One of the ways I become at home in a place is to be able to walk through the landscape and be able to identify the plants, insects and animals that I share the environment with. Merely knowing their names is not enough. What is satisfying is to be able to communicate with them. To know what it means that they occupy a place. What other conditions are prevailing where this animal or plant is living and what other living creature I might expect to find around. I am also very keen to know the medicinal and food uses plants.
In the Western world we are obsessed with “science”. I can’t understand how taking something out of its environment and destroying it by taking it apart can lead to healthy knowledge. I feel that our ancestors did not spend millenniums in trial and error to figure out the medicinal uses of plants but rather they listened deeply to their bodies and instincts and knew what plants would help what ailed them. For instance, my dog was never “taught” that certain types of grass would cleanse him but when he feels ill he goes inspecting from grass to grass until he finds the one that he wants and eats it. I think we still have the same ability to sense what we need but it is drowned out by rational thought and the distraction of our materialistic culture.
Below is a list of plants that I have harvested and dried this summer and fall, in order to make my own plant medicines. Only the Calendula flowers and the Horseradish were not wild harvested. During the long, sunny days of summer, I made sun infused oils of Elder leaves, Saint John’s Wort and Rose petals. I used organic olive and canola oils. This winter I am planning to make salves, teas and tinctures.
My favorite reference is Richo Cech’s “Making Plant Medicine”. It is the clearest and most practical book that I have found. Other references I use in my quest to communicate with plants are: Rosemary Gladstars books, the Peterson Field Guides, Euell Gibbons books and a small book called “Weeds of the Woods” by Glen Blouin.
CALENDULA FLOWERS (Calendula Resina)
The Resina strain of Calendula is, as it name implies, very high in the medicinal resin. There are many other strains of Calendula’s but while they may be beautiful, their medicinal qualities are much, much lower than Resina. One of the nice things about Calendula’s is that once you plant them you will never have to buy seeds again. They are prodigious self seeders and their sunny yellow and orange blossoms hang out in the garden until the cold, bitter end when the ground closes over.
Oil, salve or cream: make herbal oil of the dried flowers which can be further processed into salve or creams. These potions are for external use as an anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial application for treating cuts, old burns, abrasions, sunburn, chapped skin, diaper rash or as a general cosmetic.
NORTHERN BAYBERRY LEAVES (Myrica Pensylvanica)
I totally ignored this plant until one day I noticed a savory smell while I was weeding in the garden. I followed my nose and ended up just outside the garden fence by a shiny bush. After crushing a few leaves I went into full research mode to identify it. The berries are used for making candles but I haven’t tried that yet.
Tea, Pot herb: The tea is used for fevers and externally for itching. Throw in a leaf or two in a soup or stew pot.
COMFREY LEAVES (Symphytum officinale)
Comfrey is not only a great medicinal plant but terrific fodder for animals too. My chickens love it. Comfrey spreads abundantly, so give it plenty of room. Once it is established you will never have to plant it again.
Oil, salve or cream: make infused herbal oil of the dried leaves. This can be used as is or as an ingredient for making salve or creams. Comfrey speeds the healing of cuts, ulcerations, bruises, broken bones, pulled muscles and ligaments, and sprains.
ELDERBERRY LEAVES (sambucus nigra)
Mmmmmmm Elderberries. Tart to eat right off the bush but add a bit of sugar and be walloped by a blast of berry taste. When they come in season the small, purple berries are prolific. This year I am making Elderberry wine too. It tastes so good already that my husband has suggested we drink it before it is done fermenting. That rascal! The leaves when squeezed have a terrible fetid odor and it is one of the ways you can differentiate the “good” elderberry from the red, poisonous, elderberry. The clusters of starlike, little, flowers are edible too in tea or used as a flour substitute in bread or pancakes. They impart an angel food like lightness to the dish.
Oil, salve or cream: make infused oil of the fresh, green leaves. This can be used as is or may be further processes into cooling, green salve or cream which are useful for treating traumatic injuries, old burns, ulcerations or hemorrhoids.
