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Cures from the garden
Smithgall Woods workshop offers lessons on medicinal plants

Medicinal Plant Series: Herbs of Summer

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Smithgall Woods State Park, 61 Tsalaki Trail, Helen

How much: $35 per person, $5 for parking

Contact: 706-878-3087

Hundreds of years ago, it was common for folks to search their gardens or neighboring woods to find treatments for their ailments.

With the invention of modern medicine and the convenience of having a pharmacy with ready-made medicine on nearly every corner, most people have gotten away from that practice. However, as more and more people seek to simplify their lives and go "green," interest in medicinal plant use is growing.

"We used to have one (medicinal plant) class a year, but there has been a lot of interest lately so we decided to expand the course," said Johnna Tuttle, interpretive ranger at Smithgall Woods State Park.

Now the park near Helen offers a series of three classes that explores what plants, herbs and trees can be used for medicinal purposes. The classes are divided throughout the year so the park's staff can take a look at seasonally available plants.

"Each of the classes is broken down into three different parts," Tuttle said. "There's an outdoor plant identification hike, an indoor information presentation and a product-making workshop."

During the product-making portion of the class, participants learn how everyday items such as vinegar, honey and other "infusions" can be blended with common plants and herbs to create effective medicines.

On the guided hike, workshop attendees learn how to identify medicinal plants by their summer blooms.

"The flower of a plant is one of the easiest ways to identify it," Tuttle said.

The cost of each class is $35 per participant, plus $5 parking fee.

The next workshop is set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and covers summer plants. Registrants are required to call in advance to reserve a spot.

Two of the plants that the summer workshop will cover are jewel weed and elderberry.

"Jewel weed is pretty well known and useful for treating skin irritations like poison ivy," Tuttle said.

"The flowers of the elderberry are particularly useful for treating excess mucus (related to) things like allergies and (the common cold). The leaves of the elderberry are very emollient, so they are good for skin care applications."

The final medicinal plant class at Smithgall for the year will be held in November.

"Most of the plants that we will discuss are available in this area," Tuttle said.

"I like to focus on things that are available in our own backyard."