I'm starting my herb journey in the dead of winter, a strange time of year to start learning native plants, since most plants are dormant this time of year, but my interest has been peaked and I don't want to wait until spring to get started. I have started my journey by reading some herbal blogs such as Kiva Rose's The Medicine Woman's Roots. On her blog Kiva has a list of recommended books for beginners. I started with purchasing "The Herbal Home Remedy Book: Simple Recipes for Tinctures, Teas, Salves, Tonics and Syrups" by Joyce A. Wardell which I'm currently reading. I have been enjoying it very much so far. It's an easy read and describes methods which tend to sound foreign to beginning herbalists (at least they did to me). I also went to the local herb store and asked them for book recommendations for beginners. They sold me two books, "Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs" and "Linda Page's Healthy Healing: a Guide to Self Healing for Everyone." I've flipped through the Encyclopedia and it seems to have a lot of good information in it. The Healthy Healing appears to be a little more new age and less Earthy than what I'm looking for, but I haven't really gotten into it yet so I shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, literally.
A few weeks ago I took my dogs for a walk on the Lower Galena Creek Trail, which is in South Reno, off of the Mt. Rose Highway (SR 431). I was actually going to go for a run, but since the trail gets a lot of use and not much sun, it had turned into a virtual ice skating rink. Needless to say, I decided to walk rather than try to run. I also decided that since I was moving at a pace slower than I intended, I would take the opportunity to observe the plants growing alongside the trail and see how many I could identify (I took some classes in college, but it's been awhile and I'm a bit rusty).
The first plants that jumped out at me were all the giant Jeffrey Pines - Pinus jeffreyi. At this time of year the Jeffrey Pines are the only dark green plants you'll see along this trail, they have fairly long needles that are in bundles of three, also they have "friendly" cones - the barbs point inwards so they don't poke your hands when you pick them up. I also quickly noticed the Quaking Aspen - Populas tremuloides and although they had shed their leaves quite sometime ago, I could recognize them by their gorgeous white bark. There were also many large Fremont Cottonwoods - Populus fremontii along this trail, they had a few brown, withered leaves clinging to the end of the branches.
The next plants I saw, a bit closer to the ground, were the Wild Roses - Rosa woodsii which at this time of year have no leaves or flowers, all they have are a few rose hips holding onto the woody, thorny, branches, like needy progeny grasping at their mother's apathetic body. It's a beautiful sight to see those bright, red rose hips against the brilliant white of the surrounding snow, what a contrast. I also saw a few clusters of Mountain Alder - Alnus incana, they too with no greenery, but always obvious with their skeletal looking cone clusters, attached to their naked branches. There were a few catkins growing off some of the Alder branches which suprised me, although I'm not sure if it should. When do Alders normally start producing catkins? I'll have to look that up.
Scattered between the Alders were some Willows - Salix spp. I'm not sure what species they were, I'll have to study Willow species some more. I also saw a lot of the Nevada State Flower, Sagebrush - Artemisia spp. I do believe they were Big Sagebrush - Artemisia tridentata, however I'm not sure, I need to learn how to identify Sagebrush better as well. The last thing that I saw were a couple of very withered, barely there Mullien - Verbascum thapus. I was glad to find that I can still identify some of the plants that I see here in Northern Nevada, especially in the middle of winter, when nothing is blooming. However, I still have a lot to learn and can't wait to get started.