Native American Medicine
PART 1: Medicinal Plants of Mountain West
over 100 medicinal herbs found in the North
Discover their traditional and modern uses; their active chemistry and author's notes.
Medicinal Herbs Cultivars and Aliens
Cacao (Chocolate), cacao (Theobroma cacoa L.) (photo)
Description: Seed pod 6 to 8 inches long and contains plus or minus 40 seeds.
Location: Mexico south through Central America. Cultivated in various arboretum around the United States.
Food: Theobroma, meaning divine food, provides us with chocolate, moles, cocoa and other divine foods. Tchocoatl, a drink given to the Aztecs from the gods, is made of dried cacao beans, honey, peppers, vanilla and annato juice. Annato is used as a thickener and to provide a red coloring.
Traditional Uses: Used to increase energy and alertness. Cocoa lowers blood pressure, it is hypotensive according to studies of the Kuna people of Central America, who drink up to 5 cups of cocoa a day (mixed in water, no sugar). The brew with its high flavanoid content lowers blood pressure and improves kidney function. Cocoa seeds were used to reeat infectious intestinal diseases.
Modern Uses: Research suggests eating chocolate may reduce low density lipoprotein cholesterol . Phenylethanoloamine from chocolate is a brain stimulant and cacao flavanols produce nitric oxide that dilates arteries and initiates other functions that improve cardiovascular function. The seed, seed coat, and cocoa butter all have medicinal qualities. Cocoa butter is used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical preparations (suppositories). Cocoa seeds with their high tannin content are used to treat diarrhea by reducing intestinal secretions. Cocoa seed coat with methylxanthines acts as a diuretic, vasodilator, muscle relaxant and improves efficiency of cardiac output. Stimulating cocoa powder is used to make chocolate drinks that may cause constipation. It is especially popular to add bitter chocolate or cocoa to chocolate products to heighten their taste. A small euphoric effect from phenylethylamine in chocolate keeps us coming back for more. Cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of suppositories, in ointments, lip balms and cosmetics.
Chemistry: Theobromine, caffeine, oleic acid, stearic acid, palmitic acid, tannins (proanthocyanidins), tyramine, tryptamine, serotonin.
Notes: Cacao beans, cultivated for over 3000 years, were used by the Maya and other Indios nations as money. In Colonial times, the typical price for a slave was about 100 cacao beans. Ancient Mexicans ground cacao beans with corn flour, dissolved the mixture in water, let it stand to ferment, then added vanilla beans for flavoring and color…A drink fit for a god. Google Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe for access rich and strong chocolate drink mixes.
Cayenne (Capsicum frutesens L.); (C. annuum) and other Capsicum species (photo)
Description: Annual in the north, perennial in the tropics this member of the potato and tomato family grows to four feet in height. Woody, erect and angular plant when mature. Leaves are petioled, erect to drooping, lance shaped, wdge shaped at base with a slightly curved margin. Solitary or paired flowers, long pedicled and hanging, vary in color from yellow to white. Leathery fruit may be green, yellow or red.
Location: Wild varieties of all degrees of heat and size are still found in Mexico, Central and South America. May be cultivated in your garden from seeds or plants.
Food: Use in salsa judiciously, season bouillabaisse, fish soups, stews. Add about a third of a dried pepper to salad dressings for zest and warming quality. Simply slice the pepper, remove seeds and place in soup, cook. Remove when degree of heat desired is reached (taste frequently). Keep your pepper handling fingers away from your eyes. Hot pepper spiced foods are good cold and flu prevention. They increase body heat, stimulate immune function, prepare and assist digestion and improve circulation to extremities.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans traditionally fed a decoction of cayenne (soup) to 3-4 year old children to strengthen their stomach against infection and parasites. Indigenous Mexicans eat peppers to raise body temperature to prevent colds and other acute infections.
Modern Uses: Extract from fruit acts as a local counterirritant for diabetic neuropathy and musculoskeleton pain. Capsaicin, isolated from the fruit, induces neuronal degeneration of compound P (neurotransmitter) reducing muscle pain, joint pain and toothache. But prolonged use may induce selective degeneration of certain primary sensory neurons. May reduce muscle tension around effected joints and sore muscles. Low concentration capsaicin creams are used to treat Herpes zoster eruptions: Said to reduce pain. Internally cayenne is carminative, a gastric stimulant. The drug may be anti-platelet aggregating. Suggested therapy for cluster headaches (Science News). As food hot peppers stimulate the secretion of digestive juices.
Whole fruit and fruit extracts increase body heat, and increase metabolism (catabolic). Extract may inhibit cholesterol production in liver (unproven in humans). Capsaicin may assist absorption of drugs through human skin, and, as mentioned, has an anti-inflammatory action; Therefore it may be helpful treating arthritis. One over the counter brand arthritis cream is Zostrix tm.
Eating peppers may help relieve distress from ulcers by inducing the secretion of mucus over effected area.
Cayenne phytochemistry may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis which can lead to hypertension.
Reported to strengthen heart as a stimulant.
May reduce gastric mucosal damage due to orally administered aspirin when taken prophylactically. In the study participants took cayenne extract about 30 minutes before consuming aspirin.
Chinese Traditional Medicine: Reports that cayenne stimulates circulation and digestive secretions, increases perspiration, and punches up flagging defenses by raising body temperature.
Chemistry: Water and alcohol soluble capsaicin from cayenne (and other hot peppers) is used in analgesic ointments and creams. It penetrates skin, goes to sensory nerves in painful joints and intercepts compound P, a neural transmitter. When sensory nerves fire, compound P is destroyed between the synapses. Capsaicin prevents the replenishment of compound P, thus alleviating pain. As a counter irritant, capsaicin moves blood from painful inflamed joints to surface, bringing in new blood and lymph. This nourishes and cleanses the injured or painful area. With pain subdued and circulation improved healing is expedited (see Herbal Odyssey CD by Jim Meuninck). Other active chemicals include carotenoids particularly the dark red capsanthin, steroid like saponins and flavonoids.
Dosage: As directed on cream. Internally, I use pepper to season vegetables, meats, soup dishes (my food is my medicine). All internal dosages should be taken by mouth. If it is too hot then you'll know. Capsules may lead to overdose...Let your taste control your dose. That's why I like to take peppers with food.
CAUTION: Internal overdose may be life threatening. May cause chronic gastritis, neurotoxic effects, kidney damage and liver damage. If taken as a food through the mouth this can be avoided, let your burning taste buds be your guide. External applications my lead to peripheral nerve damage, ulcers, blisters, and dermatitis. Avoid internal use if taking anti-hypertension drugs. Some evidence suggests capsaicin may interfere with Monoamine Oxidase inhibitors. Avoid during pregnancy and lactation until there is sufficient evidence to make a blanket safety statement. Avoid contact with eyes. Avoid use on poison ivy and allergic skin reactions.
NOTES: I shake powder in my socks to keep feet warm. Or infuse cayenne powder into warm olive oil and rub on cold feet. Then go skiing, hiking in snow. When your feet pores open, you will begin to feel the warmth.
Corn, Maize (Zea mays L.) (photo)
Description: Cultivated from the wild strain by Native Americans. There are hundreds of varieties found worldwide. Traditional seed strains should be planted in your garden.
Location: Grown worldwide, it has been hybridized to grow in a multitude of conditions.
Food: Seed may be eaten, made into flour and used to make baked goods, also as a thickening agent. Corn husks are used to cover and seal tamales. Corn silk, the styles and stigmas of the flower, is used in infusion. Oil also used in cooking and to make margarine (hydrogenated). . Corn as a food may be hypoglycemic and hypotensive.
Traditional Uses: Native American used all parts of the plants: Husks were woven to make shoes, clothing, saddles, and horse collars. Finely ground blue-corn meal is infuse in cold water and used for treating pain, heart palpitations, and as a baby food. Smut, or mold on corn, is used to treat scrapes, wounds and bites. Corn pollen is considered a cure-all—a panacea. The cobbs are soaked in water and applied over Poison ivy. Leaves are poulticed over wounds. Corn is meal mixed with wood ashes to release B vitamins, making it a near perfect food. First People rubbed warmed ears of corn on a child's feet to treat neck pains, glandular swellings and associated discomfort. Dried cornhusks are used like cigarette paper around tobacco. Dried corn silk is used in infusion as a diuretic and traditionally as a tea treatment for gout and arthritis. In Mexico, Indigenous people crushed corn is infused in water to make corn water. Corn water, or "corn milk" as it is sometimes called, is then blended with coconut milk and bananas as a "first food" for babies. Corn milk is also mixed with soymilk as a nutritious ‘first food". Corn seed oil is used as a supplement to aid atherosclerosis and high cholesterol. Dried corn silk may be smoked, a tobacco substitute. Silk may be made into tea as a diuretic or to treat gout, rheumatism, cystitis, gonorrhea.
Modern Uses: Corn silk tincture is used in China to treat liver ailments. Corn silk tea may stimulate the cardiac muscles and, unlike the seed, may increase blood pressure. It may be useful as a smooth muscle relaxant for the stomach. Corn kernels are also eaten as an alkalizing agent. Extracts from corn are reported to be hypoglycemic, hypotensive, diuretic. Corn silk extract is used to treat unrinary tract disorders.
Caution: Hydrogenated corn oils have been linked to cancer.
Chemistry: Allantoin in corn is a healing agent for wounds, induces cell proliferation. Volatile oils: thymol, menthol, alphaterpineol, carvacrol. Bioflavonoids to include maysin, amysin-3-ethyl ether. Also saponins and tannins. Corn silk: volatile oils: alpha terpineol, carvacrol, menthol, thymol, a good mix of flavonoids; saponins and tannins.
Notes: How to make infusion from corn silk: Infuse two teaspoons of shade dried corn silk in a cup of water. The tincture is twenty five percent alcohol (or slightly more) with shade dried corn silk (at 100ml per 20 grams of dried corn silk). Seal and let stand in a refrigerator for five days.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Seed used as food for domestic animals and wildlife, birds. BT corn seed may be hazardous to monarch butterflies that feed on nearby milkweed. If your have trouble growing pumpkins, try growing them in your sweet corn field
Honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera caprifolium and L. japonica) (photo)
Description: Lonicera caprifolium is a clockwise climbing shrub (if there is nothing to climb, it stands alone as a shrub). The yellowish-white flower has a tight tube-like corolla (then part one sucks to taste the nectar). Fruit is a coral red berry. There are numerous endemic species of Lonicera to include L. canadensis; L. ciliosa; L. conjugialis; L. dioica; L. hispidula varieties; L. interrupta; L. involucarata; L. subspicata; L. utahensis all used as medicine by Native Americans.
Location: A temperate zone plants found from coast to coast along the edges of woods and along the fringes of open areas.
Food: Flowers are sucked for their nectar, or dried and made into physiologically active tea. Caution: berries are considered toxic, as few as ten berries may induce vomiting.
Traditional Uses: Flowers, seeds, leaves and bark have all been used as medicine. Tea is considered a remedy for asthma, homesickness and nostalgia. Floral tea used to treat dysentery, acute infections: flu, colds, laryngitis, enteritis. Tea is antimicrobial. Flower tea is also applied externally as a wash edema, boils, scabies, breast cancer, for breast cancer. L. dioica, L. canadensis Bartr.ex Marsh were all used by Native Americans. Also used by First People as blood purifiers. Native American uses suggest antimicrobial properties of bark infusion for treating syphilis, gonorrhea, urinary infections. Diuretic bark decoction was used to clear kidney stones. Flower tea used to treat asthma. Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata Banks ex Spreng was considered a cure-all: Bark decoction used to treat the itch, boils, gonorrhea, wounds, cramps and sores. Decoction of bark rubbed on breasts to improve milk flow. Berries used for catharsis and in larger doses as an emetic. Crushed leaves applied to sores. Leaves chewed and rubbed on sores. Native Americans also used L. canadensis as a blood purifier, to treat syphilis and cancer. The shoot decoction was used on chancre sores. And the bark decoction was used as a sedative to calm babies and induce sleep.
Modern Uses: Flower extracts may lower cholesterol. Lidan (Leedan Tablets) a patent Chinese medicine contains Lonicera japonica and is used to treat gall bladder problems. The formula is said to shrink gallstones and hasten their removal. In Chinese traditional herbal medicine the plant is used to clear heat and relieve toxicity.
Chemistry: Volatile oils, saponins, tannins, salicylic acid, luteolin, inosital.
Notes: These alien plants L. japonica and L. caprifolium are widespread and considered invasive. I have used the Lidan formula along with acupuncture to successful treat a nagging gall bladder problem.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Leaves and flowers infusion used to wash sores on horses (Moerman).
Hops (Humulus lupulus L.) (photo)
Description: A perennial with pencil thick stems that do not turn woody. The plant climbs through shrubs, spreading. Leaves are opposite, three to five lobed and serrated. Male flowers are small and inconspicuous, yellowish green. Female flowers have numerous florets and a fruit cone grows from the flowers. Cone may be yellowish to gray depending on whether it is fresh or dried. The scales of the cone contain the bitter drug.
Location: It has escaped from cultivation here and can be found in marshes, meadows and the edges of woods. Cultivated stands can be seen in Washington state, east of Seattle in the Okanagon and in Idaho along the Canadian border.
Food: The fruit cone (gray to yellow) is used in the production of beer they give it a bitter flavor, more hops the greater the bitterness, as in Pilsner Urquell. Also, used as a sedative tea. Often flowers are placed in pillows to improve sleep.
Caution: contact with pollen has caused allergic reactions.
Traditional Uses: Infusion of the flower or seed cone is emollient, sedative and a bitters. Native American used it in a Sweat Lodge by soaking leaves and throwing the flowers on hot rocks. Basque shepherds use the cones in infusion as a calming sedative and digestive. They drink the tea to settle jittered nerves. It is also used to stimulate digestive juices and to hasten peristalsis. Pioneers and Native Americans also used the tea to treat fevers from acute infections
Modern Uses: Research suggests that the flower tea may impart estrogenic effect, subsequent research has not shown this effect, it is a phytoestrogen. Commission E approved for treating nervousness and insomnia (sleep aid). The flavonoids in the plant in animal and in vitro studies show them to be antibacterial, antifungal and antitumor. Like so many plant teas it is a diuretic.
In mouse studies humulon reduced the average number of tumors in cancer induced mice.
It another human study hops, combined with valerian, balm and motherwort, improved sleep in alcoholics (see Widy-Tyszkiewica and Schminda, Randomized double blind study of sedative effects of phytotherpeutic containing valerian, hops, balm and motherwort…Herba Pol; XLIII(2):154-159. 1997.). Water soluble extract of hops inhibitied ovulation in rats.
Chemistry: Volatile Oil: Humulene (bitter taste), beta-caryophyllene, farnesene, lupulone and myrcene. Volatile alcohol may account for sedative effect.
Notes: For steam bath, place leaves in a clean pair of panty hose, tie off and put in hot bath water. Or make a Sweat Lodge from a dome tent, cover the tent with a tarp and a blanket. Heat stones over a outside fire until hot, place stones in a large container (five gallon enameled metal) and transfer to the floor of the tent. Place the metal tub on boards as not to burn the tent floor. Drop water soaked cedar boughs and hops on the hot stones, and use a long handled ladle to dip water carefully over the rocks. The resultant steam will warm the lodge with healing aromatics. According to some sources smoking hops like marijuana may provide a mild sedative effect, but the two species are unrelated. To make a sleep-aid, add about one teaspoon of dried flowers to a six ounce cup of hot water, just off the boil. Cover and let cool to lukewarm, then drink.
Kava (Kava kava, Awa, Kew, Tonga) (Piper methysticum G. Forster)
Traditional Uses: Anti-asthma and a mouth anesthetic. The chewed root is used traditionally as local anesthetic in the mouth. Also, traditionally use to treat asthma.
Modern Uses: Root extraction is used for anxiety as a sedative and sleep aid (anti-insomnia) Anticonvulsive Antispasmodic. May have direct effect on limbic system. Used to treat restlessness, insomnia. May help some patients become socially cooperative.
Warning: Use of Kava may cause liver damage and therefore the phytopharmaceutical has been removed from the marketplace in Canada, Germany and Singapore. Our FDA has issued a warning. In light of this information it is best to consider an alternate choice for stress and anxiety therapy.
Chemistry: Kawain; anesthetic. Root typically contains 5.5 to 8.3% kava lactones. Extracts are concentrated to 30-70% lactones. Kava lactones may provide numerous effects: analgesic, muscle relaxing, anti-anxiety, anti-convulsant. Possible direct influence on limbic system. (1)(3)
Dosage: 60-120mg kava pyrones; Standardized extract of 70% Kavalactones) 100 mg. 2 to 3 times per day.(1)(6)
Safety: Mild gastrointestinal upset. Limit duration of use. May potentiate psychopharmaceuticals and psychoactive substances to include alcohol and barbiturates. Analgesic, local anesthetic and muscular relaxant. There was an additive action when kava was taken for three days with the benzodiazepine alprazolam leading to a disoriented and lethargic state. This appears contraindicated as kava resin supposedly does not bind at benzodiazepine receptors sites. In one case study, Kava was antagonistic and incompatible with levodopa treatment of Parkinson's disease. Considered by some a mildly hallucinogenic drug it may effect reflexes and coordination. Long term use may cause discoloration of nails, skin and hair, as well as muscle weakness, red eyes, facial edema; rare cases of allergic dermatitis, disrupted accommodation manifested in pupil enlargement and oculomotor disturbances.
Not recommended during pregnancy and lactation.
Avoid use for treating bi-polar and endogenous depression.
Alcohol: Avoid use when consuming alcohol, alcohol may make kava toxic.
Preparation: Dried rhizome may be decocted into a tea. Pills and other preparations are available over-the-counter.
Caution: Often bulk supplies of roots imported into the United States are fumigated. Be aware fungicides may be used. Wash roots thoroughly before use.
Personal Note (Circa 2002): "My parents both have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Working together with aids and their physician both parents are taking a combination of Kava, Melatonin and Aricept. Aricept and melatonin are taken in the evening and Kava in the morning. Results have been good. My father has gone from incontinent and incoherent to continent and coherent. In response to my question on how he felt, he said, "I feel good!" For the past eight years his answer to that question has always been, "Not so Good!" That subtle change is staggering—a change in mental attitude from pessimism to optimism. My mother too has fewer dark and gloomy days clouding her mind."
As of this writing my parents have passed away. In there last days they were warm and forgiving, gentle and childlike. I miss them.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum L. syn. Carduus marianus) (photo)
Description: Biennial, first year rossette of leaves. Leaves mottled white and green with thorn tipped margins. Second year flowering thistle. Large blue-purple flower head, forming a artichoke like fruit filled with seeds. Seeds may be purchased from health food store and are hardy garden dwellers.
Location: Numerous plants have escaped cultivation and are found in the wild on waste ground, and along roadsides Striking garden plant with large mottled leaves and huge thistle flowers
Food: Seeds may be added to waffles, pancakes, hot cereals. Or may be ground and blended into water to make slightly bitter milk-like drink for liver protection. I chop them in pepper mill and add to salads. Leaves may be cooked and eaten or added fresh, raw to salads (first cut away thorny edges). Root may be peeled boiled and eaten. Flower heads like most thistles may be eaten like artichokes with some difficulty and small reward. Mild laxative effect.
Traditional Uses: Boiled and eaten flower heads traditionally used as a tonic. Flower head considered a lactagogue, and anti-depressant for mild depression.
Modern Uses: Antioxidant reported to regenerates liver cells. Used to protect the liver and stimulate it (choleretic). As an appetite stimulant it has been used experimentally for treating anorexia. Antispasmodic digestive aid
Stimulates bile flow. Appetite stimulate. Tonic. Relaxes digestive spasms. Used internally for liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatitis, jaundice...protective to liver toxins such poisoning by Amanita species mushroom. Therapeutic for alcoholic's liver. Used in treatment of drug addiction after effects to liver Claimed to speed up recovery from side effects of chemotherapy. Human and animal studies showed slight reduction in total cholesterol levels. Studies in progress assessing prevention and therapy for diabetics.
For hyperlipidemia participants in a study used 420 mg/day with modest results.
Case Studies: The concentrated, standardized extract,.taken at a dose of 400mg twice daily helped prevent liver damage in fifteen patients receiving hepatotoxic and psychotropic medications. In another case study the extract reduced hepatotoxic effects of phenytoin.
Chemistry: Flavolignin silymarin liver protectant and other flavonoids: apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol glycosides. Beta sitosterol, Polyacetylenes. In seed principle active chemistry: silybin A and Silybin B, isosylybin A and B, silydianin and silychristin.
Preparation: : Seeds may be ground in a coffee mill, then add 3 grams of ground seeds to 12 ounces of cold water and bring to a boil. Set aside for 20 minutes then strain. Use 10 to 15 grams of seeds to yield anywhere from 200 to 400 mg of silymarin (as silybin). One liter of water with 10-15 grams of ground seeds will yield approximate daily dose, taken in three administrations.
