Living in modern times, most of us reach for a bottle or tube of purchased product to help us when we get hurt or when we want to improve our well-being. I would like to share with you ten options that are out there growing in the wild, just waiting for you to use them, both in supplementing your current health regimen, and to perhaps whet your appetite in learning more about the plants around us. Who knows, we might one day not have access to the modern conveniences, and this knowledge will come in handy. As always, use caution and seek the advice of a physician before changing your prescription regimen or adding natural supplements to your health plan.
This plant, whose spring leaves are sometimes mistaken for rhubarb by those not overly familiar with plants, has long been a part of folk medicine. Anyone who has tried to get rid of this species in their lawn knows that the plants have a long taproot that is difficult to remove from the ground. And it is no wonder— this root can grow down to three feet deep! In the fall, the plants sport cockleburrs that stick to your clothing and are difficult to remove.
While the all parts of burdock can be used for food at various stages of growth, it is the burdock root that holds most of the medicinal qualities. Burdock has been used for hundreds of years as a blood purifier, and it is also known for its detoxifying effects, helping the liver to get rid of toxins. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory. As a result, burdock tends to have a positive effect in helping to heal skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. The inulin that is present in roots such as those of burdock is soothing to the stomach and also helps to strengthen the liver. Studies have also shown that burdock root tea has helped animals exposed to toxic chemicals to not have abnormal cell growth (and cancer), and this benefit may carry over to human consumption of burdock root tea.
Chicory is a roadside herb with sky blue flowers that open in the morning and close by early afternoon. While one might think it is native to the U.S., it was actually imported by colonists. Though the leaves were used in the 1770’s and Thomas Jefferson stated that it made “a tolerable sallad[sic] for the table”, the root was (and still is) most commonly used as a coffee additive and substitute.
But chicory’s uses reach far beyond salad and a hot drink (that aids in digestion due to inulin content): when the roots are made into a decoction, they can be used as a general health tonic, a laxative, and a diuretic. The bruised leaves can be used externally as a dressing for swellings.
Avoid excessive internal use if you have gallstones.
This list would not be complete without including the lowly dandelion. Considered a weed by most people, this plant was treasured by early settlers who brought it from Europe. The dandelion contains a whole host of things that are good for the human body: vitamin A, potassium, fiber, calcium, and B vitamins, to name just a few.
Juice made from the dandelion root has long been regarded by herbalists to build up the blood, cure anemia, and treat liver disease and diabetes, and aid in treating heartburn and indigestion. The leaves can be used in herbal baths and facial steams as a skin tonic.
Dandelion is one of the safer herbs, and it is rather easily identified. Adding this herb to your diet is likely to aid in improving your overall health. If you are going to use larger doses, consult a physician.
The wild roses, also called dog roses, are widespread in Europe and many parts of North America and have been added to the official weeds list in Australia. Chances are, you won’t have to go far to find a stand near you. Dog roses have prickly thorns, generally bloom in the months of May and June, and have pink five-petaled flowers. They produce rose hips, which are ready to harvest in the fall.
The rose hip is the main part of the dog rose that is used for medicinal purposes. Some may prefer to eat the rose hips out of hand, but they are most commonly used to make rose hip tea. Rose hips are very high in vitamin C, and making a tea with them will help the body to fight illnesses, as well as to prevent scurvy. In fact, during WWII when there was a shortage of citrus fruit in Britain due to lack of imports, the government called for people to gather rose hips, which were then made into syrup and helped to prevent scurvy during the war. Rose hips can also be used to make rose hip jelly, a rare skill in these modern times.
Rose hips, like cranberries, are specifically beneficial for bladder disorders and urinary tract infections, due to the ascorbic acid (vitamin C) they contain. Consuming high dosages of ascorbic acid, via rosehip tea, helps to acidify the urine and make it less friendly for bacteria to grow.
Garlic, both in the wild and in cultivated form, has been historically used to kill germs. It inhibits growth of bacteria, fungi, and yeast. To get the most benefit, the garlic cloves must be crushed before being consumed or topically applied.
