Jane Desotelle would like to use the Plattsburgh Botanical Sanctuary as a place to educate others while protecting that plants that call the property home.
The empty lot behind Jane Desotelle’s mother’s house on Riley Avenue looked like an overgrown wasteland.
But where some saw a tangled mess of foliage, Desotelle saw life.
The plot needed to be tamed a little, so about two years ago she began working her way through the seemingly impenetrable mess, and as the log-lined paths became defined, the Plattsburgh Botanical Sanctuary also began to take shape.
“It’s important to note that it’s a sanctuary, not a garden. It isn’t intended to look pretty; there’s no real design to it,” Desotelle said. “The two main purposes are to educate people and to protect plants, especially those that are endangered or on a watch list.”
There are several at-risk plant species growing in the sanctuary, including trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit and blue cohosh, the roots of which are harvested commercially for a wide range of medicinal purposes.
Desotelle, who sells all manner of wild and locally picked fruits, vegetables and greens under the name Underwood Herbs, has also discovered an abundance of useful plants thriving on the property.
She discovered a morel mushroom growing beneath some dense undergrowth, and a large, healthy rhubarb plant amidst a tangle of berry bushes.
There are also dandelions throughout the sanctuary, a common plant, often dismissed as a prolific weed by frustrated lawn manicurists, that has several uses.
Desotelle makes dandelion jelly from the flowers, uses the leaves as a salad green, roasts the roots and adds them to coffee and also makes tea from the roots.
“Dandelion root is beneficial to people in many ways. It helps regulate the blood sugar, and is good for the liver and gall bladder,” Desotelle said. “Hopefully when people are done with a tour that I give them, they’ll think twice about spraying their lawns.”
Dandelions aren’t the only plants common to our region whose usefulness is often overlooked.
Another is wild plantain, a short plant with wide leaves that populates roadsides, fields and lawns everywhere and can be eaten as a salad green or made into a tea that is good for fighting colds and internal bleeding.
Finding food and medicinal plants in the wild is tempting, especially since they are anything but rare, but amateur foragers need to be mindful of what they consume, and should learn from experts or, at the very least, from a field guide.
“With wild plants, you need to pay attention to what part of the plant is edible, just as you do in your garden,” Desotelle said. “Take that rhubarb over there. The leaves are poisonous but the stems are edible. You just need to know what you can eat.”
The educational aspect of the sanctuary is important to Desotelle, who said anyone who volunteers to help her complete and maintain the Plattsburgh Botanical Sanctuary will receive knowledge in return.
She’d also like to reach out to nearby schools, like Oak and Bailey elementary schools, which are both within walking distance.
Students from Plattsburgh State are also welcome to volunteer or utilize the sanctuary for research, Desotelle said.
“I’m at the age where it’s time for me to teach people, to pass on everything I’ve learned and experienced,” Desotelle said.
To learn more, visit Desotelle’s blog at underwoodherbs.com.
To learn more about volunteering or educational opportunities, contact Desotelle at firstname.lastname@example.org