Alcohol extraction is not recommended when treating liver problems. Whole seeds may be ground and added to soups, salads, orange juice, etc.
Caution: Brief and mild gastrointestinal disturbances reported in a few patients. Rare allergic reactions are possible. One case of possible urticaria is still being investigated in one patient. Laxative effect.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Animals studies show the seed extraction of silymarin (bioflavonoid) to be effective protecting the liver from toxins. Beautiful bee and butterfly attracting flower.
Pumpkin, Field Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.)
Description: Sprawling vine with large bristly leaves with five to seven lobes. Fruit is the stuff pumpkin pies are made from.
Location: Domesticated American plant, buy seeds and grow in your garden. I let it run along edges, controlling its direction by moving the vines.
Food: Large yellow flower is edible. Stuff flower with fruit and meat, roll in egg white and stir fry. Use seed in pancakes, waffles (great), hot cereals, salads, snack, stir fry, and make into pumpkin seed pesto. Pumpkin fruit as pie and soup. Also, eat cook and eat fruit like squash. Sweet Potato Soup. Pepitas are roasted pumpkin seeds. In a non-stick pan raise temperature until first seed pops, turn off heat and shake pan over burner until all pumpkin seeds expand or pop.
Traditional Uses : Ripe dried seed considered Anthelminthic (worm killer) Pumpkin seeds have five chemicals that are considered anti-acne and is perhaps one of the best foods for acne sufferers to eat. Pumpkin seeds also contain a half dozen chemicals that are considered anti-inflammatory (anti-inflammatory). Native Americans used browned seeds to stop bed-wetting. Seeds given to children to increase urine flow. Seeds used to treat urinary tract spasms. Leaves used in tea for upset stomach. Seed pasted used as emollient on skin. Seeds used to treat dropsy.
Modern Uses: Cucurbitin is considered the anthelmintic chemistry in the seed. Continued consumption of pumpkin seed may reduce calcium oxalate crystal formation. A double blind placebo controlled study using pumpkin seeds was effective against benign prostate hyperplasia. A Thailand study showed that roasted pumpkin seeds lowered urine acidity in adolescents. Commission E approved uses for irritable bladder and prostate problems.
Precautions: Indigestion, diarrhea and intestinal
impaction has been reported with over consumption.
Chemistry: Rich in amino acids alanine, glutamic acid, glycine which may reduce protrate enlargement 1/2 cup has more than therapeutic amount of these amino acids. Other anti-benign prostate hyperplasia nuts include: Brazil nuts, peanuts, saw palmetto berries, flaxseed, watermelon seeds, cucumber seeds and sesame seeds. Contains essential fatty acids. Phytosterols main effective constituents are phytosterols. seed: arachidic-acid; linoleic-acid; alpha linolenic acid; oleic-acid; palmitic-acid; stearic acid; amino acids; ash; aspartic-acid; calcium; beta-carotene; copper; chromium; magnesium; phosphorus; selenium; tin; zinc, urease; phytic acid; phytosterols; alpha-spinasterol; beta-sitosterol, riboflavin; thiamin; salicylic-acid. Also monounsaturated fats; DL-Citrullin; cobalt, cucurbitol, dehydroascorbic-acid; iron; lauric acid; lysine; myristatic acid.
Notes: I eat approximately a ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds per day, roasted or green seeds. For better absorption grind the seeds to powder add them to cereal, drinks.
Red clover, (Trifolium pratense L.) (photo)
Description: Red clover has three leaves with distinct V marking on each leaflet. Leaflets are fine toothed, ovate. Flowers pink to red, dome shaped or rounded. Grows to 12 to 18 inches. Found in fields, roadsides, waste lands, full sun.
Food: Relaxing flower tea. Florets may be tossed on salads. The tea of the blooming flower is used fresh or dried.
Traditional Medicine: The floral tea traditionally used as a panacea, a cure-all. Decoction or tea is used as an external wash on burns, wounds and insect bites. Pioneers claimed drinking the tea purified the blood. Tea is considered a tonic, and expectorant as therapy for respiratory problems such as: asthma, cough, bronchitis and whooping cough. Floral tea also used as an antispasmodic and mild sedative. Flower heads considered traditionally anti-cancer and are part of the Hoxley and Essiac anti cancer formula: The ingredients of which are sheep sorrel, burdock root, slippery elm bark, rhubarb root, water cress, blessed thistle, red clover and kelp. Red clover is also used as a wash for psoriasis and eczema. Isoflavone estrogen like compounds are used to treat menopausal and post menopausal problems.
Modern Uses: A red clover isoflavone concentrate in tablet form reduced bone loss in a double blind placebo controlled trial with 177 women between the ages of 49 and 65 years.
A smaller trial showed that red clover derivatives reduced hot flashes. And a third study showed a 23% increase in arterial compliance in women.
Chemistry: Phytoestrogens, phytosterols, isoflavonoids.
Preparation: Use four grams of the dried flower or twice that weight for the fresh flower. Pour over ten ounces of water just off the boil and cover the pot. Steep until warm.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens (Bartr) Small.) (photo)
Description: This bushy palm grows to twenty feet. Widely cultivated in fields, it has yellow green compound leaves have twenty segments, leaves form a crown atop the palm. Cream colored flowers give rise to deep purple to black, ovate, single seeded berries.
Location: This indigenous palm found in the coastal regions of United States, from South Carolina, Florida to the West Coast.
Food: Berries may be crushed and used in waffle mix. Powdered berries are used much like flax seed on cereal, in bread, pancakes, in orange juice. Core of palm eaten by Native Americans, much like heart of palm.
Traditional Uses: Historically used to treat prostate enlargement (benign protate hyperplasia).
Extracts of the fruit have antiandrogenic and antiestrogenic effects. German Commission E has approved the drug for irritable bladder, and prostate compaints. Considered an aphrodisiac. Folk use for treating inflammation of urinary bladder, testicles, and breasts.
Modern Uses: Extract from the berry is used to treat Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia and has had a positive effect. Saw Palmetto fruit extract and nettle root produce the same positive effects treating BPH as the prescription drug finasteride. Extracts and capsules are available at drug stores and health food stores. In one study, Saw Palmetto increased urinary flow rate 6.1 ml per second and decreased the amount of residual urine on average by 50%. Significantly to me 10.7% finasteride patients discontinued use of the drug because of side effects while only 1.8% of the saw palmetto group discontinued treatment due to side effects. There appears to be an anti-androgenic effect on the prostate, preventing the accumulation of DHT that induces prostate enlargement.
Chemistry: Free fatty acids, fatty oil phytosterines, flavonoids to include isoquercitrin, kaempferol, rhoifolin.
Notes: I use saw palmetto berries, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds as food. Other extracts used to treat BPH include nettle roots and pygeum. I've tried to raise saw palmetto plants in Michigan with no success. We have one in the greenhouse at Andrew's University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Next time you are in southern Georgia or northern Florida pick some berries (Fall of the year). Palmettos are common residents of sub tropical and tropical areas. They thrive in both dry and wet conditions, in the open or as under-story. Some varieties are a few feet high others several meters.
Tobacco, snuff (Nicotiana tobacum L.) (photo)
Description: This annual or biennial with many genetic varieties grows to ten feet in height. Stick sized stem is many branched with large ovate to lance shaped leaves. Leaves are pointed and alternate and may be two feet in length. This is a large adult plant. Greenish-cream colored flowers are numerous in clusters, sepals to one half inch, with two inch funnel shaped corollas containing four stamens.
Location: Originated in tropical American and is widely cultivated in the United States and Canada.
Food: The plant is toxic and poisonous. Tobacco is used as a smoke or a chew for the stimulating, narcotic effect.
Traditional Uses: The alkaloid in tobacco, nicotine is: addictive, a stimulant, carcinogenic, euphoric, an appetite depressant, laxative, vertigo inducing, an emetic, and worm expellant. It is anodyne, diuretic and slightly analgesic (smoke of leaf). Native Americans used the herb in rituals. The leaf poultice used to treat mosquito bites and bee stings. It was chewed for toothache, and smoked to relieve pain and cramps. Smoke was considered anticonvulsive. Plant pulverized and applied as a poultice over boils. Leaf poultice was used to treat earache, or smoke was blown into ear to treat the same. Plant is often used as a sacred offering. They are burned in the sweat lodge. Tobacco was sometimes mixed with kinnikinnick and smoked or chewed.
Modern Uses: Smoking tobacco raises homocysteine levels in the blood making the smoker more susceptible to cancer, dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. The nicotine patch and nicotine gum are used by smokers to help them kick the habit. Homeopathic remedies also are available, typically administered by professional holistic health care providers.
WARNING: Nicotine is easily absorbed through the skin and is potentially toxic, even fatal. Internally the lethal dose is 40 to 100 mg. Keep tobacco products away from small children, fatal ingestions of cigarettes have been reported.
Chemistry: Poisonous pyridine alkaloids including nicotine, nor-nicotine, coinine and myosmine to name a few. Also contains tar, and volatile oils.
Notes: A pouch of tobacco is always a considerate and appreciated gift when visiting Native American friends. This is a striking garden plant, certain to amaze your friends. Visit the Medicine Wheel monument off highway 14A in the Little Bighorns of Wyoming and see where Native Americans hang tobacco pouches and other gifts as offerings to their Creator.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Considered insecticidal and toxic, tobacco leaves were poulticed on snake bites, insect bites, stings. The leaf powder may be used on plants as a larvacide and insecticide.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.; V. edulis) (photo)
Description: Perennial plant from one to three feet in height. Erect and many branched, with erect flowering stem, and white to pink fragrant flowers in terminal clusters (panicled cymes). Florets have three stamens. Three chambered ovary with an ovate and oblong fruit with a ten rayed tuft of white hair for seed dispersion. Leaves are compound, pinnate with 11 to 23 leaflets. Lower leaves are petiolate and the upper are clasping with a white sheath. Strong smelling rhizome when dried and prepared into tea.
Location: Widely cultivated in the Unites States, and has escaped to the wild. Requires moist but well drained, lime rich soil, full to partial sun.
Food: I have eaten leaves and flowers of V. officinalis and V. edulis. Also, used as food flavoring.
Traditional Uses: Chopped and dried root made into pill form or cold infusion as a sedative, relaxant, anti-anxiety sleep aid. Traditionally, used to treat dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) and muscle cramps. Considered anti-hypertensive, may improve circulation and reduce blood pressure. Pills used to treat rheumatism. Valeriana sitchensis Bong. Roots were decocted in water to treat pain, treat colds. Poultice of root used to treat cuts, wounds, bruises and inflammation. Root decoction also used to treat diarrhea.
Modern Uses: Commission E approved for treatment of nervousness, restlessness and difficulties falling asleep. Dried valerian roots are made into tea (2 to 3 grams or about a tablespoon of root powder to a cup of water) or standardized extractions to be taken as a sleep aid. This sedative and warming herb, may improve digestion, may lower pain and is said to be hypotensive (reduces blood pressure). It appears to influence serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA levels in brain leading to hypotensive, anticonvulsive and sedative properties.
A small study showed that valerian reduced sleep difficulties in children with neurologic deficits.
(Francis, ED, Phytomedicine; 9:273-279, 2002,).
Valerian extraction is said to relieve painful menstruation cramps. Others suggest it is helpful treating insomnia, migraine and jangled nerves.
Aqueous extract of valerian root in double blind study had significant effect on poor or irregular sleepers, smokers. Sometimes combined with hops (Humulus lupulus) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). The effect of valerian on Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA) may reduce blood pressure and help mild depression. This chemical is also high in Evening Primrose (see index) seeds and several varieties of tomatoes.
The valpotriate fraction reduced the negative effects of alcohol on mental concentration when administered with alcohol.
Chemistry: Hydrolysis of root chemicals gives rise to Isovaleric acid that imparts the offensive odor of the dried root. Essential oil with monoterpenes and sequiterpenes to include valerenic acid. Heat labile iridoids (valepotriates) are anti-convulsant. Volatile oil contains bornyl acetate, beta-caryphyllene, various alkaloids. Acidic, formic and Valeric acid, valerine, various glycosides.
Dosage: Typical dose is three to four grams of fresh washed root to two cups of water. Most sources say use infusion or decoction but heat destroys the active iridoid compounds. If you intend to get CNS effects avoid preparations that require heat. With dried root use 2-3 grams of dried root (preferably a fine powder) to one cup water. For anti-anxiety a cold infusion may be taken three time per day. Over the counter tinctures and other preparations are typically ½ to 1 teaspoon three or four times per day. All commercial extracts have recommended dosages on package. Externally use about 75 to 150 grams of cut and sifted root in a bath. Put root parts in panty hose to contain them. Root powder may be used but is messy.
Caution: Do not take with ethanol (beer, wine and spirits). Hepatoxic effects have been reported with using extracts of valerian root. Be certain to take the drug under supervision. Naturapathic doctors and other holistic health care practitioners may prescribe the drug. No known drug interactions. Side effects mild or none: large dosage may cause stomach upset, mild headache. Overdose may cause severe headache, nausea, morning grogginess, blurry vision. May potentiate barbituates. Non-addictive according to NRI and does not effect ability to drive and operate machinery. Because of the documented Central Nervous System depressant nature of the plant, it is prudent not to combine with other sedative drugs including: sedatives and anxiolytics. Do not take during pregnancy or lactation due to insufficient studies. However, according to Blumenthal, et al., and an American Herbal Products Association safety review there was no evidence to contraindicate valerian use during pregnancy and lactation.
Notes: I grow this herb in my garden and imbibe on the flowers and leaves. The root, a stinky thing, may be cleaned and chewed as a mild sedative. I also like to walk the high alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains and smell the distinctive odor of Valeriana acutiloba and V. sitchensis of the Cascades. It is prevalent on the north side of Mt. Raineer and the slopes of Mt. Baker above Artist's Point.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Extract of roots are used on baits to lure wild cats, rodents, mountain lions. Deer forage on leaves.
Medicinal Plants of the West
American Yew and English Yew (Taxus brevifolia Nutt and Taxus baccata L.) (photo)
Description: Taxus brevifolia is an evergreen shrub to scanty small tree (to 50 feet).
Bark is papery, reddish-purple to red brown bark, drooping branches, flat leaves (needles), in opposite rows. Flowers are small cones. Fruit are scarlet, berry-like, with fleshy cup around a single seed. Taxus baccata is a popular ornamental from Europe and has escaped to the wild.
Location: Found in foothills, moist shady sites from Northern California, Oregon and Washington through Idaho and Montana north to British Columbia and Alberta.
Food: According to Moerman the Karok and Mendocino tribes ate the red, ripe fruit (see Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany, p. 551). But the seed and all other parts of the plant are toxic. Unless you are guided by an expert avoid eating any part of this plant.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used the leaves (needles) of baccata as an abortifacient, a cough medicine, tonic, and as steam in Sweat Lodge to treat arthritis. Also in decoction or Sweat Lodge as steam to treat colds. It was used to induce menstruation. Wet needles of American Yew (T. brevifolia) were used as a poultice over wounds. The needles were considered a panacea, a powerful tonic, and were boiled and used over injuries to alleviate pain. Bark decoctions were used to treat stomachache. It was Native Americans who first used this plant to treat cancer.
Modern Uses: Both species can induce abortion. The drug taxine (paclitaxel) is extremely toxic. Taxine from American Yew used to treat cancer. It prevents cell multiplication and may prove an effective therapy for leukemia, cancer of the cervix, ovaries and breasts. Clinical trials continue with the drug.
Chemistry: Diterpenes to include taxine and taxol; and numerous flovonoids.
Notes: Research reports that the cancer fighting chemistry is in both species. Celts dipped arrow tips in yew sap as an arrow poison.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: It takes nearly 3000 trees or 9000 kg of dried inner bark of T. brevifolia to make 1 kg of the drug Taxol. At that rate, considering research demands, all of the Yew trees in America would be destroyed to produce the needed supply of the drug. Taxol today is grown in culture from cloned cells in huge bioreactor tanks, and nary a tree is destroyed. Researchers are attempting to produce the drug from pinene from pine trees.
Arrow Leafed Balsam Root (Balsamorhiza sagittata (Pursh) Nutt.)
Description: There are numerous species, this particular one is found in clumps, these plants have arrow shaped, basal leaves, from eight to twelve inches in length. Leaves are rough to the touch. Flowers are yellow and long stalked. Up to twenty-two yellow rays encircle the yellow disc of florets.
Location: Grows on dry, stony slopes in the foothills and higher elevation of the Rockies from Colorado to British Columbia.
Food: Young leaves and shoots are edible, as well as young flower stalks and young stems. They may be steamed or eaten raw. Peeled roots are also eaten, but are bitter unless slow cooked to break down the indigestible polysaccharide (inulin). Roots may be cooked and dried, then reconstituted in simmering water before eating. Seeds are pounded into meal, used as flower, or eaten out of hand.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used the wet leaves as a wound dressing and a poultice over burns. The sticky sap was used to seal wounds and considered antiseptic. Balsam root when peeled and chewed, although bitter, contains inulin that may stimulate the immune system providing protection from acute sickness, such as colds and flu. The sap is considered antibacterial and anti-fungal. A decoction of the leaves, stems and roots was taken for stomachache, colds. Root was also used for treating gonorrhea and syphilis. In Sweat Lodge, balsam root smoke and steam is reported to relieve headaches. It is considered a Warrior Plant and in smudging ceremonies it is a disinfectant and inhaled for body aches. Chewed root was used as a poultice over sores, wounds and burns.
Modern Uses: Little studied or used in any new modern context. Traditional uses still practiced.
Chemistry: Root has polysaccharide inulin, flavonoids.
Notes: This plant is wide spread in the Bitterroots and other Idaho wilderness areas. In a pinch--should you get lost in these vast mountainous expanses--here is a food that may help you survive. But freeing the root, often deeply and intricately woven into the rock, is an exhausting task.
Arnica (Arnica montana L., A. acaulis Walt; A. cordifolia Hook; A. latifolia Bong.) and other species (Photo)
Description: Plant grows to 18 inches and has a brownish rhizome. Leaves form a basal rosette. The hairy stem rises from the rosette and has two to six smaller leaves that are ovate to lance shaped and somewhat dentate (toothed). Terminal yellow flowers (at the top of the plant) emerge from the axil of the top pair of leaves. Flowers are from two to three inches in diameter and have a hairy receptacle and hairy calyx. Tiny disk flowers reside inside the corolla and are tubular (as many as 100 of these).
Location: Typically in mountains, along stream banks to ten thousand feet. Also in wet alpine meadows.
Food: Not edible, toxic! Internal consumption causes stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea. High doses may induce cardiac arrest.
Traditional Uses: Volatile oils in flowers used in making perfume. Native Americans used an infusion of the roots externally for back pain. Poultice used on edemas to reduce swelling. There are numerous homeopathic preparations which do not contain toxic levels of chemistry. Considered anthelminthic, antiseptic, astringent, choleretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, stimulant, tonic...In clinical trials, tested as an analgesic, arnica caused pain and inflammation in wisdom teeth removal. Anti-inflammatory effect contradicted in two trials with opposite results (marathon runners). Typically, used as a topical agent for wound healing. The whole plant in ointment (after extraction) or as a compress has ant microbial and fungicidal action. Folk medicine practice to induce abortions. Colville nation mixed robin's heart and tongue (the bird body parts) with arnica root and ochre as a love potion. This was dried and powdered. The lovelorn person would enter a body of water, face east, described the woman he loved, then paint his face with the arnica mixture.
Modern Uses: Homeopathic doses Commission E approved for treating fevers, colds, skin inflammations; coughs, bronchitis, mouth and pharynx inflammations, rheumatism, colds, injuries and tendencies toward infection (compromised immunity). Medicinal parts include roots and rhizome, dried flowers and leaves collected before flowering. Considered anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic and immune stimulating. Because of the toxic nature of the plant, homeopathic doses are used to manage pain, to treat diabetic retinopathy (Zicari et al, Diabetic retinopathy treated with arnica 5CH Microdoses. Invest. Ophthalmol Visual Science,1998) and to treat muscle soreness. The plant extract is used in antidandruff perparations and hair tonics. As an anti-inflammatory research has presented mixed results. Most traditional uses remain unproven.
Chemistry: Root tannins and flavonoid glycosides (may cause fall or rise in blood pressure) also, flower flavones that may stimulate adrenals: astragalin, betuletol, eupafolin, flavonol glucuronides hispidulin, isorhamnetin, luteolin, patuletin, spinacetin, tricin, kaempferol, quercetin, jaceosidin, pectolin-arigenin, zeaxanthin. Also alcohols arnidiol, foradiol. Terpenoids include arnicolides, arnifolin, sesquiterpenes, dihydrohelenalin (analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory). Flowers may contain pseudoguaianolide, helenalinmethacrylate. Amines include choline (cardiotonic), trimethylamine. Courmarins scopoletin, umbeliferone. One volatile oil is thymol
Notes: Arnica species are abundant in the mountain west. Especially from the Little Bighorns, through the Rockies and on into the Northwest. They are numerous in and around the slopes of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker (Cascades of Washington State).
