed, but one species, Dipsacus fullonum L. (originally named by Linnaeus), was formerly grown commercially because the ripe inflorescences (flower heads) were used by textile mills for raising the nap on cloth.”
This of course is also the time when many other summer flowers bloom. I photographed a few notable examples in a nearby field. Next we see a teasel growing alongside a Mullein plant. Also known as “Flannel Plant,” its leaves are unusually fuzzy.
Mullein is in the Figwort family. This family also includes Foxglove.
It is plentiful here, but it is one of many weeds introduced from Europe. In this area its flower heads are commonly attacked by insects. I know from other sources that its leaves and flowers have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. One fascinating aspect of studying wildflowers is to find out how many were used for medicine in past times.
St. John’s-wort is showy when it first blooms because of all the flowers. When not blooming it is rarely noticed, but grows practically everywhere. Its small leaves are peculiar in that they are speckled with numerous translucent dots. The common species (Hypericum perforatum L.) was introduced from Europe. It was known there as an herbal medicine and the plant does indeed produce at least two biochemically active compounds.
This large Umbellifer (flowers in umbrella-shaped clusters), is probably Cow Parsnip. The family includes carrots, celery, parsley, anise, chervil, dill and fennel, as well as Poison Hemlock. Smith says of Cow Parsnip:
“The Indians used this species for medicine and food. The young stalks were roasted over hot coals. The leaf stalks were peeled and eaten raw like celery. The young roots when cooked taste like rutabaga.”