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#HealthyGreenThumbs: In Praise of Kansas Caterpillars

Who are YOU?” the Caterpillar enquires of Alice from the top of his Wonderland mushroom, and Alice would have been within her rights to reply: “WHAT are you?” 

Instead of writing them off as the dull precursor to beautiful butterflies, it is time to appreciate them in their own right. Unbelievably, they have 4,000 muscles against our 630-odd, although it’s hard to see what they do with them, apart from eat. And eating is what they do best.

As many of you know, I’m a bit of a gardening nut. I love to dig in the dirt and experiment with perennials, herbs and veggies! It’s part of being raised on a Kansas Farm by a creative Mom who had a green thumb.  I couldn’t help but soak up knowledge!

It’s time to start looking for big green, black, and gold “worms” chomping away on the flowers and leaves of my dill and other herbs and vegetables.

WAIT!!!—your first thought of killing them doesn’t get thumbs-up here because the “worms” are more good than bad. They are bad in the sense they’ll eat some of your dill and parsley—but they are good because they are caterpillars or larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes). Parsley gives both the caterpillar and the adult their nicknames, “parsley worm” and “parsley swallowtail.”

I found this round of caterpillars on Sunday—5 of them on one of our summer dill plants. When you find one, don’t bring out the heavy artillery. Share a little of your veggie leaves with the caterpillars.

Stop and share a minute with a “worm” as it munches on the foliage. Just think….by sharing your dill or cilantro, you’re helping complete the life cycle of the beautiful black swallowtail.

As the summer wears on, don’t forget to let some of your dill go to seed, so you’ll have volunteer plants next year to add both herbal essence and food for the black swallowtail caterpillars to your 2020 garden.

Caterpillars are not pretty in the same way that butterflies are. But they fascinated me when I was a child, their suction-cup feet traversing my arm, tickling its tiny hairs. 

Can we make more room in the world even for creatures who don’t make us want to cuddle? 

Even for those creatures, like many-eyed or hairy-legged spiders, who sometimes make us want to run? They are living their lives, too, and have their place. They, like us, can be so misunderstood. Could they teach us more about compassion?

As I wrote this I kept hearing a small vibrating noise and assumed it was rapid raindrops riding the edge of the gutter. But my eye caught a small yellow moth inside my screened-in deck, fluttering her wings at an impossible speed.

Was she trying to dry off? She rode my forearm for a while, then lifted off to the windowsill. Another small creature who so often goes unnoticed, and this one has already been through several stages of her life, like me. 

She catches the light beautifully. She craves it just like I do.


Check out  #HealthyGreenThumbs

Are you interested in learning how to engage in self-health practices that will benefit your physical, mental, and spiritual health? 

Healthy Green Thumbs™ is a free awareness campaign designed by two licensed Registered Nurses – Susan Allison-Dean  and Clifton Joullian who are friends of mine! 

 It’s a free year-long campaign, designed to educate and inspire those who are interested in learning how to build a reciprocal relationship with nature that not only improves our overall health and wellbeing, but also takes proactive action toward helping to prevent disease. 

There are great videos, recipes and research resources…for EVERY experience level!

Learn more about Susan Allison-Dean  – AKA @The Nature Nurse

Learn more about Clifton Joullian –  AKA @TheNurseFarmer

Carol Bush
Carol Bush

I am a Coach & Mentor to High Performing Health Writers. I co-host The Savvy Scribe Podcast and champion #PlainLanguageWriting.

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One Comment

  1. Carol, I enjoyed reading the blog post about the caterpillars. They can be annoying when they eat our herbs, but on the other hand, they turn into butterflies which actually benefit our gardens as pollinators, right? There are some studies that have shown that foods pollinated naturally by animal pollinators have some superior nutritional qualities! So, I guess my point is, I agree with you. Just plant some extra herbs for the caterpillars to munch on and enjoy the fringe benefit of butterflies later! It’s a win-win!

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I help health brands create authoritative, well-written and well-aligned content. That’s it. Health writing changes lives.