Warning: Flowers may be irritant to skin, cause eczema. Do not use during pregnancy. Do not use if your are sensitive (allergic) to members of the daisy family. Healthcare practitioners are warned not to use Arnica on mucous membranes, open skin wounds or the eyes. Do not use orally except in homeopathic concentrations. May interact with anticoagulants and induce bleeding.
Juniper (Juniper communis L.) (Photo)
Description: An evergreen tree, or low lying, spreading shrub, often in colonies. It has flat needles in whorls of three, spreading from the branches. Leaves are evergreen, pointy, stiff, somewhat flattened and light green, some say sea-green. Buds are covered with scale-like needles. Berries are blue, hard, and when scraped with a fingernail they emit a tangy smell and impart a tangy flavor—a somewhat creosote like taste. Male flowers are catkin like with numerous stamens in three segmented whorls. Female flowers are green and oval.
Location: Found across the United States. Often found in dune blowouts along the shore of Lake Michigan and throughout eastern and western mountains. It is easily relocated to gardens and yards.
Food: Dried berries are cooked with game and fowl. Try putting them in a pepper mill and grating them into bean soup, stews, on wild game and domestic foul. The berries may be made into tea, simply crush the berry, one or two berries and add to water just off the boil. Juniper berries may be infused into vodka to flavor it. Gin, schnapps and Aquavit are also flavored with juniper berries. And berries are used in grilling marinades. When grated it is added to cold cuts. Try it as a spice on vegetated protein cold cuts, like Wham and Mock chicken, garden burgers. Large amounts of the berry may be toxic, use in small amounts like a spice.
Traditional Uses:Native Americans used juniper branches around Tipis and shelters to fend off rattlesnakes. The diluted essential oil is applied to skin to draw and cleanse deeper skin tissue. It has been used to promote menstruation to reliefe PMS, (Pre Menstrual Syndrome and dysmenorrhea). Traditional practitioners use one teaspoon of berries to one cup of water, boil for three minutes, let steep until cool. A few practitioners add bark and needles to berry tea. The berry is considered antiseptic, diuretic, a tonic, and digestive aid. Strongly antiseptic to urinary tract problems and gallbladder complaints, but contra-indicated for kidney disease.
Modern Uses:The berry is diuretic, extract is in diuretic (Odrinil). Possible indicated for treating heart disease, high blood pressure, and dropsy. The berry extract is used in Europe to treat arthritis and gout. It is Commission E approved for treating dyspepsia. Animal studies the extract in various combinations showed anti-inflammatory and anticancer activity (not proven in humans). It decreased glycemic levels in diabetic rats. In human trials the berry extract combined with nettle and yarrow extracts failed to prevent gingivitis. In one double blind placebo controlled, crossover study of Juniper Oil and Wintergreen oil (30 ml of Kneipp-Rheumabad (Registered)) was added to bath water and reduced pain in trial participants. Mice trials may prove the berry extract in pharmaceutical doses to be anti-inflammatory, at least in the rodents. Juniper oil has been used successfully as a diuretic and may be useful as adjunct therapy for diabetes.
Chemistry:Volatile oil: myrcene, alpha and beta pinene, cineole, sabinene. Also diterpenes, vitamin C, resin, simple carbohydrates, tannins.
Warning:Use sparingly as allergic reactions are possible. Pregnant women should avoid this herb because it may induce uterine contractions. It may increase menstrual bleeding. Do not use if expected kidney infection or kidney disease. Do not use the concentrated and caustic essential oil internally without the help of a licensed holistic health care practitioner
Notes: I occasionally chew on a berry, ripe, soft ones taste best. A half dozen berries added to duck, goose, lamb or goat stew is worth the adventure.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata L.) (Pipsissewa)
Description: Small evergreen shrub to twelve inches. Glossy green leaves. Flowers in clusters atop a long stem, pink to rose colored about 3/8 inch across. Fruit is round.
Location: Found in forests of the Northwest, in foothills and montane coniferous woods of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia
Food: The plant is used as a flavoring agent for candy and pop. Leaves and roots boiled and eaten. Berries eaten as a digestive.
Traditional Uses: Tea made from aerial parts to treat water retention, kidney and bladder problems. Smoke pained eyes were cleared and cleaned with an infusion from the plant. The herb is astringent used to treat fevers, backaches, stomachaches, coughs, and sore throats. The infusion is used as a wash for wounds, sores, blisters and rashes. Fresh leaves crushed and applied externally to reduce inflammation. Native Americans used the tea to regulate menstruation. Tea is considered expectorant, a dematological aid, urinary aid and orthopedic aid.
Modern Uses: Considered as a treatment for kidney problems. Homeopathically to treat inflammation of urinary tract, mammary glands and prostrate.
Caution: Leaves as a poultice may cause inflammation and dermatitis.
Chemistry: Flavonoids, tannins, Napthoquinones; and hydroquinone glycosides.
Notes: This fragrant flower is found in profusion around the slopes of Mt. Baker in Washington State. It has been over-harvested and becoming a difficult find.
Medicinal Plants from the Yard, Prairie, and Meadows
Meadowsweet and Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula ulmaria L.) (Filipendula rubra (Hill) Robins) (Photo)
Description: Perennial herb to five feet in height. Woody stem when mature, alternate elongated petioled leaves. Ovate, pinnate, double toothed leaves have almond like fragrance. Flowers are numerous.
Location: Found in temperate biomes of all northern temperate latitudes.
Food: Aerial parts, especially flowers, collected, dried. Drug is astringent, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-ulcer (stomach ulcers). Tones smooth muscle of gut.
Traditional Uses: The root of Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie) was used by Native Americans to treat heart problems. Also a love charm, love medicine.
Modern Uses: Commission E approves the use as supportive therapy for coughs, bronchitis, acute infections such as colds and influenza.
Chemistry: Flavonoids, tannins, salicyclic acid.
Note: Druids revered this herb, it was sacred to them. These ancient people of northern Europe and possibly northern Spain used Filipendula ulmaria, Mentha aquatica, Verbena officinalis. All were used as strewing herbs to ward off evil spirits and promote good health.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) (Photo)
Description: Biennial or perennial to four feet, stem is erect, with few branches. Lanceolate leaves in a basal whorl as well as additional smaller upper leaves. Blue flowers (rarely white or pink) with square tipped rays, and a dandelion-like root.
Location: Roadsides, fields, meadow, waste ground nationwide.
Food: The root is dried, roasted, mixed with coffee beans, then ground to yield Cajun coffee. The flower petals are slightly bitter and add a nice contrast when stirred into cottage cheese (let the blossoms infuse into the cheese overnight in the refrigerator. The slightly bitter flowers are a healthful addition to salads, jump starting the digestion process.
Traditional Uses: The root dried or fresh is decocted in water as a diuretic, dietetic and laxative. Root tea stimulates digestion, improving peristalsis and absorption. Root decoction used externally to treat fever blisters. Cherokee used root infusion as a nervine—a tonic for the nerves.
Modern Uses: Homeopathic use for gall bladder and liver complaints. Root decoction may reduce blood sugar. Root constituents are antibacterial in vitro. Anti-inflammatory activity is being studied. Root drug may slow heart rate and reduce heart thrust. Animal studies showed a cholesterol lowering effect. Commission E approved for stimulating appetite and dyspepsia. In India the root decoction is used to treat headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. Animal studies show chicory extract slows heart rate (see Balbaa, et al., Planta Med 1973;24(2):133).
Chemistry: Chiroric acid, chlorogenic acid, isochlorgenic acid, hydroxycoumarins, the flavonoid hyperoside and several sesquiterpenes.
Notes: This is a must have, attractive garden flower, with edible leaves, edible flowers and a stimulating root. The leaf extraction is not as bitter and evokes a milder response as compared to the root decoction.
Baptisia, False Indigo, (Baptisia tinctoria L.) (Photo)
Description:Tall shrub-like prairie flower to five feet, striking blue pea like flowers, pea-like leaves. Clusters of large indigo seed pods
Location: Prairie wildflower. Found both east and west of the Mississippi. Garden ornamental.
Traditional Uses:Native Americans used a decoction of the roots as a wash for external skin problems, to wash wounds, bites and stings. Considered an immune stimulating herb used externally on infected wounds or in decoction as a vaginal douche for vaginitis. A poultice of root was applied over venereal disease sores. A cold infusion of the smashed root was made in a bag suspended in water. The resultant extract was a purgative and emetic. The root infusion was used to wash wounds.
CAUTION: Taken orally the root decoction is potent, overdose toxic.
Modern Uses: Root extract considered a fair infection fighter when used in the hands of a skilled medical practitioner. Homeopathic doses safe for consumption. Toxic dose will cause nausea and vomiting. It appears to improve immune defense mechanisms by raising leukocyte counts (see PDR Herbal Medicines, third edition, p. 878-879.) Animal studies showed the polysaccharide fraction stimulates the immune system.
Chemistry:Water decoction of root has polysaccharides including arabinogalactans, quinolizidine alkaloids: cytisine, anagyrine, sparteine isoflavonoids, formonetin. Also cumarin: scopoletine. The ethanol root extract improves phagocytosis in humans.
Dye:My daughter uses the ripe seed pods and seeds in a sun tea infusion to extract a blue dye.
Note: Striking, decorative addition to perennial garden. Flowers and seed pod stalks make attractive and conversational flower arrangements.
California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica Cham.)
Description: Bluish-green poppy, fifteen to forty inches tall, with brilliant yellow-orange flowers. Flowers are solitary, the seed receptacle is cup or bowl shaped containing several chambers filled with tiny poppy seeds. Leaves are few, tapering to a point and feather or fern-like. Seeds may be purchased over-the-counter.
Location: Grows in open areas, roadsides, dry clearing from California to British Columbia and in gardens nationwide.
Food: Native Americans of the Luiseno nation ate young leaves of spring as cooked greens. The leaves first boiled, then fried or roasted and eaten.
Traditional Uses: Aerial parts are harvested, dried and infused as a sleep inducing sedative. It has been used for anxiety, nervousness, an as an antispasmolytic. It has an analgesic effect. Folk use includes treating nocturnal urinating in children. It is considered a warming, diuretic. Native Americans used the milky sap of leaves as an analgesic often to relieve toothaches. Leaves also placed under sleeping children to induce sleep. The white resin from seed pods was rubbed on nursing mother's breast to promote lactation. Several tribes believed the plant to be poisonous and avoided its use.
Modern Uses: Californidine, an alkaloid in the plant, is used as a sleep aid and sedative. These qualities have been proven in animal studies only. Homeopathic preparations are used to treat insomnia.
CAUTION: Not to be used during pregnancy.
Chemisry: Isoquinoline alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides. The drug is sold in liquid extract or tablets.
Notes: An attractive addition to your garden, collected seeds are used in poppy seed recipes.
Burdock, Gobo burdock (Arctium lappa L.) (Photo)
Description: Biennial, first years growth sprouts borad elephant ear like leaves (heart shaped) that grow directly from a deep taproot. Second year leaves are slightly smaller, mature plant is many branched and spreading to seven or eight feet, although often much smaller. Flowers are crimson with inward curving bracts that eventually form the mature seed capsule, which is a burr. This is the plant that deposits burrs on your dog and your trousers. Break open the seed capsule and plant the seeds.
Location: Found in the Northern hemisphere, temperate zone. Found in gardens, along roadsides and just about every place you walk your dog, providing an entertaining burr pulling party.
Food: Harvest roots in autumn or spring of the first year’s growth. Root may be twenty or more inches long. Peel the root, then slice diagonally (julienne) and stir fry, steam or saute. First year's leaves may be peeled, cooked and eaten. Second year flower spike are cut and peeled…Saute or steam.
Traditional Uses: Historically burdock has been used to treat immune system deficiency and skin conditions. Leaf infusion used for chronic skin problems. Root oil is used the same way: Soak the chopped root in olive oil in the refrigerator for one month. Root is considered anti-diabetic internally; it helps regulate blood sugar when lightly cooked. Root tea and eating the root may helps treat acne. Root polysaccharides said to lower blood sugar, but in use probably slows release of glucose from intestine because polysaccharides require more steps in digestion before being reduced to monosaccharides for absorption. Thus the release of glucose is slow, gradual to blood from gut. It is a warming tonic and detoxifier. Said to strengthen the stomach, liver, and lymphatic system.
Modern Uses: According to Japanese studies the root is anti-mutagenic (anti cancer) in animal studies. Chinese use leafy second year branches in infusion to treat rheumatism, arthritis and measles. This medicinal tea is often sweetened with raw cane sugar. Much of the hoopla over this herb has not been proven, clinical trials with humans are absent from the literature.
Tincture of seeds has been used for treating psoriasis (personally it did not help me). Essential oil from the seed reported to encourage hair growth and improve skin condition (not proven). To remove the oil puree seeds in hot olive oil and squeeze oily maceration through cheesecloth.
Chemistry: Roots contain polyphenolic compounds, caffeic acid, arctic acid, polyacetylenes and inulin. Seeds contain tannic acid, arctiin, arctigenin. The root is high in vitamin C, B, E, and has a good potassium to sodium balance, with numerous minerals including sulfur, silica, manganese, iron...The bitter compound is lappatin.
Caution: This herb is not recommended for pregnant or lactating
women...Large amounts may have a uterine stimulating effect.
Notes: Wash roots then pound or macerate them in warm water to release polysaccharides (inulin and mucilage). I have eaten copious amounts of the sauteed, stir fried root. Raw root polysaccharides may give gas as they are difficult to digest. The root is called Gobo in Oriental markets and runs as high as $6 a pound. It's free if in your backyard, so put it there. Pull burrs off a dog or your pants, crush them to release seeds, spread seeds on scuffed soil in the November. Plant thickly. Thin and spread seedlings in May.
Veterinarian/Wildlife: Excellent seed dispersal mechanism (said to have lead to the invention of Vel Cro).
Catnip(Nepeta cataria L.) (Photo)
Description:A perennial that will grow to three and a half feet. Erect and many branched stems. Leaves are grayish providing the plant with a whitish gray appearance. Leaves one to three inches, are ovate and serrated with a gray underside. Leaf petiole to one and a half inches long. Flower spike has a large cluster of individual flowers attached with short pedicles.
Location:Across the North American border to border, coast to coast: In gardens, along roadsides, and over waste ground. Tolerates well drained, dry areas.
Food:Tea, fresh or dried for following treatments.
Modern Uses: Naturapaths use it to treat colic and upset stomachache in children. According to Andrew Chevallier in the Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, catnip may be tinctured and used as a rub for rheumatic and arthritic joints. The tea is also used to stimulate the gallbladder.
Combinations: Naturopaths combine catnip leaves with elderflowers for treating acute infections. Another combination as a sleep aid is catnip, valerian root and hops. This combination is also used to reduce stress and as a relaxant.
Caution: Not to be used during pregnancy.
Chemistry:iridoids (actinidine), volatile oils: alpha and beta nepetalactone, geraniol, citronellol.
NOTES: A difficult herb to keep in the garden if the neighborhood has stray cats. Best start the plant indoors and transplant it when it is at least a foot tall. Maybe then it will survive the onslaught of drug seeking felines. The iridoid glycoside, actinidine, is believed to be the cat stimulating part of the plant. It is one of my favorite teas and should be prepared from the fresh herb as its physiologically active constituents are volatile and reduced by drying. Typical dosage is three cups per day.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Feline stimulant and intoxicant, but a human calming agent.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale G.H. Weber ex Wiggers.) (Photo)
Description: Basal whorl of toothed leaves. Yellow flower with numerous rays. Torn leaf and/or flower stem will exude white colored latex.
Location: Common yard bounty. Found in temperate regions worldwide.
Food: One of my favorite vitamin and mineral rich salad greens. Eat it daily, year around. Tear it into small pieces for salad, mix with thyme and fennel, nasturtiums, along with other salad. Thyme and fennel balance the bitterness in the dandelions. Make a mineral rich tea from roots and leaves. Gently simmer chopped fresh roots for a stomach bitters. Cook fresh leaves early in season with olive oil, bacon and lemon juice. Keep in mind, as season progresses leaves become more bitter, but in the evening if you pour copious amount of water on the late summer plants, the morning harvest will be sweeter. Leaves even when bitter are a healthy addition to stir fry. Try cooking dandelion greens with tofu. Also try oyster oil, cayenne, dandelion and beef strips.
Traditional Uses: Dried leaves before flowering and autumn roots are used, as well as the whole fresh plant infused or decocted. The root decoction is a liver cleansing tonic that aids digestion, and helps cleanse the blood. It is a diuretic, traditionally used to treat PMS. It has a mild laxative effect and may relieve inflammation and congestion of gall bladder and liver. Native Americans
applied steamed leaves (poultice) to stomachaches. Greens considered a tonic blood purifier. Root taken to increase lactation. Also root used as mild laxative and for dyspepsia.
Modern Uses: Commission E approved for treating dyspeptic complaints, urinary infections, liver and gallbladder complaints and appetite loss. Root extract may lower cholesterol and blood pressure (hypotensive). Dandelion is one of the most potent diuretics, performance equal to prescription pharmaceutical Furosemide in animal studies. Dandelions are a stimulating tonic and mild laxative with blood glucose regulating capacity. The bitter taste of dandelion is an appetite stimulant and stimulates entire digestive system (cholagogue) improves appetite and may be helpful treating anorexia. It raises HCL in stomach, improving calcium breakdown and absorption. It also spurs bile production.
Cholesterol Lowering Ability: Bile is necessary for fat and cholesterol emulsification, digestion and absorption. But fiber locks up bile thereby preventing emulsification of saturated fat and cholesterol. This causes the liver to make more bile from cholesterol. Dandelion and other bitter high fiber greens can theoretically lower cholesterol in three ways: 1. They stimulate secretion of bile requiring more production of bile from cholesterol. 2. Fiber in the plants locks up bile in the digestive system preventing cholesterol emulsification, thus it cannot be absorbed. 3. Fiber removes bile from body, requiring the liver to break down more cholesterol to make more bile (these factors may help prevent atherosclerosis, reduce stroke, and lower blood pressure).
Chemistry:Leaves high in cancer fighting antioxidants, vitamin C and Beta Carotene. Root contains inulin, gluten, potassium, taraxacin. White latex like exudate is made up of alcohols, (glycerin) caoutchouc, taraxasterols and acetic and other acids. Essential fats linoleic and linolenic in roots, leaves and seeds. Beta sitosterol in flowers as well as flavonoids, lutein, flavoxanthin.
Notes: This plant is easily grown indoors in the window. Eight plants under lights or in a window provide ample amounts of edible leaves for two people. We eat dandelion greens and make root tea year around. Plants can be brought indoors for the winter. Even late season bitter leaves can be chopped and added to salads. Not too much, but enough to give you all the wonders of nutrition this plant affords. Flower petals may be sprinkled over salads, rice dishes, vegetable dishes.
Wildlife/Veterinarian:Goldfinch eat the seeds, another great reason to grow this in your lawn. Dried dandelion root and dandelion tea is an integral constituent of my pigeon racing formula.
Echinacea, Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea; E. angustafolia) (Photo)
Description: An erect perennial to two and half feet in height. Purple blossoms are large and solitary with a spreading ray of florets. The bracts are rigid with thorn-like tips. Leaves are large, opposite or alternate, with smooth margins and rough surface. Rhizome (root) when sliced shows a yellowish center flecked with black, covered in a thin bark-like skin.
Location: Grows in eastern and central United States, meadows and prairies, fringes of fields and parks. Will grow in the garden and is beautiful.
Traditional Uses: Root and flowers used as a snake bite treatment. Boiled root to treat sore throats. Used as a wound treatment, and therapy for infections. Root infusion taken for gonorrhea. Masticated root held to a sore tooth to treat infection.
Modern Uses: Commercial preparations of roots, leaves, flowers are used to treat colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis, fever, urinary infections, inflammations of the mouth and pharynx , weakened immune function and wounds and burns.
Echinacea is very useful at the onset of upper respiratory infections. It needs to be started immediately, taken 3 times a day and continued until the person is well. Unlike Astragalus, it is not meant for long-term, routine use, as it boosts immune function by some 32%, and the immune system will not tolerate this long-term and will readjust so that the herb will not help as well when needed again for an acute infection. Echinacea enhances immunity in several ways. Polysaccharide initiated response follows bell curve: steep initial activity, improving immune response up to 32%. Then response peaks, and after four to six days tapers off. Therefore used for acute instead of chronic conditions.
Used internally for skin diseases, fungal infections both Candida and Listeria, slow healing wounds, boils, gangrene, upper respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, externally for acne and psoriasis (not proven by this sufferer).
Root oil may inhibit leukemia cells in vitro and vivo studies, active chemistry may be (Z)-1,8-pentacecadiene in root oil.
A recent study showed no evidence of Echinacea induced increase in lymphocytes, thus challenging it immune modulating effect. (see Schwartz et. al., Oral administration of freshly pressed juice of Echinacea…Phytomedicine. 2005:12:625-631.)
