“I want to be a fairy,” says Lottie V. Spady. From her 3-acre edible forest garden in Clarkston, where she whips up tinctures and teas, and syrups and smoothies from medicinal herbs picked fresh from her enchanting land, it appears as though the herbalist and homesteader is living out her dreams.
Spady, a Detroit native, says she’s always been a “hippie at heart,” but she still marvels at the drastic turn her life has taken since she traded city life for a more rural experience nearly seven years ago. For more than a decade, Spady leveraged her background as a multimedia specialist to innovate ways to teach inner-city youth about environmental and food justice. As an associate director at East Michigan Environmental Action Council in Detroit, she founded ReMedia, a program that gave children hands-on experience in covering environmental and food issues through filmmaking. “My theory was that they may not care about composting — but I bet they’d love to make a movie about composting,” she says with a laugh.
In 2014, in the wake of the Detroit bankruptcy, Spady’s professional life took a turn when she was laid off from her role at the Action Council. Her personal life began to unravel as well. “Both of my parents passed away within a few years of each other, and I was their caregiver,” she says. Intrigued by natural ingredients with medicinal properties, Spady would create fresh juices to help her mother’s digestion issues. Her take on a lemonade was made with aloe vera and stevia. “One day, before she passed, she wheeled over to me and said, ‘You know that stuff is healing me from the inside out?’ I felt so empowered.”
After the layoff and her parents’ deaths, Spady says she sought out herbalism practices for her own healing. She enrolled in an herbalism intensive in Clarkston and began testing out recipes to help end a yearslong battle with sinus-related migraines. She’d blend ingredients, such as hyssop and rose petals, to make a soothing daily tea, and slowly, she healed her physical symptoms as well as her emotional and spiritual afflictions. “Herbalism just opened up a whole new world for me.”
Today, Spady bridges her work as an herbalist with her passion for food justice through partnerships with local nonprofits, such as Keep Growing Detroit, FoodPlus Detroit, and various Black-owned urban farms. Leading courses on plant identification, herbal education, and growing medicinal gardens through her company Earthseed Detroit allows Spady to support marginalized communities with the information needed to promote food sovereignty. “My tagline, ‘do-it-yourself community health,’ is about putting practical tools into people’s hands. I look at herbalism and foraging as something you can do for your family right now,” she says. “I know nature saved my life.”
Name that Plant!
Lottie V. Spady identifies five edible plants growing at her Clarkston homestead
A number of edible plants grow right on the lawns of many Michigan homes. Chickweed, for example, is a wild ground cover named after its appeal to grazing chickens. “Chickweed is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals,” Spady says. “Its name actually comes from the fact that chickens have much better shell production when they eat this plant, so you can imagine that it’s rich in calcium and magnesium.” Spady suggests infusing it with apple cider vinegar to make healthy tonics or vinaigrettes for roasting fresh vegetables.
“Monarda is a great respiratory herb,” Spady says. She infuses the peppery leaf into raw honey to create a sweet-and-spicy concoction perfect for medicinal teas. We bet it would work just as well as a great marinade or dipping sauce for a chicken dish.
This invigorating plant grows wild on Spady’s land, offering an abundance for mint tea. All it takes is a moment in a dehydrator, then it’s ready for steeping. If she’s experimenting, Spady will test the mountain mint in a new recipe. “One thing I like to experiment with is herb salts,” she says. “I’ve never made a mint sugar, though, so that might be cool. I’d just throw it in a clean coffee grinder with organic sugar to pulverize it.”
Spady says fresh tips of the spruce tree yield citrusy notes that work well for cocktail syrups. “I just add a handful of the tender spruce tips to a mason jar with organic raw sugar, seal the jar, and sit it in a sunny windowsill for a couple months,” she says. “Once I strain it, I’ll probably end up with about a quarter of a cup, and it’ll be really concentrated.” For a savory alternative, Spady says spruce tips can be macerated for salad dressings, as well.
“When people come to me for an herbal consultation, no matter what, I recommend drinking a quart of nettle tea every day for 30 days. That alone will help fill in any nutritional gaps that you have,” Spady says. She recommends placing the leaves in boiling water and letting them steep overnight. “There’s pleasure tea, and there’s medicinal tea. Your 3-to 5-minute tea bag steep is really only unlocking that first layer of constituents. The overnight steep brings a whole other level of nutrients out of the plant.”