Garlic is also a traditional cure for parasites/worms, due to the fact that it contains sulfur compounds, which are toxic to parasites. Garlic may also help to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Garlic is another one of the safer herbs that can be used in food to improve one’s health. Higher doses can thin the blood, so if you have any surgery in the coming months or are taking blood thinners, please consult your physician before taking garlic in supplement form.
A long sought-after plant that is wildcrafted and sold for a high price, ginseng has been touted as a curer of many ills for over 2,000 years. It is said to help with depression, low blood pressure, and general exhaustion and weakness, among a plethora of other health issues. While ginseng has not been proven with studies to help with every ailment under the sun, it can be said that it acts as an adaptogen, meaning that it helps to protect the body against both physical and mental stress. In other words, it helps the body to adapt, or return to normal, more quickly than if the ginseng were not being used.
Ginseng is often used to make tea. The roots are harvested, washed, and laid out in the sun to dry. The roots can be left whole or cut, depending on how they are to be used. If they are cut or sliced, the time it takes to make the tea is reduced. Ginseng roots can also be added to soups, cut as desired, and simmered until the roots are cooked through.
Plantain is a highly adaptable plant that is very hardy and has spread across the country and become quite common. Chances are, you have some in your backyard. Plantain typically begins blooming in June, sporting small cattail-like stalks of seeds that shoot up from green, rosette-like leaves that hug the ground.
Plantain is a useful plant to treat skin ailments, from the unfortunate bee sting to the delayed itch from contact with poison ivy. After checking to be sure no pesticides or herbicides have been used on the lawn, simply pick a leaf, crush it (many suggest chewing it), and apply to the welt.
Plantain leaf can also be chewed to help alleviate the pain from a toothache.
Calendula (Pot Marigold)
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, has a reputation for being used for skin ailments such as rashes, burns, cuts, and bruises. It sports bright yellow or orange flowers and makes a great addition to an herb garden or flowerbed.
A homemade ointment is easy to make: simply pick the flowers on a dry day, crush them, and put them in a jar with olive oil. Allow the mixture to sit until the oil becomes a more golden color. Strain, using cheesecloth and squeezing as much oil from the flower heads as possible. Sterilize your storage bottles, pour your calendula oil in, and store in a cool, dark place.
If you are stung by a bee, and calendula is near (and you don’t happen to see any plantain), it is said that rubbing a calendula flower onto a bee sting brings relief.
Mint is one of the safer herbs and can generally be used without too much worry of negative health benefits. Included in the mint family are: peppermint, spearmint, catnip, and a whole host of cultivated mints that have varying flavors for nearly every palate.
Members of the mint family share the ability to help with indigestion, nausea, flatulence, and colic. They are also said to help with muscle spasms, as with menstrual cramps. The most common way of using it is to make a tea, whether from fresh mint or dried.
Lemon balm is a relative of the mints and is helpful in treating cold sores. It has a mild sedative effect to calm the mind and body (a trait shared by catnip), and it is also a good addition to a facial steam to help treat acne.
Yarrow is easily recognized, having thick stems, soft fern-like leaves, and white clusters of flowers. The cultivated version has bright pink flowers. Historically, yarrow has been used topically on wounds, having the ability to make blood clot faster. It also helps wounds to heal, due to the presence of azulene and its anti-inflammatory properties. The amount of azulene varies from plant to plant and with the time of year that the plant is harvested (something to be aware of when picking a plant for medical use). A third use is to reduce fevers and for pain relief, due to the presence of salicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin).
Use caution with this herb if you or the person you are treating is pregnant, as the plant can act as an abortifacient. The flip side of this coin is that yarrow can be helpful for other womanly complaints.
This is a mere sampling of the plants available to us for treating our ailments and improving general health. I would like to encourage you to read further and educate yourself on the uses of the plants around us. At the very least, pick up a book on herbal healing to have on hand for reference in case modern medicinals are not available to you sometime in the future.
©2012 Off the Grid News