Chemistry: cichoric acid, akylamides, polysaccarides . Cichoric acid and akylamides are antimicrobial and prolong protective effects after reflex action of polysaccharides wears off. Chemistry exhibits activity similar to steroids and interferon. Also contains: apigenin; arabinogalactan (root); various caffeoyl compounds (see Duke's Database from CRC Press), echinacin, echinacoside, echinacein, echinolone; germacrene; various dicaffeoylquinic acids; isobutylamides; chlorogenic acid; germacrene; humulene; limonene; myrcene; quercetin (leaf); flavonoids high in leaves; alpha pinene; beta-pinene; palmitic-acid; kaempferol, rutin; rutoside; polysaccharide in root: rhamnoarabinogalactan (2) (3)(14). Also,(Z)-1,8-pentacecadiene in root oil (anti-leukemia agent( (16).
Safety: The juice of E. purpurea is well tolerated and appropriate for long term oral use according. One reviewer detected no safety concerns for continued use up to 12 weeks. There were, "no adverse reactions other than aversion to the taste." Test showed improvement in individuals with slight to moderately suppressed immune response. Others found that Echinacea lozenges had no significant effect on marathon runners. Limit therapy to 8 weeks because long term and repeated use may depress immunity.
Efficacy Challenged: A year 2000 study, financed by Procter & Gamble Co. which markets Vicks related cold products, found that Echinacea had "no significant effect on either the occurrence of infection or the severity of illness."
Caution: A study of 412 pregnant Canadian women, 206 of which took Echinacea during pregnancy showed that malformations of babies was equivalent between the control group and the test population Spontaneous abortions were twice as frequent in the Echinacea group, including 13 spontaneous abortions. Consult your physician before using Echinacea while pregnant. The herb is to be avoided by those allergic to the Aster/Daisy family and those with active auto-immune disease.
NOTES: I have prepared and used an alcohol tincture of E. purpurea as a gargle for mouth and tongue ulcers. I have also used it as a prophylactic against colds and the flu. Wild crafting dosage is not well defined, commercial extracts come in solid and liquid standardized form. Solid standardized extract dose is 500 to 900 mg extract per day.
I make a 30% per cent alcohol tincture of the flower heads, leaves and roots: whole live plant when in bloom. Dosage is 10-20 drops (about 15 ml.) three or four times per day. This is actually more than is recommended on standardized whole plant liquid extractions. If you purchase Echinacea extract over the counter follow recommendations on bottle (manufacturers recommendations).
A few years ago, I had a staphlococcus infection (cellulitis) an imbedded cyst in my buttock. My physician suggested that I have it cut out before it burst open and infected other parts of my body. I begged to try the Echinacea floral extraction. The large cyst like infection disappeared in three days and has not returned. I continued the therapy for a total of six days (single 30% alcohol dose 3X per day).
My coneflowers are from the Fernwood Botanic Gardens prairie--one of the last wild stands in Michigan
Kitchen Preparation: roots, leaves and flowers are chopped then tinctured in 100 proof alcohol on a 1 to 1 weight to volume basis of fresh whole plant to Everclear alcohol. I add an ounce of alcohol if I cannot completely cover and saturate fresh plants at a 1:1 ration. Shake and refrigerate entire marc and maceration overnight, pour off through cheesecloth and bottle.
Echinacea may also be tinctured in glycerin, full strength with the live whole plant, flowers, leaves, root 1:1 wt to volume. Use glycerin extraction within three months. Alcohol extraction will keep through the entire winter.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Used in all my pigeon racing formulas as health protecting and cleansing agent after races. Bees and butterflies flit to this flower.
Epazote, Wormseed(Chenopodium ambrosioides) (Photo)
Description:An annual plant that self seeds, with numerous small yellow-green flowers in racemes or round spikes from the leaf axils at the top of the plant. Height to three and a half feet. Leaves are lance shaped and alternate.
Location:Dry, well-drained ground in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, the American Southwest, and California, including many gardens nationwide.
Food:A teaspoon or less of the dried leaves is cooked with bean dishes and corn and fish preparations (see warning). Start with only one leaf to a quart pan of beans, or saute fish with a chopped leaf and garlic. Add a leaf to corn dish like you would add a bay leaf to stew.
Traditional Uses:In Mexico and the American Southwest this warming herb, that increases perspiration, is infused in hot bath water to treat acute infections and reduce fever. The leaf tea is considered a vermifuge. Salted leaves have been used to induce abortions. The tea is used to reduce stomach complaints after a meal. It is an antispasmodic, vermifuge used to kill worms: roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Also used to treat amebic dysentery. In Mexico traditional people use it for asthma and excessive mucus due to parasite and or infection. Native Americans poulticed the plant over insect bites and stings and snakebites. The expelled juice from the whole plant is used to wash hemorrhoids.
Modern Uses: In Traditional Chinese Medicine the oil is used for insect and animal bites, as well as rheumatism, eczema and bleeding from the uterus (metrorrhagia). This herb is still used in Central and South America to expel worms when prescription drugs fail. A combined therapy is employed to coaxe the worms to let go and pass from the body.
Warning:Not to be used by pregnant women. Use as a spice, small amounts only. Excessive use can lead to dizziness, convulsions, collapse, vomiting and death. However, in the World Health Organization Chronicle is was reported that 20 grams expels parasites and has little side effects. Definitely more information is needed. Consult with Native Americans and Hispanics who use the plant. Other sources such as Duke and Lewis (see pp.115 reference (6) suggest that toxic dose is near therapeutic dose.
I have used the dried leaf like pepper the dried herb on bean soup and corn soup. Epazote is available at almost every Mexican supermarket. Millions have used it as a spice, yet every piece of literature on the plant warns of its potential toxicity. Use it judiciously.
Chemistry:Oil of plant is fragrance in perfumes, soaps, oils, detergents, creams according to Duke in his Handbook of Medicinal Herbs...Oil: ascaridole a unsaturated terpene peroxide. Also, saponins, d-camphore, ureases, terpinene, geraniol, l-limonene, myrcene, p-cymene.
Notes:I grow this wild herb in my garden in Michigan and shelter it in my basement through the winter. Sprinkled in bean dishes it reduces flatulence and adds a distinctive taste and aromatic odor to beans. When making bean soup with Epazote be certain to use lime juice and mint leaves. It's a primal Native American thing. If you try it be careful. Epazote in overdose is toxic. Use very small amounts (one leaf).
Wildlife/Veterinarian:Oil and tinctured leaf (in alcohol) has been used on pets as a vermifuge (external use only). Leaves have been fed to farm animals to rid them of worms and parasites. Used to repel mosquitoes and oil or decoction in humus or fertilizer to inhibit insect larvae growth.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis L.) (Photo)
Description: Biennial that grows to three feet or more with fleshy turnip like root. First year plant is only a basal rosette of leaves, second year is erect plant, conspicuous in the Fall with its large seed filled fruit capsules. Oblong lance shaped leaves, pointed and finely dentate. Fragrant bugle-like shaped yellow flowers, one inch long growing from the leaf axils. Flowers open in evening. Fruit is linear-oblong, four sided, downy about ½ to one inch in length, containing dark gray to black seeds with sharp edges.
Location: Found in gardens, along roadsides, on waste ground, fields, and prairies.
Food: The root is edible (biennial plant: first year root best). New leaves of first or second year edible in salads, stir fry. The leaves are tough and need to be cooked. Seeds can be poured out of seed capsule (seed capsule looks like small dried okra pod). Immature seed capsules may be cooked like okra, but do not taste like okra, nothing like okra .
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used warm root poultice to treat piles. Roots were chewed to increase strength and endurance. Whole plant bruised, soaked and used as a poultice on bruises and sores.
Modern Uses: Seed oil used to treat essential fatty acid deficiency and to lower cholesterol. The cholesterol lowering effect was not effective in a 1986 study but did prove successful in a double blind crossover study conducted in 1996. Seed extract said to dilate coronary arteries and clear arterial obstruction. Used as a holistic treatment for intermittent claudication. Other uses include treatments of atopic eczema and psoriasis (not effective according to this author). Oil may provide relief from Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms (PMS), although one study disputed this claim. Also used as a treatment for recurrent breast cysts. The essential fatty acids and amino acids in the seeds are reportedly good for treating mild depression. EPO has been used successfully with vitamin B6 therapy to treat breast pain (mastalgia).
Evening Primrose oil is considered anticoagulant, demulcent, and a precursor of prostaglandin E which has anti-inflammatory. Although Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) has been recommended in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis, it has not proven effective. Other practitioners suggest that flaxseed (omega-3 oils) may better serve the MS patient as alpha-linolenic acid has a better effect and is required for normal myelin composition. However, one study suggested that Evening Primrose Oil had no effects on the clinical course of MS. Adjunct nutritional therapy combining 2.8 grams of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) with tamoxifen experienced quicker response from the prescription drug.
One study showed that with women who had recurrent breast cysts Evening Primrose Oil treatment resulted in a slightly lower rate of recurrence as compared to placebo.
Another study suggests that EPO may reverse neurological damage in diabetic patients. Provided significantly increased serum essential fatty acids in insulin dependent children. Also, decreased PGE2 levels.
EPO therapy may improve liver function in alcoholics.
Arthritis: Use of EPO decreased the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. An alternative with similar results can be achieved with less expensive flaxseed, Perilla seed, or cold water fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring, fresh anchovies.
Chemistry: Plant contians coumarins, neochlorogenic acid, ellagic-acid, digallic-acid, kaempferol, quercitin, oenotherin. seed: excellent amino acid profile, phytosterols, significant quantities of essential fatty acids: cis-linoleic acid; Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) and Alpha-Linoleic-Acid as well as linoleic, beta-linoleic-acid.
Dosage: Check with your holistic health care practitioner or stick to dosage recommendations on the package. For eczema suggested therapy is a standardized GLA content of 8%: six to eight grams for adults; two to four grams for children. For PMS a standardized extract of 3 grams daily is often suggested.
Safety: In large doses may cause headache, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea. Avoid in cases of schizophrenia and epileptogenic drugs: phenothiazines. No long term studies during pregnancy and lactation.
Notes: GLA, a naturally occurring nutrient and is found in breast milk. This widely used nutritional supplement has been marketed for over thirty years. My wife takes evening primrose oil for treating PMS. She feels it helps, my observation is: It helps minimally. I have psoriasis and have found this oil and borage oil expensive and ineffective ways to treat this auto-immune disease. I have more success at less cost using fish oil capsules: Max EPA and DHA 1000mg tablets up to 12 per day, tapering down after 2 weeks to six per day and eventually three per day. This is not a cure but helps to clear my skin, when coupled with sun therapy, seawater bathing and the application of aloe gel. Be certain to keep the skin moist with moisturizers.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Seeds are fine additions to bird feeders, finches, sparrows and numerous other birds will be attracted to the seed laden capsules of the plants.
Foxglove, Purple Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea L.) (Photo)
Description: Biennial three to five feet. Lance shaped leaves, fuzzy (hairy) in basal rosette. When without flower stalk, the basal rossetted of leaves looks somewhat like mullein leaves or comfrey leaves, rarely dock leaves, but beware the leaves of digitalis are toxic. Thimble shaped flowers on a spike, white to purple…They look like gloves, hence the name. Flowers bloom in summer of second year.
Location: Common mountain wildflower, found along roadsides in Northwest and Eastern mountain states. This is a favorite ornamental in gardens from coast to coast.
Food: Not edible, toxic.
Traditional Uses: Foxglove...Powdered leaf contains potent cardiac glycosides perhaps first used by Celtic people in Europe. Overdoes causes nausea, vomiting, slowed pulse, fainting and possibly death. Used externally on wounds and ulcers. Internally in the British Isles to treat tumors, ulcers, headaches and abscesses.
Modern Uses: The plant derived drug is considered obsolete. Better synthetic pure substances are available and used. The plant contains cardiac glycosides that as the model for the now synthesized drugs is used to increase heart thrust and lower venous pressure. It lowers oxygen requirements of the heart and reduces frequency of heartbeat. Used with diuretics to treat congestive heart failure. There is a narrow range between therapy and toxicity.
Chemistry: Cardiac glycosides: digitoxin, gitoxin, gitaloxin, aglycone digitoxigenin...Steroid saponins and anthraquinones.
Caution: Use only after the appropriate diagnosis and under the supervision of a skilled holistic professional.
Notes: Transplants to garden, striking plant, tolerates some shade, prefers sun and well-drained soil.
Lambs quarters, pigweed, goosefoot (Chenopodium album L.) (Photo)
Description: To five feet in height, with light green (grayish green) leaves with powder like substance beneath, coarsely toothed, with a goosefoot or diamond shape. Small green flowers in clusters growing from top third of plant and many of the branches. Seeds are gray colored.
Location:Across the nation in meadow, along roadsides, gardens, waste ground, edges of cultivated fields.
Food:I add Lamb's quarters leaves to salads, stir-fry, and steamed wontons with quinoa, carrots, burdock root. Roll wontons in quinoa seeds before steaming. Seeds may be ground and used in baking recipes. The herb flavors corn and fish dishes and other Mexican foods. Quinoa may be added to pancakes and waffles, bread, pizza dough. Also great as a cooked cereal, and is best when part of a multi grain cereal. Cook it like rice.
Modern Uses: Traditional uses still employed, but not proven.
Chemistry:Nitrates, essential amino acids, vitamin C, flavonoids, chlorophyll, xanthophyll.
Notes:I grow Lamb’s quarters in my garden. Chenopodium quinoa, an edible primal grain, can be purchased in health food stores and 7th Day Adventist markets. Eat some seeds and plant some. See my Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants for more lamb’s quarters recipes.
Veterinarian/Wildlife:Lamb’s Quarters like Epazote is used as a vermifuge on animals. Put the whole herb in your pet’s doghouse, or in its bedding. Both plants are considered anti-helminthic (anti-worms). Also used as a fumigant against mosquitoes and a soil based larvae inhibitor to be used on lawns.
Description: Perennial to four feet with a single stem, leaves opposite, large, elliptical to eight inches in length. Pink flowers in drooping clusters grow from leaf axils. Seed pod is striking, Arabian slipper-like.
Location: Edges of cornfields, waste ground, roadsides, railroad right of ways, meadows, dune lands, desert, my garden. Various species found nationwide.
Food: Asclepias syriaca: Native Americans prepared like asparagus before milky sap appears (use two changes of water). Flower buds are prepared like cooked broccoli when harvested before they open. Flowers buds and seed pods are prepared as follows: Boil water, pour over seed pods, let water and pods steep for five minutes, then pour off water. Repeat, pour a second boil of water over once steeped pods, pour off water, then stirfry in olive oil or butter. Many people use three water baths over pods; and that is recommended for first encounters. Flowers may be dried and stored for winter use in soups, stews. Flowers have been diced, sweetened and made into marmalade. Native Americans ground seeds into flour. CAUTION: Keep in mind I have only eaten syriaca. Other species may be toxic. Do not experiment unless guided by an expert.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans pounded or split the roots to expose their flesh for drying. Dried roots in decoction have a mild cardiac stimulating effect--without the toxic effects of digitalis. Be warned this should be practiced with medical supervision because Asclepias syriaca L. contains toxic cardiac glycosides and requires careful preparation before use. Native Americans believed the plant was a lactagogue because of the milky white sap, as per the "Doctrine of Signatures", or "like treats like." Latex from the leaves was also rubbed on warts, and, reportedly, on cancerous tumors. Native American lore suggests that approximately a fistful, a cup and half, of milkweed was dried and pounded to a pulp then mixed with three dried Arisaema (Jack in the Pulpit) rhizomes. The plants were then put in a skin or gourd and infused into water for 20 or 30 minutes. The infusion of the two plants was swallowed one cup per hour to induce sterility. All varieties were used by First People to treat wounds as a poultice. The white gum was applied over insect stings, bites, and spider envenomations. The root infusion was used for kidney ailments and the dried leaves were infused for stomach problems. Native Americans also used the white sap of the plant to treat poison ivy; ringworm and many other skin problems. The boiled root decoction was also used externally for edema and ringworm and internally for congestive heart failure and kidney disorders. The Eclectics used dried and powdered milkweed root in a tea for asthma and as a mild sedative. According to Duke and Foster in Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants, p. 154, the plant is considered "dangerous and contraceptive".
CAUTION: Root decoction may me emetic; may stimulate the heart; and a few people may get allergic reactions from the milky sap.
Modern Uses: Homeopathic preparations are used for treating many ailments to include edema; dropsy; dysmenorrhea (as an emmenagogue). Asclepias curassavica L. from China is used to disperse fever (clears heat); to improve blood circulation and to control bleeding. The entire plant is dried and decocted as a cardiac tonic. Other Chinese formulations are used for tonsillitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, urethritis, externally for wounds. Calotropin from Asclepias inhibits human nasopharyngeal tumors (source did not say whether this effect was in vivo, or in vitro, so take that with a grain of salt). According to Herbalist Michael Moore the dried gum may be chewed in small portions to treat dry cough, as an expectorant, the bitterness stimulates saliva flow, a potential sialogogue (see Acorus calamus root).
Chemistry: Contains a cardiac glycosides (cardiac steroids) cardenolide glycosides called alpha asclepiadin and beta asclepiadin; beta sitosterol. Seed oil is 53% linoleic acid; but just 1% lenolenic acid two essential fatty acids. There is some nicotine in the sprouts as well as asclepiadin, sitosterol, amyrin and tannins.
Resin may be collected from leaves and stems. Cut and collect working your way down from the top of the plant. For example, cut leaf stem or stem near top of plant then scrape off white resin; when this wound drys and skins over cut a bit further down; and collect resin; Collected resin will oxidize and dry in a glass or stainless collecting dish. Stir or turn it occasionally for thorough drying. This process does not kill the plant as long as you leave enough growth for it to survive.
Notes: Seed fiber and seed hair was used as life jacket batting. Fragrant flowers are sweet, a potential source of sugar. I transplanted three varieties of domestic milkweed to my garden s I could watch them parade their striking beauty year around. My daughter uses the milky latex of the leaves and stems to glue paper. The strong, fibrous stems can be made into cordage and the pulp of plant may be chopped, shredded, boiled and prepared into paper.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: The plants are exotic looking in a garden context. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. With luck you will soon see Monarch caterpillars crawling over the leaves.
Butterfly milkweed, Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa L.) (Photo)
Description: A perennial plant of the milkweed family that grows to thirty inches. Flowers are orange, numerous, on panicles at the top of the flower stem. The tuberous root is grooved along its length and has root hairs. Leaves are alternate, hairless, oblong, and deep green. This milkweed does not have the latex found in other species.
Location: Much of North America, in the East north of the Mason Dixon Line and in the Four Corners area of the West and into Canada. Common garden ornamental.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: This is a premier Native American expectorant medicine. The root was used in decoction for treating pleurisy, bronchitis, antispasmodic, gastritis, influenza, pneumonia, colds and asthma. It was used to reduce fever by causing perspiration. Also used to treat uterine disorders (dysmenorrhea), therefore contraindicated for pregnant women. The external use of the mashed root as a poultice, or the mashed root in infusion was indicated for treating snakebites, bruises, rheumatism, wounds and weeping ulcers. Dried leaf poultice was wrapped around snakebites.
Modern Uses: The medicinal properties of the plant are untested and unproven. It is still used by Native Americans and Herbalists but has not been properly tested in double blind, placebo controlled, randomized studies.
Chemistry: Cardioactive steroids: frugoside, glucofrugoside, coriglaucigenin.
CAUTION: Never to be used during pregnancy. High dose of extraction is emetic.
Notes: Another attractive and fragrant bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnet—put it in your garden. Start from whole plants or rootstock.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata L.) (Photo)
Description: There are numerous varieties all somewhat similar. It is a perennial vine on a woody stem climbing to thirty feet or more. It has longitudinal striated bark when mature. Leaves are alternate, with petioles, serrated with fine hair on both the top and bottom, but underside of leaf is hairier. Leaf blades have bumps called floral nectaries. Flowers are single, striking to five inches in width.
Location: Climbing vine of open areas and the forest edge. Most species tropical or subtropical, will grow in a temperate garden. Worldwide distribution, numerous species, across 7 climactic zones. Often introduced. Found wild in the southeast United States.
Food: As a tea, an infusion with mild sedative properties. Fresh fruit may be eaten raw or juiced or made into a beverage. Mexicans mix with cornmeal or flour and eat it as a gruel. Leaves have been eaten by Native Americans. Typically, leaves are par boiled and pan fried in vegetable oil or animal fat. First
Traditional Uses: Fresh or dried aerial parts or whole dried used in infusion as mild sedative. Also used to treat nervousness and insomnia—a sleep aid. Antispasmodic effect of infusion is a gastrointestinal aid. People used the infusion of crushed root for treating earache. They also pounded root, and applied the mass as a poultice on inflamed contusions, boils and cuts. The root water of the plant was mixed with Lye treated corn and used to wean babies. The tisane was considered a blood purifier for many tribes. Pioneers used the whole plant with epsom salts as a sedative bath. Root tea an aerial parts tea used for treating hemorrhoids.
