Stumbling into Ancient Gardens

Oxalis montana, pellaea / CC BY (

I strayed from the path. Not unusual for me.

Frequently I feel drawn to places and plants long before I see them. This time, I wandered away from my partner after finding a species of Oxalis that I’ve never seen before.

This is how it happens. I feel drawn. I walk, almost blindly. Then suddenly I know I’m there. I stop, look around, and see who’s there.

Bloodroot. Ivy Main / CC BY-SA (

This time I find myself surrounded by almost every woodland medicinal plant. Black cohosh, blue cohosh, Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seal, geranium, goldenseal, trillium, tall white lettuce, bloodroot… and a few more. Everything except the elusive American ginseng. Not surprising since it has been widely harvested beyond its ability to reproduce.

I stand amazed staring at this array of medicinal plants. Likewise they seem to stand there looking back at me. If plants have a way to grin and giggle, they were laughing their heads off.

I thought, this is a garden.

Blue cohosh flower. USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA / Public domain

I know that some people still believe that the indigenous peoples of North American weren’t avid gardeners, but many studies have shown that their gardening techniques weren’t obvious to early settlers.

You may ask yourself, was it just by happenstance that all these plants congregated in one place?

Of course, I ask myself this same question. I circle the immediate area. I find nothing like it. There are some strays here and there, but nothing so “organized.”

Trillium. СССР / CC BY-SA 2.5 CA (

I remember that it took a while to find an open trail. Much of this wildlife refuge is closed for nesting season.

In an indigenous life, nesting season is egg season.

Goldenseal. James St. John / CC BY (

Many of these plants emerge before the green canopy of leaves shades them. Many flower and settle into dormancy long before summer wanes. So they are gathered in the early summer to midsummer.

When they die back, they are difficult to find, unless you know where to look. And, of course, you’d likely know where to look if you planted them yourself. But then again, perhaps these folk would travel to new hunting or gathering ground before the sun began to make its way south.

And if you still doubt that I stumbled into an ancient garden, then perhaps it might be compelling to know that when I returned to the path, I found myself looking at a sign that said, Archaeological Site.

Note: most of the plants mentioned in this story are at-risk of being endangered. To learn more and help preserve these vital species, visit

Smooth Solomon’s seal. Fritzflohrreynolds / CC BY-SA (