Herbalists Jack Belmont and his wife Joanne Burrescia have taken nearly 100 people out in the woods to eat weeds. For two-years, Belmont and Burrescia have been taking guests on herb walks in the Tonto National Forest.
"We like to show people wild, edible, medicinal plants that are growing all around us," Belmont said. "There are well over 200 that are native to this area."
Belmont took a group of seven to See Canyon and within a few paces was pointing to plants and listing uses.
"I suggest everybody grow this," he said crouching down to show the leaves of an Oregon grape plant. "This is my prediction: This is going to be the hot herb for the first few years of the next millennium.
"It has a historic use of being able to fight staff infections and can be used in place of Goldenseal."
To use the plant, you harvest the roots, dry them and then, Belmont said, you have two choices. You can tincture them, which is a process of drawing the chemical -- in this case berberine -- out of the plant through an alcohol process. Or you can chop the dried plant, place it in a coffee mill or blender and encapsulate the powder. Capsules are available at health food stores.
"We are not doctors," he said. "We don't practice medicine."
They are, instead, herbalists. Belmont is working on a master herbalist degree with a school of natural healing in Utah.
"We are simply relating the historical uses for medicinal herbs," he said. "I love growing food, I love nature. This world is a friendlier place than most people perceive.
We are as much a part of this earth as any other creature here," he said. "The earth is always trying to heal itself. There will always be new growth. Our bodies work this way -- they try to work toward wellness."
People are most often surprised by the way common weeds can be used, Belmont said.
"The common plants people refer to as weeds are really good food," he said. "I encourage them to grow dandelions."
Dandelion was originally used as medicine for the liver, he said.
"It is very good for you. It is not to cure anything.," he said. "It is a cleanser and makes the liver function better."
Belmont's fondness for dandelions has led him to cultivate a plant that millions of other Americans are busy trying to kill.
"It is so persistent," he said. "It comes back year after year saying, 'Hey guys, eat me.'"
Pick a dandelion each day and eat it, Belmont said, or cook it like spinach. It tastes better than spinach, he said. It may taste bitter, but bitter is good, he said.
"If you chew on something bitter, you are going to get hungry in a few minutes," he said. The bitter taste stimulates digestive juices in the stomach promoting better digestion.
Originally, salads were made of bitter ingredients and eaten before the meal to help the stomach digest the heavier foods that followed, Belmont said.
Herbal history and helpful hints have been lost in the past few generations, Belmont said, but he hopes to revive that long-lost information during the herb walks he leads.
"This is knowledge that has been handed down for hundreds of generations, and I believe it has gotten away from us in the last two or three generations," Belmont said. Today, instead of hunting and gathering, folks are used to getting nutrition third- and fourth-hand in a refined condition, he said.
Native herbs, considered weeds by some, are gaining cultivated ground space and popularity by those who want to get back to their roots.
"A lot of people now are growing amaranth, purslane and lamb's quarters because they are exceptional," Belmont said. "Lamb's quarter is reported in a government bulletin to be the most nutritionally packed vegetable. (Lamb's quarter and amaranth) taste like spinach but better, and purslane is loaded with Omega 3 which they believe is a very good cancer preventative. These are just common plants which most people think of as weeds."
People should eat more weeds and less junk for their health, he said.
"If you are eating food that has nutrition, then that is fuel for your body," he said. "If you are eating potato chips and ice cream, that is not fuel. You would not put watered-down gas in your car on purpose, but we don't hesitate to eat junk."
For more information, call Cimarron Frontiers at 474-6245.