Modern Uses: As above. In animal studies, infusion was reported as sedative, antispasmodic, and inhibited motility of organisms. Commission E approved for treating nervousness and insomnia. Use as an anti-depressive and for treating hysteria is unproven.
Dosage: One teaspoon of dried, cut and sifted herb infused with 150 ml of water for at least ten minutes. One to five ratio (grams of dried herb to ml water) for treating hemorrhoids. Daily dosage not to exceed 4-8 grams of herb, three times per day.
Chemistry: Flavonoids, volatile oil, traces of cyanogenic glycosides (less than .1%).
Notes: Plant will tolerate some sun. In a temperate zone plant the seeds
on the east side of home to provide protection from afternoon sun. Doctrine of
Signatures suggests that this sensual looking plant is an aphrodisiac.
Plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.; P. major; P. maritima L.) (Photo)
Description: Several varieties are found across the United States. The difference is in the leaves, P. major’s leaves are broad, ovate and P. lanceolata’s leaves arenarrow and lance shaped. And Plantago maritima has are narrower, almost linear, and is found along the West Coast, often submerged during high tide. The green flowers of all three are born on terminal spikes.
Location: These common plants are found on open ground, waste land, edges
of fields and roads, lawns. Plantago maritima as mentioned is found in
the upper tidal zone.
Food: In the spring, I pluck whole leaves from my garden and yard and chop them into salads or saute them with wild leeks, nettles, dandelions and watercress. Summer and autumn leaves need to be torn from the tough mid leaf vein (rib) before entering into salads.
Traditional Uses:The flowering heads may be stripped off between thumb and forefinger into hot water to form mucilaginous drink for treating constipation. A few folks believe this plant when crushed and applied is a good antidote or treatment of poison ivy. Native Americans chewed the leaves mixing in saliva and Defensin to provide an antiseptic and immune stimulating poultice to be applied to wounds, scrapes, cuts, bruises. It is styptic, stopping blood flow. Simply chew the plantain leaf and fix it in place over the wound. Defensin is a chemical in our mouth that is antibiotic and immune stimulating. Digestive enzymes in our mouth are also weakly anti-microbial. Lotions and ointments used to treat hemorrhoids skin fistulae and ulcers. Tea is diuretic, decongestant, expectorant. May be helpful in diarrhea, dysentery, irritable bowel syndrome, laryngitis and urinary tract bleeding. Acubin increases uric acid excretion by kidneys and may be helpful in treating gout.
Modern Uses: Commission E reports that P. lanceolata extract from the fresh plant may fight colds (4 grams of herb to cup boiling water), may alleviate symptoms of bronchitis and cough, an may reduce fever. It is approved for treating inflammation of pharynx and mouth; and for skin inflammations. Typically, a dose is three to six grams of the fresh whole herb (aerial parts when in bloom) added to a cup of water just off the boil. Let cool, then drink. This beverage may be taken three or four times a day. Also used in respiratory tract infections and is considered antibacterial.
Chemistry: Iridoid: aucubin; flavonoid apigenin; mucilage, tannins, citric acid, oxalic acid, and saponins.
Notes:Humans have chewed the leaves and applied the masticated mass over wounds. Plantago seeds of India and Africa are dried and used as a bulking laxative. Plantago ovata is a constituent of Metamucil.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea L.) (Photo)
Description: Spreading succulent that sprawls through garden. Thick fleshy and shiny leaves, ovate. Stems many branched. Small inconspicuous flower.
Location: Gardens and waste ground from coast to coast.
Food: Purslane is a common garden plant, an alien creeper, with ovate leaves, thick and succulent. It may be eaten right off the ground, put in salads, chopped into soup. The payoff is Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Native Americans ate the leaves as a raw or cooked vegetable. It was also boiled in soups and with meats. Try it chopped in salads or in salad dressing even turkey stuffing. Native Americans ate raw with meat and green chiles. Can be dried and reconstituted as a winter food.
Traditional Uses: Used as a poultice, a skin lotion. Used whole plant in decoction to treat worms. Juice used to treat earaches. Juice of whole plant considered a tonic. Antidote to unspecified herbal toxins. Infusion of leaf stems used to stem diarrhea. Mashed plant as poultice over burns and bruises. Decoction of whole plant considered an antiseptic wash. Eaten to alleviate stomachache.
Modern Uses: Essential fatty acids may help prevent inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Preparation is found in a few commercially available skin lotions.
Chemistry: Omega 3 fatty acids
Preparation: I add the succulent leaves to salads and encourage this plant to grow in my garden. It is a natural and tasty way to get Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet.
Pokeweed, Poke Salad(Phytolacca americana L.) (Photo)
Description: A smooth skinned plant with purple stems when mature, to ten feet tall, but more typically five feet. Stems are hollow and usually marked with grooves. The root is long and thick. Leaves are ovate-lanceolate, alternate, from five to ten inches in length, with entire margins. When rubbed leaves provide a musty scent. Flowers are on racemes, with a calyx but no corolla. Berries are purplish to black when ripe.
Location: From the Missouri River east to the coast and south to the Gulf. Found on waste ground, fields, roadsides, gardens.
Food: The young shoots of this plant are edible in the spring. The leaves should be boiled in a change of water. Avoid poke once the stem and leaf petioles have started to turn purple. The lectin content rises as the plant matures. Cooking destroys some of the lectins, and digestive juices get others, but...Be careful! Your window of opportunity is short. This is an excellent tasting green. If you are not certain, you can find these greens canned and commercially available. Stems when young and tender may be blanched and pickled. One of my students eats pokeweed rather late into the season, and has reported eating them with the flower buds on. She also confessed to their potent cathartic activity. Seeds, berries and roots are toxic. Cherokee made a drink of crushed ripe berries that were mixed with sour grapes, sweetened, then strained and blended with powdered cornmeal. The leaves contain three times as much Vitamin C as a lemon and are mineral rich.
CAUTION: Berries are toxic and more than ten berries may be harmful to an adult according to FIRST EDITION: Herbal Monograph P.1030-1031 PDR for Herbal Medicine, Medical Economics Company, Montvale, NJ.
Traditional Uses:Native Americans traditionally used the root poultice over rheumatoid joints. Berries were made into tea for rheumatic conditions. Berry tea was also used to treat dysentery. Infusion of root used for eczema, ulcerated wounds, and to reduce swelling. Dried and powdered roots spread over cuts and sores. Plant used as a proven laxative and emetic. Decoction mixed with other plants and taken as a blood purifier and stimulant (see Moerman, p. 397). Infusion of root and branches used in Sweat Lodge to produce steam that is considered antirheumatic. Root was pounded and mixed with grease and applied to bunions.
Modern Uses: The plant parts are reported as purgative and anti-arthritic. Antiviral proteins in leaves have been indicated as a possible treatment for cancer and viral infections. Homeopathic doses are available for rheumatism, inflammations of the mammary glands and respiratory tract, infections and fevers. Root saponins are emetic and the root has demonstrated an immune enhancing effect.
Chemistry:Phytolaccine (alkaloid); triterpene saponins (phytolaccatoxin); lignins: caffeic acid, americanine; histamine, various lectins collected as pokeweed mitogens; cyanidins: phytolaccanin (betanin). Sugars, polysaccharides: saccharose (cyclitol).
Notes: Overdose leads to diarrhea, respiratory distress, hypotension, dizziness, thirst, tachycardia, vomiting and if the dose is high enough acute spasm and death. Berries are particularly toxic to children and the ingestion of just one berry by a child is cause for concern. Given that, berries are used by the food industry as a coloring. Traditional people used the berries as a dye. In Appalachia, the root is brought into root cellars, placed in a trough, covered with dirt, watered to induce growth, and the new edible shoots are eaten.
Pokeberry purge: One controversial therapy I heard of requires taking one berry to start a cleansing process, then take one additional berry each day for twenty or twenty one days (twenty one berries on the last day). I'm not interested. Too risky! Knowing me, I would end up with 21 days of diarrhea or worse? A fruit juice fast is more to my liking.
Potentilla and Cinquefoils (Potentilla anserina; P. granulosa; P. gracilis) (Photo)
Description: A perennial with thick rhizome with a basal rosette of leaves. Yellow flowers with five petals and five sepals are on long pedicles (petioles) and grow from the stem nodes. Up to one inch wide but typically smaller. Oval to round fruit that is grooved over the backside. Leaves are paired, glossy, white haired beneath and fresh green on top.
Location: Found on waste ground, roadsides, edges of woods.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used roots in decoction to treat diarrhea, pain, and to reduce external swellings…Also as a stimulant and tonic. Pulverized and cold infusion of root used for washing sores and as a treatment for gonorrhea.
Modern Uses: Preparations of the whole leaves and flowers are approved by Commission E for internal use to treat diarrhea, mouth and pharynx inflammations, and Premenstrual Syndrome.
Chemistry: Flavonoids including quercitrin; tannins to include ellagitannins; coumarins including scopoletin and umbelliferone.
Notes: I see this plant frequently when hiking but have never used it. In a pinch, I would use the aerial parts in infusion to stem diarrhea, i.e. should I contract the malady in our northern climes where the plant is abundant.
Saint John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum L.) (Photo)
Description: Five sepaled yellow flowers in terminal cymes (clusters). Sepals are marked with numerous glands. Five petaled blossoms have numerous stamens fused into three bundles. Cylindrical seeds are one to three mm long, black or brown, covered with small wart-like markings. Stem is reddish and erect and may grow to four feet. Leaves are ovate, attached at the base and covered by glands. NOTE: Hold the leaves toward the sun and you will see the glands, they appear as small perforations in the leaf.
Location: Roadsides, waste ground, fields, prairies across the United States. Numerous garden varieties.
Traditional Uses: Whole plant decoction to induce abortions by promoting menstruation. Parts used are fresh and dried flowers, buds and leaves. Topical applications rubbed on sores, may have antiviral, antibacterial and wound healing activity. Also, considered anti-inflammatory,
Antibacterial, antiviral, antidiarreal and astringent. Traditionally used for over 2000 years (initially in Greece to drive out evil spirits). Flower infusion or flower tincture used. Said to calm nerves, may relieve insomnia, may boost mood, dispel lethargy, like a nervine, reduces nervous tension internally, tea used as a treatment for PMS premenstrual syndrome treatment. Tea, standardized capsule and tincture also used to, sciatica, anxiety, shingles, fibrositis. Chewed root considered a snakebite remedy. Crushed leaves and flowers stuffed in nose to stem nosebleed.
Modern Uses: To treat mild to moderate depression, several studies in Europe show the benefit of this herb, as a standardized extract of 0.3% hypericin, 300mg, three times a day, comparable in anti-depressant effect to a drug standard of Imipramine. CAUTION: Not to be used to treat severe depression or bi-polar depression. A new study suggests a 5% hyperforin extract of the plant showed a slight increase in cognitive function. Other trials suggest that the drug can combat fatigue, relieve anxiety, improve sleep, help with weight loss and attenuate menopausal symptoms. One study showed it relieved some forms of atopic dermatitis, but was no more effective than placebo for treating major depression. It may work better than Fluoxetine in treating depression (see Fava, et. al.. A double blind randomized trial of St, John’s wort… J. Clinical Psychopharmocology 2005;25(5):441…)
External infusion of flowers and leaves is used as a cooling, astringent, anti-infective agent, wound healing infection fighter, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, promotes healing, antiseptic, analgesic, externally as poultice or wash for infections, healing burns, bruises, sprains, tendonitis, sprains, neuralgia, cramps. In vitro studies show a wide spread anti-microbial activity against: influenza, herpes simplex I and II, retrovirus, polio virus, sindbis virus, murine cytomegalovirus, hepatitis C, and against gram negative and gram positive bacteria. It appears exposure to ultra violet light potentiates anti-microbial activity.
Chemistry: hypericin and pseudohypericin are quinones. They are red pigmented and have antidepressant activity, and are antiviral (in vitro), anti-cancer (in vitro) antidepressant, used in AIDS research. Xanthones: (in flowers) cardiotonic, diuretic, antibacterial, antiviral, MAO inhibitor. Tannins: (leaves and flowers) styptic, anti diarrhea for external and internal bleeding, dry and bind skin. Coumarins: (throughout plant) umbelliferone and scopoletin anti-fungal, antiviral and in vitro anti-tumor. Essential oils: monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes (highest in plant leaves and flowers just at flowering) calming, sedating, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-asthma, for headaches, anti-fungal. Bioflavonoids include: quercitrin, isoquercitrin, rutin, biapegenin. Bioflavonoids as a family and individually are MAO inhibitors and antioxidants. Also contains proanthocyanidin, a vasorelaxant, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-ulcer (specifically amentoflavone is sedative, anti-ulcer). Beta-sitosterol is anti-PMS, anti-menopausal symptoms. Also contains numerous acids: p-coumaric, ferulic, gentisic, chlorogenic, isoferulic. In addition there are carotenoids, umbelliferones, xanthones, Vit C, tannins and amino acids. Carotenoids are implicated for wound healing properties. GABA. a neurotransmitter, may have sedative effects.
Standardized Over the Counter dietary supplement Dosage is one 250 mg standardized capsule of .3 to .5% hypericin once per day.
Safety: Empirical: Millions of Germans have used the herb with no reported deaths as of the date of this writing. Millions more of North Americans are using it now. It is sold as a dietary supplement. Of 3250 German patients in trials 2.4% reported side effects including gastrointestinal irritation, restlessness and mild allergic reactions. It should not used in conjunction with other psychoactive medications. It appears to be synergistic with serotonin reuptake inhibitors thereby increasing serotonin levels. Use of the supplement may lower activity of simultaneously administered drugs including non-sedating antihistamines, oral contraceptives, certain anti-retrovirals, antiepileptics, calcium channel blockers, cyclosporine, some chemotherapeutics macrolide antibiotics and select antifungals.
Caution: Recent evidence suggests the chronic, long term use (abuse) of Saint John's Wort is undesirable and may have negative health consequences.
It has been discovered, for example, that use of the herb lowers the effectiveness of the cancer fighting drug irinotecan. St. John's Wort contains the active compounds hypericin and hyperforin that induce cytochrome P 450 to increase the rate of breakdown (metabolism) of irinotecan causing a 40% decline in the anticancer drug's activity (20).
WARNING: Purchase prepared products after consultation with your healthcare professional. Animal studies show the plant to cause photo dermatitis, a photoallergic reaction. Phototoxicity was demonstrated in humans in doses twice that of typical antidepressant dosage. Once again, consult a physician before using the drug (supplement). Do not use with sleep aids, sleeping pills, seserpine (antagonistic to it), or barbiturates.
Notes: I have used both a decoction and tincture of the whole plant to
treat psoriasis with no success. Only use this herb under the care of a holistic
Heal All, Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris L.) (Photo)
Description: Blue to violet bract of flowers clustered in a whorl at the end of the square stem. Stem, when young, is erect and may fall and creep. Plants are typically six to ten inches in height. Leaves ovate to lance shaped, margins are dentate to entire, and opposite.
Location: Found on waste ground, lawns, edges of fields and margins of woods nationwide.
Food: According to Moerman, Native American Ethonobotany, p. 439, Cherokee cooked and ate small leaves. Thompson First People made a cold infusion of the aerial parts and drank this as a common beverage.
Traditional Uses: Documented use by the Chinese for over 2200 years, Selfheal was used for liver complaints and improving the function of the liver. The whole plant is used in infusion to stimulate the liver and gallbladder and promote healing. It is considered alterative, capable of changing the course of a chronic disease.
Modern Uses: Still used in this country internally to treat excessive menstruation and externally to treat burns, cuts, sores and sore throat. Whole plant is infused and gargled for ulcers of the mouth and throat. The tea is made with one teaspoon of the dried whole aerial parts of the plant to a cup of water as a remedy for diarrhea and unspecified gynecological disorders. Consult with a professional holistic health care professional for specific formulations and applications.
Spiderwort, Widow's Tears, Spider plant(Tradescantia virginiana L.; T. occidentalis; T. pinetorum) (Photo)
Description:Leaves are long, tough, sword-like, smooth with entire margins. Numerous leaves grow from the base (no stem). Flowers are orchid-like, in drooping terminal clusters, deep blue, they open in the morning and close by afternoon. The plant blooms continuously throughout summer. There are at least four species in North America.
Location:In my garden, along railroad right of ways, roadsides, fields and prairies from coast to coast.
Food:Virginiana and occidentalis are eaten. Tender shoots of spring are eaten raw or cooked. Flowers are edible throughout year, pick in morning before they wilt. Try them in salads, stir fry, or right off the plant. Flowers may be dipped in egg white and coated with powdered sugar.
Traditional Uses:Virginiana root tea was used as a laxative, for female kidney disorders and stomach problems Crushed and smashed aerial parts of plant used as a poultice over insect bites, stings, and to bind wounds. Aerial infusion also used to treat stomachache. Native American and Pioneers used the crushed plant as a poultice to treat cancer. Occidentalis tea was used as a diuretic. This plant infused is said to be an aphrodisiac.
Modern Uses: Flowers have health protecting flavonoids that may lower blood pressure (hypotensive), and are diuretic, and may improve distal circulation. There is little or no modern evidence of the use of this Medieval drug. The mucilaginous consistency of the young shoots, when eaten may help alleviate sinus and bronchial spasms, as well as be soothing to a sore throat (all unproven).
Chemistry:Bioflavonoids, Chlorophyll, anthocyanidins in flower.
Notes:Flowers open in morning, wilt by afternoon, and turn into a jelly-like mass by evening. Hairy stamens of flower have large rows of thin-walled cells in a chainlike pattern. The flowing cytoplasm and nuclei of these cells can be easily seen under a microscope. The tough leaves of this plant can be used for binding wounds, and woven into cordage. The Mixteca tribe of Mexico bound Cortez’s thigh wound with this plant, and are credited for saving his life—too bad (and shame on me). As a garden perennial this plants gives and gives and gives.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Occidentalis and pinetorum were fed
to livestock to induce breeding (aphrodisiac). Cold infusion of same plant used
to treat "deer infection" and unspecified Native American disease
believed to be contracted from animals. Plants are said to be an insect
repellents (unproven by this author).
Wild Yam Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa; D. composita Hemsl) (Photo)
Description: Sprawling, climbing perennial vine with a reddish brown stem that may grow to thirty-five feet. Leaves are typically alternate, broadly ovate, to heart shaped, smooth on top and hairy underneath (pubescent). Flowers are small, greenish-yellow. Male flowers are drooping, female flowers, also drooping and raceme like. The root and rhizome are the parts used, rhizome is pale brown, a twisted tuberous cylinder.
.Location: It grows in my garden, and can be found from Canada to the Southern United States. It withstands tropical, subtropical and temperate conditions.
Food: Used in Chinese medicinal soups. Add about 20 grams of the sliced, dried root available in Chinese supermarkets and Chinese drug stores. Simmer in chicken stock, add vegetables, meat and garlic…Serve. Tubors are bitter and considered toxic, but Chinese uses challenge that contention. Be careful.
Traditional Uses: Meskwaki used the decoction of the root as an analgesic for birthing pain and post partem pain. Dried Wild yam (Dioscorea) root slices are taken with Polygonatum (Solomon seal root) to treat dysmenorrhea (Traditional Chinese Medicine).
Modern Uses: Diosgenin from wild yam(a breakdown component of dioscin) was the model material for the birth control pill. Japanese scientists also developed corticosteroid compounds from the root starter material. DHEA and other hormones and hormone starter materials are fabricated from the phytosterols in the root of wild yam. Traditionally, indigenous people of South America used the root pain of menstruation, labor (ovarian pain). Also used for arthritis, digestive aid and muscle cramping. Has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, anti-arthritis, warming and diuretic properties. Tea has been prescribed by Naturapaths for irritable bowel syndrome. Tincture for arthritis. Root is decocted and taken for chronic fatigue, nocturnal emissions, neurasthenia (similar to chronic fatigue) insomnia, neurosis, and for feelings of inadequacy. Commercially prepared drug is taken for leukorrhea, the whitish viscid discharge from the vagina. Externally as a poultice it is applied to abscesses, boils, and skin sores.
Caution: Not for people with high blood pressure or constipation. Check with your holistic healthcare practitioner. Do not take during pregnancy without a physician’s guidance.
Chemistry: phytosterols, beta-sitosterol, saponins dioscin, polysaccharides, phenolic compound tannin and various alkaloids.
Preparation and dose: Chopped root is made into tea or tinctured in 30-40% alcohol. One teaspoon of chopped root to a cup of boiling water. Take as prescribed by your holistic healthcare practitioner. Tincture: 100 grams of dried chopped root to a half liter of 30-40% alcohol (60-80 proof). See Andrew Chevallier, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Reader’s Digest Books for more information reference page 291.
Notes: The plant once started in your garden is difficult to eradicate, it will raise its head here there and everywhere. Grow it along a wall or fence, it make an unusually attractive cover.