HAWTHORN BERRIES (Crataegus monogyna)
I have a love/hate relationship with the Hawthorne tree. It has the longest, meanest spikes of any plant, outside of a cactus,
that I have ever seen. It makes me really glad that I wear glasses when I am clearing brush because one snap of those points in your eye and blindness! I have a number of different varieties on the land. Apparently there are 100’s if not 1000’s of different species of Hawthorne. So many that nobody has ever been able to identify them all. The blossoms and the berries seem very similar in all the species that I have but the leaves are very variable.
Tincture of dried berries. The dried berries are ground up, including the pits. Hawthorne is the preferred herb for treating heart related illness. Hawthorn is commonly and effectively used on an ongoing basis in recuperation from heart surgery or heart attack and for treating degenerative heart disease, arteriosclerosis, weakness of the heart muscle and irregular heart beat. The herb regulates blood pressure and promotes a general sense of open-hearted well-being.
HORSERADISH (Cochlearia armoracea) (fresh or dried)
North American wasabi! Great for clearing the sinuses or if there are no red, hot chili peppers available. I also use horse radish as a companion plant in my vegetable garden especially with potatoes. Watch out though because it is easy to end up with a horse radish garden.
Tincture of dried root. Useful for treating upper respiratory disorders-sinus infection and the common cold; also treats urinary tract infection, atonic digestion, rheumatism, and gout.
1 cup grated horseradish root
3 TBL apple cider vinegar
½ tsp salt
Finely grate horseradish in well ventilated room. Allow to sit for at least 3 minutes in order for enzymatic activity to occur increasing the potency and medicinality of the mix. Add other ingredients and mix well. Store the condiment in a lidded jar in a cool location. It is good for three months. Use on rich foods, meats, sandwiches etc. This condiment stimulates the gastric secretions and warms the digestive fire, while protecting against bacterial pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli
MINT (Mentha arvensis)
Mint is one of my all time favorite teas. I like LOTS of mint with honey and milk. It is as good as an ice cream cone for dessert. I am lucky to have a very powerful field mint that grows luxuriously outside the garden fence but I have to watch out that it doesn’t creep across.
Tincture of dried plant
Mint is a cooling, stimulating and digestive beverage cooling to the stomach. The strong tea or tincture is the best cure for hiccups
RED CLOVER (Trifolium pretense)
I live in a community where there used to be a lot of animal husbandry, so Red Clover is
around here, there and everywhere. I just look for the chevron on the leaf to make sure it is the correct clover.
Tea of dried leaves and young blossoms. Red clover is a blood-thinning alternative that helps the body efficiently remove metabolic waste products and prohibits the attachment and metastasis of abnormal cells. This is one of the best supplements for prevention and treatment of cancer. Red clover helps maintain normal estrogen levels during menopause for maintaining healthy bones, skin and arteries. It also helps maintain normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and promotes youthfulness.
SAINT JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)
I am blessed that Saint John’s Wort is a common ditch and meadow plant around here. There are some very large patches, so wild harvesting is abundant and safe for the plant. The infused oil is a rich, dark red.
Tincture of dried herb
Saint John’s Wort has a deep seated nervine effect, helping restore damaged
nerve tissue, deadening nerve pain, and strengthening the urinary organs. It is very good for treating pulled muscles or ligament and for improving the quality of life of those who suffer from chronic disease. “Hypericum” means “over an apparition” and is a proven antidepressant that helps raise the spirit.
Oil infusion of fresh flowering tops and buds. This oil or a salve made from it is useful for external applications for bruises, sprains, swellings, varicose ulcers, hemorrhoids and old burns.
SELF-HEAL (Prunella vulgaris)
Self heal is literally under many people’s feet and they don’t know it. Self Heal is a very common lawn plant but I don’t have a traditional lawn so I find it in the forest here and there. One of my friends is in the process of giving her lawn back to meadow flowers and consequently has beaucoup of self heal that she allows me to harvest.
Tincture of dried herb
Self-heal is one of the most useful of healing astringents, and as a tea or tincture taken externally is a specific for treating herpes lesions of the mucous membranes including canker sores, herpes 1 (oral), and herpes 2 (genital). As a tea it also has a general tonic effect.