From The Desk of Josh Gitalis

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…your backyard!

This past long-weekend we celebrated Canada Day. And what better way to spend it then to forage for local foods and herbs in our backyard (metaphorically and literally speaking).

The first herb that I came upon was St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum L.). This is one of the best herbs for treating depression. It is the top natural prescription in the world because it is so efficacious. There is fantastic monograph on St. John’s Wort here.

St. John's Wort


In our garden we have a gooseberry bush that has been providing healthy bounties for many years. Berries are a powerhouse of antioxidants and disease-preventing phytochemicals.



Another berry which I found right down the street from my home is mulberry. It is widely available as a “superfood” due to its nutritious profile. They grow on trees and stain the sidewalk below with their red juices. Easy to find if you’re looking up or down.



During a hike with the family, I showed my parents the edible pollinating tops of cattail. They make a great flour or a quick midday snack on the trail.

Cattail pollen



Nature is a great way for people to switch their nervous systems from a fight or flight mode (sympathetic dominant) to a rest and digest healing mode (parasympathetic dominant). My friend David Segal actually uses the calming effects of nature in his counselling approach.

Nature chill pill


I also found a bunch of wild peppermint. Peppermint is the first herb I ever harvested, in the backyard of my parent’s home. It continues to be one of my favourite herbs to have as a tea. It is a powerful anti-spasmodic and muscle relaxant. I often use it with my clients for calming an irritable bowel. The literature shows great success with the use of peppermint for IBS1 and I have noticed the benefits clinically as well.



Finally, I harvested rhubarb and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). The rhubarb’s fate is yet to be decided. The lemon balm was immediately processed into a tincture (see blog photo), which will be pressed out for medicine in about a month. It is one of the best herbs for calming the nervous system. Many herbalists prescribe it for headaches. There is fantastic monograph on lemon balm here.

Rhubarb Melissa


It is truly amazing how much food and medicine is right in your own backyard. All you have to do is open your mind and your eyes.

I can’t wait to discover the next wild edible that is hiding in plain sight.

  1. J Pediatrics, 2001; 138:125-8