7 Acre Wood Farm Botanical Sanctuary

Burnsville, Virginia
Sanctuary Stewards: Anne Bryan and Joe Murray

Anne smelling black cohosh flowers

This is how a 7-acre botanical sanctuary can help heal a community’s people and soil. Last year was our first year as a member in the Botanical Sanctuary Network. Receiving formal recognition from United Plant Savers and seeing our name listed with the other like-minded conservationists across North America made us feel a difference in how we related to the land.

Our first impulse in 2017 was to better understand what plants were growing on our property. Equipped with over one dozen plant identification books, we set out to identify as many plants as possible and were delighted to realize in our first year as botanical explorers, we had identified 231 plant species! We were especially pleased to learn that over 90% of the plants identified had some medicinal property recognized by Native Americans. We will continue this identification quest in 2018 and expand our search to include bryophytes, lichens, fungi, and grasses.

To improve habitat for medicinal plants, we invested time and energy to fence off areas in the forest and meadows that contained plants listed “At-Risk” on the UpS website, denying the deer browsing rights to ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). These protected areas will now allow us to expand our plantings of cultivated medicinal plants and encourage the spread of wild medicinal plants.
In keeping with permaculture design principles, we were able to turn what at first appeared to be a liability into an opportunity. Living at an elevation of 2,400 feet with a slope between 10-15% means two things: we live in a colder hardiness zone than our friends in town and, when standing outside, our feet are rarely level. We took advantage of relatively steep topography and created a series of swales to collect, move, and store rainwater. In 2017, we increased space dedicated to cultivated medicinal herbs by creating approximately 1,000 square feet of planting space in these new swales.

Medicinal plant swale after the rain

After entering a partnership with our local electric cooperative in which we assume responsibility for managing the electric utility right-of-way with vegetation that will not conflict with the electric wires, we continue to transform the formerly barren landscape into a vibrant habitat that supports pollinators and medicinal plants.
Last year we were both invited as guest speakers at area garden clubs and local libraries and continue to accept invitations to speak about our medicinal herbs and efforts at creating pollinator habitat. In addition to sharing resources, herbal teas, tinctures, and salves, we also share seeds from our medicinal plants with family, friends, community members, and participants at our workshops. This year we are excited to accept an invitation to be instructors and share our knowledge and experience growing medicinal herbs at the Allegheny Mountain Institute, a permaculturally-inspired educational non-profit organization training young adults in creative food growing systems and public outreach.