Medicinal Plants of the West Coast
Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus Sm. Torr.& Gray es. Miq) (Photo)
Description: Shrub-like growth that is spreading, crooked, tangled, tortured and covered with horrible thorns. Plant grows to ten feet. Wood has sweet odor. Dinner plate sized maple-like leaves with seven to nine sharp pointed leaves that are armed underneath with thorns. Club like flower head has white flowers grouped in a compact terminal head. Berries are shiny bright red, and flattened.
Location: Found in seepage sites and along stream banks in Coastal mountains and along West Coast. Also, in moist low lying forested areas and old avalanche tracks. Typically at low altitude, but in Canada it may grow to treeline.
Food: Not often eaten as food, berries considered inedible. According to Moerman (Native american Ethnobotany) spring buds boiled and eaten by Oweekeno tribe.
Traditional Uses: Related to ginseng, the roots, berries, and especially greenish inner bark are used. The plant is one of the most important medicinal plants of West Coast First People and is still used in rituals and medicine. Berries are rubbed into hair to kill lice and put a shine on the hair. Inner bark chewed raw as purgative and emetic or taken with hot water for the same purpose. Inner bark also infused or decocted to treat stomach and bowel cramps. The decoction of fresh or dried inner is used to treat arthritis, stomach ulcers and other unspecified illnesses of the digestive system. Root, leaves and stems are added to hot baths to treat rheumatism, arthritis. The cooked and shredded root bark is used as a poultice for many skin conditions. Stem decoction used for reducing fever. Tea from inner bark used for treating diabetes, a common ailment in Aboriginal people who eat a carbohydrate rich Western diet. Dried root mixed with tobacco and smoked to treat headache. Infusion of crushed stems used as a blood purifier. Stem ashes and oil used on skin ailments. Decoction of inner bark used to treat colds. Traditional use as a abortifacient disproved.
Modern Uses: As mentioned the plant continues to be used by Native Americans in traditional ways. German clinical trials show the plant has anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity. Animal studies show methanolic extract of roots reduces blood pressure and heart rate (see Circosta et al. Part 2. Cardiovascular activity. J. Ethnopharmocol 1994;72:1532)..
Chemistry: Root rich in polysaccharides, phytosterols, steroidal saponins, harpagoside, harpagide.
Notes: Northwest tribes carved fishing lures from the thorny wood.. They burned Devil’s Club, then mixed the ashes with grease to make a black face paint that was said to give a warrior supernatural power. Bella Coola used the spiny sticks as protective charms. The scraped bark was boiled with grease to make dye. Native Americans hunters sponge a decoction of the plant’s bark over their body to remove human odor.
Madrone (Arbutus menziesii Pursh.) (Photo)
Description: Evergreen, broadleaf tree growing along the seacoast of the Northwest. Young bark is chartreuse and smooth, whole. Older bark is dark brown to red and peeling. Evergreen leaves are alternate, oval, seven inches long, shiny, dark green above, lighter, whitish green beneath, hairless and leathery. White flowers that are urn shaped to three inches long in large drooping clusters. Fruit is an orange red berry about a ½ inch across, its skin is granular.
Location: Typically found in coastal areas of northern California, Oregon, offshore islands of Washington and British Columbia. Typically dry, sunny areas with a sea exposure.
Food: Vancouver Salish used reddish bark in decoction when cooking to dye edible camas bulbs pink. Berries have been eaten, but little documentation. Berries were cooked before eating. Also, they were stored after steaming, drying and reconstituted in hot water before eating. Berries were smashed and made into a cider like drink. Cider claimed by Miwok as an appetite stimulant and said to resolve upset stomach. Berries are also dried and stored for later use.
Traditional Uses: Saanich and other nations used bark and leaves for treating colds, tuberculosis, to treat stomach problems and as a post partum contraceptive. Decoctions of plant were also used as an emetic (Concow nation), which belays one from imbibing nonchalantly. Leaves were used by Cowichan of Northwest as a burn treatment, dressing. Leaf infusion used to treat stomach ulcers. Also, leaves were eaten off tree for relieving cramps. Chewed leaves said to relieve sore throat (chew, swallow juice, but don't swallow leaves). Leaf infusion used by Skokomish to treat colds and treat ulcers. Bark infusion was used to treat diarrhea. Bark decoction used for washing sores, wounds, impetigo, said to be astringent. Bark decoction also used as a gargle for sore throat according to Pomo and Kashaya. Karok used leaves in puberty ceremony.
Modern Uses: No longer studied.
Notes: Perhaps my favorite tree of the Northwest. The wood was used to make canoes, and the berries are used as steelhead trout bait. Berries were also dried and used as beads when making bracelets and necklaces.
Veterinarian: Livestock eat flowers, as do many wild animals. Leaves are eaten by cows. Infusion of leaves and bark was used by native Americans to relieve sore muscles in horses.
Angelica(Angelica sinensis; A. atropurpurea; A. archangel L.) (Photo)
Description: Angelica atropurpurea is a tall biennial to nine feet. It has a thick, erect, purple stem. Large compound leaves are divided into three to five leaflets with hollow petioles. Upper leaves are sheathed as they emerge, sheath remains around the petioles. Greenish-white flowers are in umbrella like clusters.
Location: Found in wet lowlands, along streams and rivers in the northern tier of states, typically east of the Mississippi.
Food: In Chinese cuisine, Angelica sinensis (Dong Quai) root slices may be added to stir fry or soups My favorite eye opener and "lip flapper" is a Yin and Yang Cordial . Preparation: Combine 100 grams of Angelica sinensis root (typically purchased at an Oriental Supermarket or drug store) with 100 grams of whole Ginseng root, add this to a half liter of Peppermint Schnapps. Saponins (phytosterols) including phytoestrogens are drawn from the roots into the schnapps. It takes at least three weeks to get a good tincture. I use the cordial as an aperitif. According to Meuninck folklore, this preparation balancesYin and yang and boosts energy.
Traditional Uses: Sinensis and purpurea are used differently in Oriental and Western traditions and there may be minor chemical differences too. Unless indicated, uses described next are for A. sinensis, which may be purchased from www.herbs.com as seed, or as dried roots from health food stores and Oriental markets. The root is considered a warming tonic. It is the number one female herb in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, and is used to treat menstrual cramps and may improve scanty menstrual flow. As an antispasmodic it is reported helpful in reducing angina. Like other Umbelliferes (family name) angelica has calcium channel blockers, similar to the drugs used to treat angina. According to Chinese practitioners Angelica improves peripheral circulation to distal parts of body as well.
TIP: Other useful arrhythmia foods include celery, garlic, carrots and fennel. These foods may help resolve intestinal colic and may improve digestion.
Native Americans used A. atropurpurea root decoctions to treat rheumatism, chills and fevers, flatulence, and as a gargle for sore throat. Often used in Sweat Lodge for treating arthritis, headaches, frostbite and hypothermia. Externally, the root was smashed and applied as a poultice to relieve pain.
Modern Uses: German holistic health care professionals prescribe three teaspoons of dried herb infused into water to treat heartburn and indigestion. Also used by European professionals for treating colic. Before use, consult with a Naturapathic physician for professional advice.
Chemistry: Angelica sinensis: calcium channel blockers, ligustilide m n-butylidenphthalide, n-butylphthalide, sedanonic acid, safrol, p-cymene, carvacrol. Volatile oil consisting among others of beta-phellandrene. Also, lactones, coumarins and flavonoids as in A. archangelica.
Angelica archangelica: coumarins including angelicin, osthenol, umbelliferone, osthole, archangelicin, bergapten and ostruthol. Flavonoids: phytoestrogens, archangelenone, volatile oil of root includes limonene, borneol, alpha-pinene and lactones.
Notes: Although Angelica has been prescribed for psoriasis I have had no luck with it. The idea is to eat the angelica to get psoralens, which increase your sensitivity to UV light. After spending ten minutes in the sun the UV light/psoralen interaction may stop cell division in the skin. Self-administering psoralens and subsequent exposure to light can be phototoxic and carcinogenic. See Aloe for a benign treatment of this affliction.
Bog Bean, Bob Myrtle, Buck Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata L.) (Photo)
Description:A perennial that grows aquatically in bogs. The rhizome is a ½ in thick. Leaves form three leaflets (bean-like) that sheath the stem, leaves are fleshy, ovate from ½ to an inch long, with entire margins. Flowers are found in clusters above long stout stems; they are white, frilly, with long white hairs, overall: reddish-white to purplish pink, numerous on racemes, funnel shaped, each with five petals, the corolla is fused with five tips. Fruit is an buoyant, oval capsule. Herb is strongly bitter and flowers are odiferous.
Location:Located in bogs, marshes, ponds, lake shores, and fens, coast to coast in northern tier of states to Alaska.
Food:In Alaska Aleuts bitter roots are dried ground, thoroughly washed in water, dried again and pounded into flour for making break, cakes, waffles, muffins. Unprepared root is also eaten, but only in desperation—catch my drift?
Traditional Uses:Folk traditions in Europe used the tea to treat fever and digestive problems. Germans and French used the plant to prevent or treat scurvy. Native American used the root infusion to treat constipation, as a tonic and for rheumatism. Decoction of the whole plant including roots to prevent vomiting. Leaf tea taken in ample amounts may induce catharsis, vomiting and to expel worms from the intestine. As a poultice the plant was duly placed to heal wounds. There is evidence they used the leaf and root decoction to increase evidence, much as the plant is still used today.
Modern Uses:The dried herb infusion is Commission E approved for treating dyspepsia and loss of appetite. Chinese practitioners use the herb to treat gout, scabies, ear-ache, fever headache, fever and amenorrhea. The plant is a silagogue and antimicrobial in vitro.
Chemistry: Monterpened alkaloid gentianin E; iridoide monterpeneds to include sweroside, loganin, menthiafolin, foliomenthin; flavonoids, coumarins scopoletin, pyrridine alkaloids.
Wildlife/Veterinarian:Deer, moose and other ungulates wade bogs and forage on the green rhizomes.
Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon Aiton; Vaccinium oxycossus L.) (Photo)
Description: Vaccinium oxycossus is a evergreen dwarf shrub that is low lying and creeps through bogs on slender stems, occasionally rising to five to fifteen inches. The bark is hairy to smooth and brown to black in color. Pink flowers are nodding, with petals sharply bent backwards like Shootingstars. Flowers are either solitary or in couplets, rarely three. Fruit color ranges from pink to red, depending on ripeness. Small berries are juicy and very tart.
Location: Found hidden along the floor of sphagnum bogs, hummocks at low elevations to six or seven thousand feet, including wet alpine meadows. They are widespread in acid bog habitats in the upper tier of states from coast to coast.
Food: You’ve tried it with turkey, now try it in your favorite apple crisp recipe, add black walnuts and invite me over. Cranberries also spark up persimmon pudding.
Traditional Uses: The berries and berry juice were used as therapy for urinary tract infections—reported to acidify urine. Claims suggest it helps remove kidney stones. Also the juice was used to treat bladder infections and to prevent recurrence of urinary stones. It is antiscorbutic (has vitamin C) and prevents scurvy.
Modern Uses: A study showed drinking the juice may prevent adhesion of Escherichia coli to gut lining and bladder lining. Cranberry extract may provide an anti-adhesion activity that inhibits colonization of E. coli on the surface of the urinary tract. A bacterium must attach to a surface in your body to multiply and induce disease. Sixteen ounces of cranberry juice was shown to be 73% effective against urinary tract infections in one study. Cranberry juice also functions as a urine acidifier: With the help of intestinal bacteria it transforms benzoic acid and quinic acid to urinary Hippuric acid. Cranberries and cranberry juice is used to decrease odor and degradation of urine in incontinent patients. In one small study 305 grams of cooked cranberries was effective in decreasing pH from 6.4 to 5.3. In other tests, as much as four liters of juice showed little effect on pH. However, there is evidence that using the juice with antibiotics may help suppress urinary tract infections.
The required amount of cranberries or cranberry extract to treat bladder infections and stones has not been established. Personally, I have taken one ounce of the 100% extract in a five to one water dilution and have effectively reduced the odor of my urine and relieved a urinary tract infection. Of course, this may or may not work for you. Seek consultation from your holistic health care professional.
Chemistry: Fruit extract contains Alpha D-mannopyranoside, vitamin C...Catechin, anthocyanins, flavonol glycosides, triterpenoids, citric, malic and quinic acids. Polyphenolic and flavonoid: Procyanidins, leucocyanin, leucondelphinin, flavonol glucosides.
Notes: There is a couple cranberry bogs in my neighborhood. In October, the berries ripen. I dry them in a food dryer or cook them fresh. And I pop a few on the hoof as I peruse the boardwalk through the bog. They are tart and have many benefits. A popular over-the-counter cranberry cocktail juice contains too much sugar. It is prudent to take cranberry extract in pill form or buy pure 100% cranberry juice concentrate and sweeten very little. Blueberries and bilberries also have anthocyanins that are proven effective against E. coli infections. Cranberries are gathered in the autumn, in late October or early November, about the same time you would pick persimmons.
Blueflag, Wild Iris (Iris versicolor L.) (Photo)
Description: Perennial iris to about three feet in height with erect stems and sword shaped leaves. Stems typically have a gray-blue tint and are flat. Flower is orchid like (irregular) blue to violet.
Location: Found in damp marshes, fens, bogs, along streams and the edges of lakes. It transplants to the garden and is resplendent.
Food: Not edible.
CAUTION: Overdose of Blue Flag may induce vomiting. Never use this plant during pregnancy. Plant juice is a skin and digestive irritant.
Traditional Uses: The poisonous rhizome was prized by Native Americans as a purgative: emetic, cathartic and diuretic. Decoction of root used to treat sores and wounds. Used internally to treat colds, cholera and earache. Algonquin applied smashed roots to burns and used smashed roots as a poultice for wounds. Chippewa poulticed the root over swellings and sores, and applied the same over scrofulous sores as a result of Tuberculosis. Root decoction also used for arthritis and kidney disorders. Malecite infused iris with bulrush as a gargle for sore throat. Other tribes mixed smashed root with flour and applied it to painful areas. The Omaho tribe would masticate a root hair, dip it in water and let the resultant juice drip into the ear to treat earache. According to Moerman (see Native American Ethnobotany) the plant was a panacea, good for every complaint.
Modern Uses: Naturapaths use homeopathic concentrations from the rhizome and root hairs to increase urination and bile production and as a mild laxative. Blue flag is given in homeopathic doses to treat indigestion and skin problems related to liver and gall bladder disease. The herb stimulates these organs cleansing the body and is said to relieve acne, eczema and other skin disorders related to constipation induced by gall bladder insufficiency. Also, used to treat headaches and respiratory disorders. A few believe it to be a weight loss aid.
Chemistry: Tannins, salicylic and isophthalic acids, oleo resins, triterpenoids, volatile oil irone, trterpenes: iridale; and flavonoids, iris xanthone and magniferin..
Notes: Prior to blooming this wild iris can be confused with edible cattail shoots. Remember cattail stems do not have the gray to blue tint and are rounded instead of flat (see appendix: Meuninck, Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants or Herbal Odyssey CD).
Boneset, Thoroughwort (Eupatorium perfoliatum L.) (Photo)
Description: This perennial herb rises from a hairy horizontal rootstock. Stems and leaves are hairy and rough. Leaves opposite, to seven inches in length, lance shaped, tapering to a point and fused around the stem at the base (indicative). It appears the stem is growing through the leaf. Flowers in a large convex head at the top of the plant. Blossoms are white florets. Fruit is tufted.
Location: Thickets and wetlands, open wet prairies and marshes of eastern United States.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Leaf tea was considered and excellent 19th Century break fever remedy for acute infections. Used to treat influenza. Leaf tea was also used to treat colds, malaria, arthritis, painful joints, pneumonia, gout and to induce sweating. Whole aerial parts of plant were applied as a poultice to relieve edema, swellings and tumors. Leaf extract considered to have immune stimulating effect. This Native American cureall was poulticed over bone breaks to help set bones. Taken internally, the infusion of the aerial parts was cathartic and emetic. Infusion also used to treat sore throat. Other uses included: to treat piles, stomach pain, headache, to reduce chills and alleviate urinary problems (See Moerman, Native American Ethnobotany).
Modern Uses: Homeopaths use the micro dose to treat colds, flu and other febrile conditions. The dried and commuted aerial parts of the herb when infused in water are reported to have immunostimulating and are taken to fight colds, infections, flu and other acute infections.
CAUTION: Small doses of herb are laxative and diuretic, whereas larger doses may induce catharsis and vomiting. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids makes this plant potentially dangerous to consume in any form, due to the alkaloids liver destroying capacity. Never to be used without the consultation of a licensed
Chemistry: volatile oils, tannin, resin, wax, flavone glucoside eupatorin. Also, phytosterols: sitosterol, stigmasterol....And sesquiterpene lactones: eupatilin and eupafolin.
Notes: A striking, tall white flower head to add to your garden providing late season beauty.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Grazing animals have displayed toxicity from eating: symptoms included drooling, nausea, loss of appetite, weakness, thirst, loss of muscular control, paralysis and death.
Calamus, Sweet Flag, (Acorus calamus L.) (Photo)
Description: Grows to about two feet from a rhizome. A triangular stem has long sword like leaves arranged in two rows. The entire plant has an intense sweet aroma. Flowers are green cube-like on a club-like spadix. Grows in large colonies.
Location: Found in wetlands, along creeks, marshes, lakes and streams. A particular striking stand is found along the northside of US 12 just east of White Pigeon, Michigan.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Sweet flag is considered the number one herb both for medicine and ritual use among Eastern Native American tribes (from a survey of tribal elders). During Sun Dance ceremony, when First People may sing for ten hours or more, they put a piece of Calamus root between cheek and gum to keep their throats moist. The root is a sialagogue, it induces mouth glands secrete juices. Leaf garlands were used by Native Americans as fragrant necklaces and deodorants. Root tea is an appetite stimulant. The aromatic, bitter root was considered a stomach tonic to treat dyspepsia and gastritis. Root chewed for toothache. Considered for centuries to be a fine nervine, sedative, relaxant, the root was traditionally used by pioneers (chewed or in decoction) to treat colds, coughs, fevers, children's colic and congestion. The dried and powdered rhizome was inhales to treat congestion. Considered an antispasmodic, anticonvulsant and possible central nervous system depressant.
Modern Uses: The extract from the peeled and dried rhizome is considered a carminative, tonic, antispasmodic and stimulant. It increases sweating. In vitro studies suggest that it is anti-platelet aggregating (anti-clotting)…And is insecticidal. Extract is considered antispasmodic and sedative. Speculative results from test tube studies (in vitro) suggest that it may be aid in treating aggressive and impulsive behavior. In Chinese Traditional Medicine, the root extract is used to treat gastrointestinal complaints and used externally to treat fungal infections. Triploid strains in Europe and the United States are sometimes used to treat ulcers. The triploid strain produces about 1/3 the amount of beta asarone as the tetraploid strain from India known as Kalmus root oil. Eastern variety still considered an aphrodisiac. The European and American variety is still uses as a stimulant, stomach bitters and digestive aid. Acorus calamus var. americanus is still used as a bitters to relieve stomach spasms and a distended stomach.with concurrent headache associated with poor digestion (see Chevalallier, The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants)..
CAUTION: Beta asarone, a constituent of Acorus calamus when taken in ample amounts over time is carcinogenic to laboratory animals. Therapeutic doses of the triploid strain should be monitored...Avoid long term use. Use only under the administration of skilled holistic health care practitioner. Follow recommended dosages on the package. Animal studies suggest that root extract may lower serum cholesterol. Extract kills lice.
According to Chevallier in The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Acorus calamus var. americanus does not contain asarone.
Chemistry: An aromatic and bitter herb, thevolatile oils may include cis-isoasarone and beta asarone (American strains have very little of this oil), and alpha and gamma sarone. Also,the bitter principle acorone. The rhizome has polysaccharides, phytosterols, tannins and sesquiterpenes: calamendiol, isocalamendiol.
Notes:A few herbalists chew or suck the dried root to keep them awake on long drives. I like to put the crushed and chopped root (about a pound of fresh root) in a pair of panty hose and submerge in a bath or hot tub, aromatic, relaxing. If you don't want to kill the plant, crush leaves and put them in the panty hose and submerge. In foreign countries, the ground rhizome and root hairs are used as a spice and fragrance in food, but because of beta asarone content this use is not allowed in the United States. The plant is an interesting addition to the garden, and an aromatic used in flower arranging.
Wildlife/Veterinarian:Root fragrance may repel some insects and rodents. But there is no effect on cats and dogs in my neighborhood...Problem is, I have an handsome dog, Rusty, and striking cat, Boots. Both have pleasant personalities that stray cats and dogs cannot ignore, despite the putative effects of my Calamus root.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra L and S. canadensis L.) (Photo)
Description: Both Sambucus nigra (introduced European variety and most studied) and S. canadensis are similar. Shrub or small tree to twenty five feet in height. Tree bark is llight brown to gray, fissured and flaky. Branches break easily, are green, with gray lenticles. Leaves are matte green above and light blue green underneath. Leaves are oblong, ovate and serrated.
White flowers and fruit are in large rounded clusters. Fruit is oval, black to deep violet.
