Local botanist and herbalist completed new book as a guide to medicinal and edible plants of the region | SteamboatToday.com
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Local botanist and herbalist completed new book as a guide to medicinal and edible plants of the region

Mary O'Brien, left, and Karen Vail have written a new guide to medicinal and edible plants of the region called "Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies" .
John F. Russell

If You Go...

What: “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” book signing with authors Karen Vail and Mary O’Brien

When: 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24

Where: Yampa River Botanic Park, 1000 Pamela Lane

— Yarrow, elderberry, black-eyed-Susan, mariposa lily, marsh skullcap, buffaloberry, Douglas fir, lodgepole pine: These are but a few of the plants found in the Yampa Valley.

But how much does the layman know about these indigenous plants?

If You Go…

What: “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” book signing with authors Karen Vail and Mary O’Brien



When: 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24

Where: Yampa River Botanic Park, 1000 Pamela Lane



“There are so many people who go on the guided hikes wanting to know about the plants they see every day,” said Mary O’Brien, a local herbalist who also guides hikes with Yampatika and has been studying, practicing and teaching herbal medicine since 1987. “Native plants are important to the ecosystems here, and the more people, especially future generations, know and appreciate those plant, the more they will appreciate and protect them in the future.”

Bringing more than 50 years of knowledge, education and field experience, O’Brien and Karen Vail, a local botanist also known for guiding interpretive hikes through Yampatika, have created the book, “Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” as a field guide of plants found indigenous to Northwest Colorado and the southern Rocky Mountains.

“Whenever we would go out on guided hikes, we would have to take four or fives books with us as a resource …” said Vail, a Steamboat Springs native and the “go to” local resource for information on the area’s native plants. “This is a strange area where a lot of different ecosystems meet, so … we decided there should be a book for our area to identify all the plants here.”

Ten years in the making, the book features 155 plants, pictured in full color and paired with descriptions, medicinal and edible uses, notes, garden uses and cautions. Anecdotes, recipes, poems and quotes can also be found in the book.

From 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 24, Vail and O’Brien will host a book signing at the Yampa River Botanic Park (1000 Pamela Lane).

“Figuring out what to have in (the book) was the fun part,” Vail said. “We both had all of the knowledge in our heads already. Then, we wanted to put more fun facts in there and did a lot of research with that to decide what else we could include.”

Their selection criteria included proximity of plants to the Yampa Valley and plants Vail or O’Brien knew well or had experience using for medicinal and edible purposes.

According to Sue Leonard, local consultant for independent publishers, said the scope of the project was much larger than many other independent publishing projects.

“It was quite a large project, because there was so much research, fact-checking and indexing that went into it, even the photos that they took out in the field,” Leonard said. “But they are so well-known for the work they have done here that their combined experience and knowledge makes this a really good resource for so many …”

Vail and O’Brien said the project couldn’t have been completed without the community’s support.

A Kickstarter crowdfunding platform was used to help fund the first round of printing and pay for the formatting and proofing expenses. O’Brien said they set the goal at $3,500 and received $4,670 from 82 supporters.

“To be able to use this and actually hand a resource to someone and say, ‘This is what our world is all about, and this is how we see it,’ is why we wrote this,” Vail said. “And now, there’s so much excitement to see something we’ve been working on all of these years and finally, have it in our hands.”

After the book signing, the book will soon be on the shelves at Off the Beaten Path and other local stores. The 270-page book is priced at $20.95, plus tax.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1


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