Swamp Medicine: Healing Plants of Central Florida

Herbalist Emily Ruff presented “Swamp Medicine: Healing Plants of Central Florida” at the 2017 International Herb Symposium, highlighting medicinal plants growing in the subtropical climate surrounding the Orlando area.

While unfamiliar to many herbalists in temperate climates, the herbs featured within this presentation are central to the melting pot plant medicine traditions of this bioregion. Many traditions inform herbalism in Central Florida, from days gone by to modern times. Historic cultures using plants include pre-Seminole cultures who embraced the cycads and palms signature to our state, Spanish colonists who brought favorite plant medicines to cultivate within their settlements, migrating tribes like Creeks and Cherokees as well as southern slaves seeking refuge in Spanish-ruled Florida tucked seeds in bags and pockets and carried them into the region, and Caribbean settlers and slaves brought their favorite flora with them.

In modern times, our blended herbal tradition also experiences the effects of tourist activity and a desire for exotic plants in a landscape. The climate in Florida provides a perfect habitat for wandering weeds hitchhiking along the hems of our pants when traveling to Florida from other tropical regions, and showy specimens from Asia, Africa, and South America often opportunistically hop the borders of backyard gardens and establish themselves (sometimes aggressively) within the ecology.

The slideshow below outlines a number of Emily’s favorite medicinal plants in our bioregion. Special thanks to a handful of Emily’s teachers who have kept the wisdom of these subtropical plants alive and have shared them so generously.

Peggy Lantz – master naturalist, edible plant expert, and author of Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles

James Duke – ethnobotanist and co-author of Peterson’s Field Guide of Medicinal Plants of Eastern & Central United States

Steven Foster – herbalist and co-author of Peterson’s Field Guide of Medicinal Plants of Eastern & Central United States

Julia Morton – ethnobotanist and author of numerous books on Florida plants including The Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America

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