Location: Sambucus canadensis typically found in wet thickets, along edges of streams, rivers and lakes. Numerous other species found coast to coast, typically in wet areas, along streams in lowlands and mountains of the West. Sambucus nigra can be purchased in nurseries and transplanted to your property.
Food: Use elder flowers and berries sparingly as food because safety is not universally established. Imbib at your own risk. We eat the white cluster of blossoms (see our Basic Essentials book, Edible Wild Plants). Blossoms are dipped in tempura batter (thin coating) then frittered. Sprinkle and serve as a health protecting, heart stimulating dessert. Berry are cooked, then juice is strained through a sieve and thickened with pectin to combine with jams and marmalades. Cooked juice may also be added to maple syrup. Juice, brown sugar, ginger, mustard and soy makes a good wonton dip.
Traditional Uses: Traditionally, flowers reported to lower fever, soothing to irritations, reduces inflammation, alterative, diuretic. Flowers and fruit are used as food or tea for influenza, flu, colds excess mucus, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, improved heart function, fevers, hay fever, allergies, sinusitis. Flowers can be infused in water and rubbed on skin to soothe and soften irritations. Native Americans scraped bark and used root in infusion as emetic and laxative. Berry infusion used to treat rheumatism. Flower infusion induced sweats and used on colicky babies. Root pounded, decocted and applied to swollen breasts. Leaves in infusion as wash for sores.
Modern Uses: Flower and berry extractions used to treat colds and flu, i.e. acute infections. Leaf extractions. This extraction is also considered to relieve pain and inflammation. Bioflavonoid rich, anti-inflammatory flowers and fruit used. Herbalist Michael Moore claims elderberry flower tincture of the flowers is alterative, diaphoretic, stimulating the body's defense systems Elderberry flower tinctures may be more effective and more tasteful when combined with mints. Standardized extractions approved by German Commission E for treating cough, bronchitis, fevers and colds.
Flowers reported to increase perspiration thereby reducing fever (diaphoretic). They are considered anti-allergic and anti-arthritic and antioxidant and are typically used for treating upper respiratory problems. Diuretic berries are a mild laxative, and at the same time anti-diarrhea and astringent
CAUTION: Leaves and stems toxic, cyanide poisoning. Berries should be cooked before consumption. The Western variety with red berries may be more toxic than blue and black berries, avoid eating red elder berries.
Chemistry: Rutin high in immature flowers. Flowers also contain phenolic acids, triterpenes, mucilage, tannins, sterols. Campesterol in whole plant, seeds high in linoleic and linolenic acid, phenylalanine. Berries high in anthocyanins, flavonoids and vitamin C and vitamin A. Other flavonoids in flowers include sambuculin A, isoquercitrin, quercitrin, hyperoside, astragalin, nicotoflorin. Flowers three percent chlorogenic acid. Also, triterpenes: alpha and beta amyrin palmitate (potentially antihepatoxic against carbon tetrachloride). Sambunigrin is a cyongenic glucoside. Contain plant lectins of interest for their use in blood typing and hematologic characteristics
Safety: Warning: leaves, bark, root, and unripe berries may cause cyanide poisoning. Suggested dosage of flowers and berries present no adverse reactions or contraindications. More studies needed.
Caution: Berries are safe when cooked. Fresh berry juice has caused illness(8).
NOTES: This fruit works as well as blueberry, and for my money, is much easier to collect and prepare in southern Michigan. I can hop in my boat and fill two grocery bags with flowers in 20 minutes. Elderberries (fruit) may be dried in a food dryer, then refrigerated and used in cooking throughout the cold months for disease prevention. I eat the dried berries (S. Canadensis) throughout the winter months on cereal, pancakes, waffles, porridge. Also in stir fry. Berries are best cooked after drying. Flowers may be gathered in June, dried and made into tea. Cut away stems before eating flowers and remove stems from berries before consumption. Therapeutic dose of flowers reported to be 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried elder flowers to a cup of water off boil. Over-the-counter elderberry extracts have recommended dosage on the bottle
Kitchen Preparation: Berries are dried or used fresh in decoction, 20 grams of dried berries to three cups of water simmered down to 2 cups or 40 grams of fresh berries simmered down from three cups to 2 cups.
Fruit may also be tinctured for colds and flu prevention...Use alcohol 190 proof or glycerin full strength with fresh berry; 1:1 weight to volume. Keep in refrigerator; use teaspoon full for cold flu prevention. This makes a pleasant elixir. Add honey until alcohol tincture is thick enough to coat and form a film on a tablespoon.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: At night raccoons raid this plant for the fruit. Numerous songbirds eat the berries.
Datura, Jimsonweed(Datura stramonium L., D. meloides) (Photo)
Description:The trumpet like flower is distinctive. The seed capsule is studded with spines. Flowers white to light violet. Leave are toothed, coarse textured.
Location: Datura stramonium is found along roadsides and in bean and corn fields throughout the United States. Datura meloides, more common in the Sourthwest and Four Corners area has become a popular, showy garden flower throughout the Midwest.
Food:Not used as food, toxic.
Traditional Medicine:This plant is big medicine for Native Americans. Whole plant and especially seeds contains alkaloids: atropine and scopolamine. Atropine was used traditionally in eyes to get the Belladonna effect: huge dilated pupils. Traditionally leaves were smoked by Native American to treat asthma and other respiratory conditions. Smoking of leaves may also induce hallucinations. According to Foster and Duke in their book Medicinal Plants, Peterson Field guides, p. 182 licorice (Glycyrrhiza) may be an antidote to toxic properties of the alkaloids in this plant. Also used as a ceremonial medicine of numerous Indian nations. Roots were powdered and used as a hallucinogen and narcotic. Reported to transform the user into a powerful animal. Often used ritually to initiate young men into adulthood. Powdered leaves are mixed with grease and used as an ointment, analgesic, disinfectant. The whole plant was used symbolically to divine cures for disease. Whole plant used as a wash for cuts, wounds, swellings. Paste of plant used to treat insect bites, snake envenomations and other envenomations of insects, spiders. Pioneers and folk practitioners used preparations of the seeds and leaves for asthma, bronchitis, flu, and as an expectorant.
Homeopathic used to treat cramps, eye inflammations and infection. In China it, is still smoked to manage pain, treat asthma and relieve arthritis.
Chemistry:Alkaloids scopolamine and atropine; flavonoids; umbelliferone; scopolin; scopoletin; lectins; indole alkaloids.
Warning:Many fatalities have been reported from abuse of this plant. Not to be used if with glaucoma. Not to be used unless under the supervision of a professional healthcare practitioner.
Note: Local high school students had been abusing this drug, I was called in to lecture them, explaining that the lethal dose and the dose to get high are too close for safe experimentation. The plant is an unusual example of the doctrine of signatures (like cures like), with all its spines the plants fairly screams at you, "Stay away!"
Jewelweed, Spotted-Touch-Me-Nots(Impatiens capensis Meerb.) (Photo)
Description:Fleshy annual of wetlands to seven feet in height. Simple green almost translucent stems with swollen nodes. Deep green leaves are thin, ovate, with five to fourteen teeth. Grows in dense colonies often with stinging nettle. Flowers are orange-yellow with reddish-brown spots. They are spur shaped, and irregular, with the spur curving back lying parallel to the sac. Flower is about ½ to ¾ and inch in length. Fruit is oblong capsule that when ripe bursts open and disperses the seeds.
Location:Lowlands, wetlands, edges of lakes and streams, wet fens, and edges of bogs. Locates readily to the garden providing food and medicine.
Food:I eat the small flowers of summer in salads and stir fry. The young shoots of spring bolt forming a complete ground cover in wet lowlands, along streams, wetlands, lakes. Pick the shoots and add to your mushroom soup, egg dishes, stir fry or saute with spring vegetables.
Traditional Medicine:A traditional treatment for poison ivy. Crush the rub the aerial parts of plants over inflamed area of dermatitis. It has an immediate anti-inflammatory effect. Itching is reduced as is inflammation. Plants were also used by Native Americans for treating dyspepsia, measles and hives. The Creek Indians used a infusion of smashed spicebush berries and jewelweed as a bath for congestive heart failure. Crushed flowers were used on bruises, cuts and burns. Also, Impatiens biflora L. is considered a appetite stimulant, diuretic and digestive aid. Folk medicine use as an ointment for hemorrhoids. Juice used to remove warts.
Chemistry: Napthalene derivatives including napthoquinones.
Notes: I grow Jewelweed in my garden for greens, edible flowers and its anti-inflammatory effect on poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak. Gather seeds in fall and spread in a low-lying area of your garden, then get out of the way. It is aggressive and will spread.
Horsetail, Scouring rush, Equisetum (Equisetum hyemale L.; Equisetum
Description: What my brother and I called snakeweed when kids, the segmented stem can be pulled apart and put back together at the joints to make necklaces and bracelets. It appears in the spring as a naked segmented stem with a dry tipped sporangium (spores may be shaken from it). Later the sterile stage stem arises with many long needle-like branches arranged in whorls up the stem.
Location: Found around marshes, fens, bogs, streams, lakes, streams and rivers.
Food: Native Americans of the Northwest eat the tender young shoots of the plant as a blood purifier (tonic). The tips, the strobili are boiled and eaten in Japan. Mix vinegar and soy and enjoy. Roots have been eaten by Native Americans in the Southwest.
Traditional Uses: Mexican Americans use dried whole aerial plant parts of horsetail in infusion or decoction to treat painful urination. This therapy is not supported by scientific evidence. But equisetonin and bioflavonoids in the plant may account for its diuretic effect. Native Americans used a poultice of the stem to treat rashes of the armpit and groin. An infusion of the stem was used by Blackfoot as a diuretic. Cherokee used aerial part infusion to treat coughs in their horses. An infusion of the plant was used to treat dropsy, backaches, cuts and sores. Baths of the herb were reported to treat syphilis and gonorrhea. This is one of the First People’s most widely used herbs.
Modern Uses: Commission E approved for wounds, burns and internally for urinary tract infections, as well as, kidney and bladder stones.
Chemistry: Bioflavonoids including the flavone glycosides: equisetrin, galuteolin, isoquercitrin). Also, saponins, silica and silicic acids, nicotine, beta sitosterol, isofucosterol, cholesterol, campestrol and the cytokinin: isopentenyladenosine.
Warning: An overdose of the herb may be toxic. Use only under the supervision of a skilled holistic health care professional.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Ingestion of horsetail by grazing animals has caused weight loss, weakness, ataxia, fever and other symptoms. Meskwaki few the plant to wild geese and claimed it fattened them within weeks.
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum L., E. purpureum L.) (Photo)
Description: Perennial with large head clustered with purple florets. Height to five feet, lance shaped leaves that are hairy and rough, as is stem.
Location: Common tall weed of eastern and central states found in bogs, marshes, fens, wetlands, wet prairies, edges of woods.
Food: Not Edible. Some tribes used root ash as a spice or as a salt substitute.
Traditional Uses: E. maculatum decoction or infusion of leaf and root powder taken internally to treat urinary tract stones and other kidney and urinary tract problems. Also root decoction was used to treat bed wetting in kids; and as a diuretic to treat congestive heart failure (dropsy). The tea was also used for treating asthma. Native Americans used E. maculatum for treating menstrual disorders, dysmenorhea, and as a recovery tea for women after pregnancy. E. purpureum was used by Cherokee to treat rheumatism and arthritis and as a diuretic. An infusion of root is said to be a laxative. Potawatomi used fresh leaves as poultice. Navajo used root as antidote to poisoning. Historically, Colonists claimed to have been successful treatment for typhus in New England Colonial times.
Modern Uses: Hot infusions of aerial parts still used by Naturapaths to treat colds, fever and arthritis. Plant said to be antimicrobial and induces sweating. Said to loosen phlegm and induce coughing to remove mucus. Also used as a tonic and laxative and to rid the body of worms.
Chemistry: E. purpureum contains sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, diterpenes, sterols, polysaccharides, resin and volatile oils.
Notes: Cherokee and other tribes used stems like straws. Root of E. purpureum used by Meskwaki as an aphrodisiac (Apparently sucked on root while wooing or lovemaking). This is a striking late summer bloomer worth adding to your wild flower garden.
Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum Oeder; L. glandulosum Nutt.) (Photo)
Description: Evergreen shrub from fifteen to thirty inches or more. With five petaled white flowers (3/8 inch wide) that form flat terminal clusters. Fruits in round nodding capsules. Leaves evergreen, oval to lance shaped down rolled edges wooly underneath.
Location: Found in boggy areas of the western mountains and northern tier of states and southern Canadian provinces.
Food: Leaves and flowers are used to make tea, Labrador tea is preferred over Glandular Labrador tea as the later is slightly toxic, and mildly narcotic, causing stomach distress, and even death from an overdose. Be careful as these species can be confused with bog laurels.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used the leaf and floral tea to threat acute infections such as cold and sore throats. Smoking the dried leaves was claimed to induce euphoria. Crushed and powdered leaves were used as snuff to treat inflammation of the nasal passages. Tea said to help alleviate allergies. The tea is diuretic, laxative and a smooth muscle relaxant. According to Kershaw in Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies, crushed leaves are used by Scandanavians to flavor schnaaps. The alcoholic nightcap is used as a sleep aid.
Alcohol extracts are used to treat numerous skin conditions to include inflammations, scabies, fungus, chiggers and lice bites. Powdered roots were applied to ulcers. And fresh chewed leaves applied as a wound treatment. Calamus and Ledum were combined and decocted to treat whooping cough.
Notes: First People prized Ledum groenlandicum as a medicinal herb. Flowers were typically removed and only the leaves were used as tea. Plant also used to dye wool brown.
Wildlife/Veterinarians: Dried leaves repel rats and mice. Alcohol extracts not only remedied insect bites but also apparently repelled insects.
Mint Peppermint (Mentha piperita L.; Mentha aquatica) (Photo)
Description: There are many American members of the mint family. The genus has several characteristics in common: a square stem, almost always aromatic when crushed, typically aggressive and spreading. Flowers are in dense whorls culminating in a terminal spike of blossoms that crown the stem. Colors varies by species, white, violet, blue…The root is a spreading rhizome, with erect stems. Stems are square. Leaves are ovate to roundish and elongated in a few species, typically the are serrated.
Location: Mentha aquatica, Mentha piperita can usually be found around water, shorelines, steam banks, dunes of the Great Lakes and mountain passes, blow-downs, avalanche slides and wet meadows.
Food: Used in teas, in salads, cold drinks, sauteed vegetables, wonderful in Mexican bean soups, and as an integral part of the subcontinent and Middle Eastern flavor principles.
Traditional Uses: Leaf and flower water infusion or the extracted oil are antiseptic, carminative, relieves muscle spasms, warming, increases perspiration. Stimulates bile secretion. Menthol and menthone, volatile oils, antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal, cooling, and skin anesthetic. In too high a concentration, the oil is a skin irritant and may burn...Be careful.
Modern Uses: Leaf and flower extraction are Commission E approved for treating dyspepsia, gallbladder and liver problems. Peppermint oil is approved for colds, coughs, bronchitis, fevers, mouth and larynx inflammations, infection prevention, dyspepsia, gallbladder and liver problems. Recent studies in Europe suggest it may be a treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. The tea and oil has an antispasmodic effect on digestive system. It is also used to treat colic, cramps and flatulence. And it may help relieve diarrhea, spastic colon, and constipation. Headache due to digestive weakness may be relieved. The diluted oil, as an aromatic (Aromatherapy) is used for treating headache and as an inhalant for respiratory infections (i.e. rubbed on chest as Vick's Vaporub). The essential oil is diluted and rubbed on temples to relieve headaches and tension. Capsules are used for irritable bowel syndrome.
Chemistry: Triterpenes, phenolic acids, flavonoids: luteolin and menthoside. mjor volatile oils: menthol, menthone.
Notes: Peppermint, spearmint, mountain mint and other mints have edible flowers and edible leaves that may be used in salads and desserts. Try mint blossoms on sliced pears. This is a carminative herb, used to dispel gas. For a dollar or so buy mint lozenges (Altoids) and use them to alleviate gallbladder pain and pain from a spastic colon. The mint lozenges may quell the discomfort from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gardeners beware: Grow mints in a buried steel container to prevent there unabated spread.
Rose, wild rose, wringled rose, dog rose (Rosa spp.) (Rosa rugosa Thumb.) (Photo)
Description: A sprawling or climbing shrub with thorns, conspicuous flowers and famous for the rose hip, its fruiting body. Leaves are ovate, finely serrated.
Location: Widespread and numerous species from coast to coast.
Food: Flower petals are edible, as is the fruiting body. Flower petals may be candied: mix high proof alcohol with sugar until hypertonic solution(until sugar no longer dissolves in solution). Rose water may be extracted from rose petals with an inexpensive over the counter still. See video Cooking with Edible Flowers for details. Rosewater may be used to flavor desserts, pie crusts, chicken dishes.
Traditional Uses: Rosewater is used as a wash to protect the skin. Fruits are eaten as a source of vitamin C, and to stem diarrhea. Bark tea is also used for dysentery. A decoction of bark is used to treat worms. Root tea has been used as an eyewash. Flora tea is used in China and by this author as stimulant and tonic: It may promote improved circulation, reduce rheumatic pain, stem dysentery and relieve stomachache.
Modern Uses: The extract of petals Commission E approved inflammation of the mouth and pharynx. A Danish study reported reduced pain from knee and hip osteoarthritis with the use of a patented seed and shell powder from rosehips. (see Winther, et. al.; Scandinavian Journal Rheumatology. 2005:34:302-308).
Chemistry: Essential oils, phenolic compounds(flavonoids),Vitamin C in fruit.
Notes: The largest rose hips I have ever eaten came from Arcadia National Park—big as plums. The fruiting body the rose hip is over rated as a health food. Most varieties have little edible tissue, typically dry and very seedy. Tea from leaves, flowers and hips may help prevent colds. Take some rose tea with you on vacation for protection from loose bowel problems.
Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis; S. lateriflora L.; S. barbata; S. galericulata) (Photo)
Description: Eight species. Lateriflora grows to three feet. Leaves are opposite, oval to lance-shaped and toothed. Flowers are blue-violet, lipped and hooded, flowers grow from leaf axil on racemes.
Location: Wet mature woods, thickets, East of the Mississippi.
Food: Not edible, toxic
Traditional Medicine: S. lateriflora used by Native Americans (Cherokee) for dysmenorrhea, to promote menstruation. A decoction of plant was taken to dispel afterbirth. Historically, this species was used successfully to treat rabies. Powdered root infusion used to clean throat. Lateriflora anti-microbial and the tea was used to treat rabies, and is considered antispasmodic and sedative.
Modern Medicine: S. baicalensis primarily used for diarrhea and dysentery. Also may effect liver function in a positive way due to anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids. S. barbata used as a detoxicant on liver for various poisonings. S. galericulata a is used in a similar way to S. lateriflora. S. baical is used as a febrifuge, it is considered hypotensive and may lower cholesterol levels. It is antispasmodic, cholagogue (stimulates liver); stems bleeding and has mild diuretic effect.
Unspecified doses may be toxic, to be used only under the supervision of a professional holistic healthcare provider.
Chemistry: Flavonoids appear to be the anti-inflammatory chemistry.
Notes:This is a favorite sedative in the hands of Northwest School of Naturapathic physicians.
Spirea, Hardhack, and Subalpine Spirea, (Spiraea douglasii Hook.; S. densiflora) (Photo)
Description: Spiraea douglasii is an erect many branched perennial to seven feet. Plants grows in thicket sized colonies. Leaves are alternate, oval to oblong, two to six inches long, dark green above, gray and woolly underneath. Rosy pink flowers, small and numerous in a club like terminal cluster, that is longer than wide, whereas S. densiflora is wider than tall.
Location: S. densiflora is a subalpine member found on the slopes of Mt. Baker and Mt. Raineer and other Western mountains. S. douglasii is found near water: along streambanks, low wetlands, lakeshores, damp meadows from sea level to mid elevations.
Food: Aerial parts decocted and taken as a health protecting tea.
Traditional Uses: There are numerous species and all were used medicinally by Native Americans. Aerial parts contain aspirin like compound. Used by Native Americans to treat diarrhea (seeds crushed and used in tea to treat diarrhea. Aerial infusion also claimed to be a tonic.
Notes: This attractive, tall wildflower is aggressive, contain it along walls, shorelines, and fencerows. Brushy stems were made into brooms by Native Americans.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Dried flower spikes eaten by wood grouse and ptarmigan.
Willow, White Willow, Black Willow, Swamp Willow (Salix alba L., Salix nigra Marsh)
Description: Tree or shrub with lance like fine toothed leaves, with yellow male flowers and green female flowers in the form of densely blossomed catkins. Trees prefer wet ground. Salix alba sometimes called weeping willow, has drooping branches. And Salix nigra (black willow) is more erect, large with shedding branches, both are very dirty trees in that they are constantly shedding branches, flowers and leaves.
Location: Coast to coast in marshy areas, thickets, lake shores, along streams and rivers.
