WADE, Maine — Natalia Bragg has six generations’ worth of herbal and natural healing lore burning a hole in her soul to get out.
She shared a fraction of that knowledge Sunday with members of the public who visited her Knot-II-Bragg Farm as part of Maine’s Open Farm Day.
“We farmers are disappearing,” Bragg said during a break in a tour of her lush herb gardens. “To keep us from disappearing we need to become evident.”
Tucked off a side road in Wade, a small community between Caribou and Presque Isle, Knott-II-Bragg is part working farm, part herbarium and part apothecary.
In her shop Bragg uses the plants, herbs and roots from her 80-acre farm to create numerous natural remedies treating everything from muscle pain to liver ailments.
“Everything I do is based on six generations of knowledge from my family,” Bragg said. “Right back to Sarah Randall in London, England, who made all the soaps for the king and queen.”
Walking staff in hand and with the occasional yard chicken scampering past, Bragg walked her visitors around her yard pointing out plants that many might consider nuisance weeds.
“The root from this can be used as a blood purifier for anyone with problems with the liver or kidneys,” she said, standing next to a massive burdock plant. “For people who have problems with those internal organs they often try course after course of antibiotics.”
From Bragg’s point of view, people have two choices: sticking with pharmaceutically produced drugs or looking to the natural world.
“Burdock is a plant you can use with impunity unless you have an allergic reaction to it,” she said. “Once you rule allergies out, it can be your best friend.”
People need to do their own research, Bragg said, to find a balance between the scientific and natural remedies that work for their specific situations.
Bragg pointed to a lush rosebush, one she grew from a small cutting of one her grandmother brought into Aroostook County.
“For years it just managed to stay alive, but in the last couple of years it really started going crazy,” she said. “Those rose hips on it are right full of vitamin C.”
Knot-II-Bragg is home to 28 varieties of trees and shrubs in addition to a multitude of grasses and flowering plants.
“A lot of people would look around and say, ‘What a weed patch,’” Bragg said. “But it’s a happy weed patch.”
Among her plants are several hovering on the brink of extinction because of loss of habitat, including elecampane, the root of which contains properties similar to insulin, and wild bergamot, which American Indians say fights skin cancer.
“If you have a plant that an entire population says works for something, why not try it?” Bragg asked.
“These plants and their uses were old when this country was young,” Bragg said. “We need to learn what the natural world has to offer and use it with impunity [because] it’s free for the taking.”
At the same time, Bragg stressed that it takes time to learn the proper identification and uses of natural remedies.
“It takes at least 10 years to assemble the knowledge for a good apothecary,” she said.
A long time, she acknowledges, but worth every minute.
“When you use natural remedies and see they work, you wonder how you were brain-dead for so long,” she said. “All of this can be used hand in glove with medical doctors.”
Bragg has been at it for more than 40 years and in 1995 opened her shop, and she desires no more than to share her knowledge with others.
Every Friday of the first full week of the month she offers classes open to the public.
Her next class, “Simple Country Remedies,” is Aug. 7 and the $35 fee includes a lunch.
“We saw this on the news and decided to come take a look,” Peter Michaud of Wallagrass said. “We have ATVs and go riding a lot and my wife, Kathy, is always pointing out plants.”
Kathy Michaud said she took an herbalist course in the 1970s and would love the chance for a “refresher” course with Bragg.
“This is really awesome,” Kathy Michaud said of Bragg’s farm and shop. “There is so much to learn.”
Part of that learning experience, Bragg said, is teaching respect for the natural world and all it has to offer.
“Just because you’re an herbalist doesn’t mean you can hit a field and take all the plants,” she said. “There are 27 endangered plants in this area and one of them could be the cure for skin cancer so we can’t let people walk or ride all over these plants.”
Information on Bragg’s courses and products is available on her Web site at www.knotiibragg.com/index.html.