Food: A tea can be made from the twig bark that contains salicin (aspirin like compound). Use with extreme care as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
Traditional Uses: An infusion of the stem and leaves releases salicin the natural chemical model for synthetic aspirin. Aspirin may help prevent acute infections, cancer, strokes and heart attacks. It may help boost immunity but it does have numerous side effects and may aggravate ulcers and cause intestinal bleeding. Native Americans used the bark of twigs and new growth in decoction like we use aspirin today to treat tendinitis, arthritis, headaches, and bursitis.
Modern Uses: Although infrequently used from the tree, the extraction is Commission E approved for treating pain, rheumatism. Not to be used by people allergic to salicyclates.
Chemistry: Salicylic acid; salicin; salicortin tannins, flavonoids. Salicin is anti-inflammatory.
Note: I prefer using aspirin for its therapeutic effects. Many randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, double crossover research has been done on aspirin, but not on salicin from willow extraction. And, keep in mind, the infusion or decoction of willow contains much more that salicin. Recent evidence shows that willow can concentrate Cadmium in its tissue, a toxic metal. All species of willow are known to concentrate this metal when it is available in the soil. Willows are dirty trees, they shed leaves and branches continuously. Their rootlets travel near the surface and suck water and nutrients from relentlessly. This can distress garden plants you are trying to grow under and around willows. to a garden attempt under or near a willow.
Veterinarian/Wildlife: Cadmium accumulation in the kidney and liver of birds may come from eating willow flowers and seeds. This is especially true of Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) in the mountains near Durango Colorado. (for more see Science News, P.90. August 5, 2000. Vol. 158).
Plants that Have Become Cultivars
Coconut, Coconut Palm, Cocos (Cocos nucifera L.) (Photo)
Description: Tall curving palm (to eighty feet) with large seed pods and long fronds to eighteen feet in length. Thick barked with adventitious roots that give rise to long sentinel like rows of palms growing along the seashore.
Location: The palm found along marine coastlines of Florida, Texas and California.
Food: Soft fresh endosperm (milk and soft meat) used to feed infants when mother's milk not available. Mild was often mixed with mashed bananas. Hispanics may mix corn water and soy milk with the coconut milk as a food nutritious food for infants and children. Coconut milk is reported to prevent curdling of milk in an infant’s digestive tract. Coconut oil used cosmetically on the skin. Hawaiian people use this as a complete body lotion, excellent for massage.
Traditional Uses: Unspecified abortifacient, smoke from burning the fruit shells said to induce abortion. Coconut meat is nutritious and is eaten raw, cooked, shredded and sweetened. Meat is rubbed on the head as a brain tonic and dried ash of meat is eaten as a tonic. The oil is seasoned with salt and is used in Latin American by indigenous people to treat sore throat and colds.
Modern Uses: The endosperm is considered a good food for diabetics if unsweetened. Coconut oil is dietetic and inhibits growth of cancer cells in vitro. The palm oil is used in India for bronchitis. And the oil is said to prevent the graying of hair.
Chemistry: Oils including linoleic and caproic.
Notes: Coconut milk (aqua de pipa) is sold in Costa Rica and is considered a refreshing health protecting tonic.
Apple (Malus domestica L.)
Description: Wild tree, cultivated and has escaped to the wild, blossoms are white to pink. Tree is to 35 feet tall, with alternate ovate leaves, finely serrated.
Location: Originally from Central Asia temperate region, widely cultivated in America and has escaped to the wild.
Food: Fresh, cooked or dried fruit is eaten. Also, squeezed into cider and commercially produced as juice.
Traditional Uses: Parts used are the fruit, dried peels, flowers and leaves. Dried peels used in teas. Apple has a mild binding effect.
Modern Uses: Eating whole apples may lower cholesterol due to its high soluble fiber content.
Finely ground fruit and commercially prepared apple pectin are used to treat diarrhea, stomach and bowel gas, and digestive complaints.
Chemistry: pectin, tannins, malic acid, citric acid, succunic acid, vitamin C.
Note: I slice whole apples peel and all. Then dry them in a food dryer and eat several slices after an oily dinner to improve digestion and sequester cholesterol. This treat is very soothing to stomach distress and has a slight binding effect.
Alfalfa(Medicago sativa L.)
Description:The whole flowering plant, seeds and germinating seeds are used medicinally. This clover like plant grows to three feet, yellow to violet-blue flowers. Stems are erect, smooth and angled. Leaves are trifoliate and alternate, leaflets are dentate toward front. Ask a farmer, he/she will point it out for you.
Location:This Mediterranean plant is widely cultivated and as escaped to the wild in field, waste ground and along roadsides.
Food:There are several health food preparations that contain dried and powdered alfalfa. I like to grow it as sprouts for salads, sprouts are considered by many the most beneficial part of the plant. Plants can be grown in window boxes (or your garden) also for salads. I snip off leaves as they grow and add them to greens. The flower is edible and may be used in stir-fry and salads. Use whole plant to make tea.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans warmed leaves and applied them to ears to treat earache. Eating fresh sprouts may improve digestion. Sprouts and dried leaf preparations may alkalize urine, this is said to detoxify the body. Alfalfa sprout consumption is reported to lower cholesterol, fight inflammation, balance hormones, stimulate the pituitary function. Sprouts are considered antifungal, and may improve anemic conditions and bleeding disorders. Traditionally, naturopathic preparations are used to strengthen joints and bones, treat ulcers, treat colon disorders and skin conditions.
Modern Uses: Heat treated alfalfa seeds appeared to lower serum cholesterol. But results were inconsistent, and benefits were lost when seed consumption was stopped. Phytoestrogens in alfalfa may be indicated for menopause natural HRT therapy (see your holistic health care practitioner). Alfalfa sprouts and leaves may promote lactation (unproven) based on estrogen-like compounds in the plant. Because of the phytoestrogen content of alfalfa it has been considered in the treatment of endometriosis. Also phytoestrogens may be useful in menopause. In vitro test show alfalfa to be antifungal and antimicrobial. Alfalfa may have an anti-cancer effect (unproven). Seed is used in Latin America to treat cough.
Chemistry: Good source of calcium, B vitamins, carotenoids and minerals. Leaves: Over 3400 IU Beta Carotene on average; 163 mg Vitamin C; 51 mg Phosphorus; 8 gms protein all per 100 gram serving. High mineral content. High vitamin K. Active antioxidant compounds including vitamin E. Phytoestrogens compounds (flavones and isoflavones) include: genistein, daidzein, formononetin. Also, chromium, coumestrol, erepsin, pectinase, nvertase, tricin, formononetin, genistein, hederagenin, limonene, soya sapogenols, beta sitosterol, Vit E and K. Also, high in chlorophyll. Saponins in alfalfa and other herbs in animal studies may block absorption of cholesterol and indirectly delay or prevent formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Coumarin like compounds in alfalfa fly in the face of the traditional use of the herb to encourage blood clotting.
Caution: I include alfalfa in this book because many people sprout the seeds, and too many get sick in the process. I recommend buying irradiated sprouts. I know that sounds reckless, but the alternative is eating sprouts contaminated with listeria, Escherichia coli, Bacillus cereus and salmonella.
Preparation: Add to sandwiches, salads, stir fry and egg dishes (see warning). High calcium (leaves 1440mg/ 100 grams of calcium) content of alfalfa leaves combined with estrogen like compounds may find this herb useful addition to salads for preventing osteoporosis (unproven). Alfalfa seeds contain 4.4% minerals. Alfalfa sprouts and alfalfa leaves may be made into a tea. Over-the-counter available as food supplement in tablet form. Leaves of plant may be dried and made into tea. Two teaspoons of the leaves to a cup of hot water may have a cholesterol lowering effect. Tea is full of electrolytes and may be indicated after physical activity or during fever. Tea may be alkalizing to digestive system. Add dried nettle leaves, dried dandelion leaves, dried clover leaves and florets to alfalfa tea for a rich mineral laden drink. Traditionally, alfalfa tea used in recuperation from illness. It is reported to be anti-inflammatory.
Side effects: In
animal studies, ingesting large amounts of leaves or sprouts may induce systemic
lupus erythematosus (SLE). An auto-immune inflammatory disease. Perhaps induced
by canavanine. A few people are allergic to alfalfa. Eating fresh alfalfa
sprouts is typically safe if careful and clean growing conditions are provided
Aloe (Aloe vera L. and A. barbadensis)
Description: A dry climate loving succulent. Lance shaped leaves that are thick, fleshy and form a rosette. Leaves are mottled, green and gray. Plant grows to 15 inches.
Location: Alien plant, native to Africa, found In most homes and has escaped to the wild in the American Southwest.
Food: Used in small amounts as a flavoring agent in many foods. Commercially prepared Aloe Vera juice is taken for a variety of problems. Is it food or medicine? You be the judge. I have used in on sunburn, burns, cuts and scrapes.
Traditional Uses: Leaf gel helps heal burns, may help regenerate skin, astringent and cooling to skin. Clear gel in leaves is soothing and healing. Cut leaf was plastered to skin to remove warts. Gel used as a conditioning shampoo.
Modern Uses: Clinical studies have found aloe preparations useful in relieving constipation and for treating herpes simplex. Whole leaf extract used to treat symptoms of psoriasis. Topical aloe gel appears to protect from ultra violet light damage. Aloe gel soaked in gauze was a helpful application for healing leg ulcers that did not respond to other treatments. Burns that were treated with a aloe soaked gauze application healed in twelve days on average versus eighteen days for the placebo.
Aloe gel has been used to treat radiation burns (i.e. from cancer treatment). Gel is also bacteriostatic and antifungal. It appears from research to be a chemotactic attractant to immune chemistry drawing immune system chemistry to the burn site. Preparations reduce edema (swelling) and are anti-inflammatory. Externally the gel is used as first-aid: for cuts, bites, burns, frostbite. Gel is also used on insect bites and as a wash to relieve dandruff. Internally, reported to be effective in treating ulcers (unproven). Also the powerful latex is used internally as a larvicide and intestinal worm killer.
Aqueous extracts of aloe (commercially prepared
aloe juice) have significantly lowered cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipids
and fatty acids in monkeys. Juice has also been used to kill vaginal yeast
infections. Used by Chinese and Indian traditional physicians to treat menstrual
discomfort. Effective against Candida albicans in vitro. Uterine
stimulant. Appetite stimulant (bitter principle) use with assistance of
physician. Externally for eczema. Aloe juice used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat
hemorrhoids, about a half cup of commercially prepared juice three or four times
a day. External application of juice or gel can be drying, styptic. May be
applied with varied efficacy to hives, eczema, scabies and other skin
irritations where cooling, drying and anti-itch anti-inflammatory action may be
beneficial (see your licensed holistic health care practitioner for details).
Chemistry: Anthroquinone, glucomannan, magnesium lactate, polysaccharides. Latex in skin contains anthroquinone glycosides: aloe emodin, aloin and saponins. Also contains enzymes bradykininase and carboxypeptidase. Glucomannan and Acemannan may be an active immune system.
Warning: A few people are allergic to aloe both
externally and internally. Allergic reaction will cause redness and itching. Be
careful. For cathartic activity, use only under the supervision of a physician.
Preparation: Fresh gel appears more active than preserved and stabilized juices. Plant leaf (older, lower leaves may be more active) can be sliced lengthwise, then scrape gel into collender and drips into a container. For first-aid, slice a leaf in half (or squeeze out gel of broken leaf) and use gauze or like to fix gell over burn or bite. May be applied directly to poison ivy.
Note: My Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner prescribes the juice, specifically Zuccari’s Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) as a digestive aid, to coat and protect the digestive tract.
Bilberry and Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L., and other Vaccinium sp.)
Description: Deciduous small shrub with sharp edged green branches. V. myrtillus grows to twenty inches in height. Leaves are alternate, ovate and oblong and finely serrated. Flowers are about a quarter inch long, greenish, tinged with pale pink containing eight to ten stamens, shorter than the styles. Globular fruit is blue black, often frosted, with numerous seeds dispersed through the purple pulp. There are numerous species that vary significantly. Blueberry and bilberry may be used interchangeably.
Location: Northern tier of states from coast to coast. Find them in arcadia national park on the East Coast and as far west as Vancouver island. Found in wetlands, lowlands, highlands including eastern and western mountains.
Food: Fruit may be eaten fresh or dried. Leaves made into tea.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans used a decoction of fresh or dried berries to treat diarrhea. Iroquois used whole aerial part decoction as a topical application to dermatitis. Bog blueberry (U. uliginosum L.) leaves were infused in water and sugar and taken as a tonic by mother after childbirth. Source of vitamin C. dried pulverized leaves infused and taken for nausea. Numerous other Native American uses may be found in Daniel Moerman’s, Native American Ethnobotany. Folk use to prevent scurvy. Pioneers used leaves in decoction for treating diabetes. Also, berry tea used to treat mouth sores and inflammations.
Modern Uses: Fresh and dried fruits and dried leaves used. Fruit is considered antioxidant and a capillary protectant that may improve blood flow to distal areas (feet, brain, hands etc.). It is anti-atherosclerosis (anti-platelet aggregating, anti-glaucoma and may provide protection from night blindness. Research suggests it may prevent varicose veins. Blueberry has induced the release of dopamine. And may be helpful as adjunct nutritional support for Alzheimer's Disease. It is also anti-inflammatory. Blueberries are contain anthocyanosides. This chemistry improves venous blood flow and microvascular blood flow (capillary flow) to eyes and other distal and proximal organs. Blueberries anti-oxidant qualities may help prevent oxidative damage to the eyes. Studies suggest the extract may protect structure of collagen in eye providing protection from glaucoma. Blueberry chemistry facilitates the retina by its affinity to that area and its initiating and promoting capacities.
Alzheimer's Disease: Preliminary evidence suggest eating one cup of blueberries per day on average may enhance neuron function. In animal studies, the equivalent of one cup of blueberries increased the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the striatum. Strawberries and spinach have a similar but less potent effect.
Blueberry extract in vitro studies, like vitamin E, showed protection from inflammatory agents such as: TNF-alpha (Tissue Necrosis Factor-alpha); and dopamine, thereby preserving the cells ability to lower calcium levels (improved calcium uptake may reduce inflammation).
Bilberry trials suggest standardized extractions may be effective treating atherosclerosis, and preventing macular degeneration. Cataract prevention may be avoided by the drugs ability to improve circulation. This may also prevent night blindness, retinopathy, and may improve accommodation (the ability for the eye to adjust to changing light). Chemistry suggests the fruit extract may treat varicose veins. Hypertension or diabetic induced retinopathy responded favorably to a bilberry extract (Myrtocyan).
Anthocyonosides in blueberry may relieve bladder infections (see Meuninck, Trees Shrubs Nuts and Berries video). Pecarin in blueberries is bacteriostatic to E. coli. European studies report that when taken with Vitamin E.. Scientific studies suggest that arbutin from blueberries (and cranberries) may keep bacteria from adhering to bladder walls. Significant quantities of blueberries are need to be therapeutic, but prophylaxis may require lesser amounts. Scientific evidence suggests that oligomeric procyanidins may protect myelin sheath of nerves from deterioration. Anti-oxidant activity of bilberry extract and bilberry fruit and tea may provide protection for the liver.
Commission E approved for treating diarrhea and inflammation of the pharynx and mouth.
Chemistry: More than 15 different oligomeric procyanidins: anthocyanosides including three types anthocyanidin bound to either glucose, galactose or arabinose. Black currants and grapes contain these compounds. Medicine is extracted and concentrated to 38 % anthocyanosides. Contains antibiotic and diuretic arbutin. Chlorogenic acid, coumarins, catechins, cyanidin, cyanin, isoquercitrin (leaf), caproic acid, butanoic acid, aesculetin, citronellol, malvidin, peonidin, vanillin, essential amino acids, eugenol, farnesol (2).
Side effect: A few may get mild diarrhea from overindulgence.
Dosage: 25% standardized bilberry extraction, 240-480 mg per day or as directed by your physician. Eat fistful daily when experiencing extended periods of bowel discomfort, gas, diarrhea contains anthocyanosides, tannins. Dry in food dryer and store in freezer for winter stomach problems.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Anthocyanosides from blueberry stimulates mucus flow in laboratory animals and may provide protection from ulcers. Bluberry bushes important habitat and food for song birds. Food for black bears. Please don't spray with pesticides and herbicides.
Medicinal Plants of the Desert
Canaigre (Rumex humenosepalus Torr.)
Reportedly an effective herb, but no proven benefits. Very high in tannins. Root extractions are not the same as ginseng root.
Agave (Agave spp. to include American Century Plant Agave americana L.
Description: Grayish green desert plant, with long sword like succulent leaves, to ten feet.
Location: Extreme southwestern United States, California, Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, Central and South America. Found in arboretum nationwide.
Food: American Century Plant roots are pit cooked, crushed in water and
fermented. Young leaves are roasted and eaten (or stored). Fruit heads, young
buds and flower stalks are roasted and eaten (I have also eaten the flowers).
Mescal Agave "leaves" are cut out from center of plant then
"water" from the plant weeps into the hole. A pulque farmer, using a
hollow calabash with a cow horn snout fused to one end, sucks watery sap into
gourd. The sap is fermented in bucket for six or seven days, then served. Agave
water harvested in this way and is used as potable drinking water. Every
Hispanic worth his salt (and a squirt of lime) grows a Agave on his ground.
Demand for Tequila has greatly inflated its value. Disease is also threatening
the crop and urban sprawl in Mexico leaves less land available for cultivation.
Agave is made into pulque, vino mescal and tequila. The core of the tender inner
of the plant may be cooked and eaten.
Traditional Uses: Agave water (juice, sap) is considered anti-inflammatory, diuretic. The root extraction is an insecticide. Also the fresh juice may raise metabolism and increase perspiration. Pulque, Mescal and Tequila take the pressure off the living.
Modern Uses: Leaf waste is gathered concentrated and used as starter material for steroid drugs (hecogenin). Roots are used to manufacture soap products (plant roots contain suds making saponins). The coarse fiber from leaves is used to make rope and fiber (sisal is manufactured from Agave sisalana). The sap continues to be used as a demulcent and laxative.
Notes: The sap is used for treating and sealing wounds. Cortez dropped his axe half through his thigh, and surely would have died had not the Mesoamerican natives stopped the bleeding and sealed the wound with Agave sap, honey and charcoal. The leaf was cut open and the sticky sap was applied to the wound.
Gumweed (Grindelia camporum Green; G. integrifolia Greene; G. nana Nutt.)
Description: All species are similar, G. camporum is described here: The plant is erect with several yellow to yellow-orange flowers. Flower heads are dandelion-like (composite) with shorter rays. Flower bracts are viscous and sticky, hence the name, gumweed. It is a biennial or perennial that may grow to three and a half feet, but typically smaller. Light green leaves are alternate, ovate to oblong, serrated or smooth margins, with a clasping the stem, and often resin dotted.
Location: Southwestern to United States to California, up the Sonoran desert to British Columbia and other dry areas of the West. Grindelia integrifolia is a Northwest coastal plant of salt marshes, open coastlines and the like. Grindelia nana is found in the Idaho.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Used to treat upper respiratory infections. Large doses may be poisonous, and at least a gastric irritant. Native Americans used the plant in decoction to treat poison ivy and poison oak, to treat wounds, boils and unspecified dermatitis. Sticky leaves and flowers were applied to sores.
Modern Uses: Commission E approved for treating bronchitis and cough. The resinous drug has shown in vitro studies to be antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory. Dried aerial parts are used in tea or tincture. Eighty percent alcohol 1-5 concentration, dried herb to alcohol. Three to five drops per dose.
Chemistry: Saponins, tannins, grindelic acid, volatile oils to include:camphene, camphor, myrcene, alpha and beta pinene, borneol.
Notes: A variety of species are seen as one travels the backroads diagonally across the upper West from Yellowstone to Vancouver. Primarily in dry areas, then the marine variety, Grinelia integrifolia, as you reach the West Coast.
Jojoba (Simmondsia chinesis (Link) Schneid.)
Description: Evergreen shrub, many branches with separate sexed plants (dioecious). Thick blue-green leaves, that are oblong and paired. It has a small male flowers yellow in color. Female flower has small inconspicuous pale-green flowers. Fruit capsule has one to three with single seeded most common.
Location: Found in the Sonora desert, desert Southwest and into Mexico. Cultivate in the southwest for liquid wax.
Food: Seeds ground and percolated or decocted into a coffee-like drink. Waxy seed kernels boiled or baked and eaten. Also blended into cake mix. Nuts can be shelled and eaten. Parched nut kernels made into nut butter.
Traditional Uses: Native Americans of the Southwest dried the nuts, pulverized them and applied the mass to wounds and sores. Used internally for catharsis. Primary use was dermatological to treat acne and psoriasis.
Modern Uses: Used as a carrier oil for skin care products. Protects principle ingredients from oxidation. Possible cholesterol lowering potential but more studies needed.
Chemistry: Unsaturated fat to include gadolenic acid and alcohols: eicosanol and docosenol.
Notes: Widely cultivated in the Southwest and used for skin health. No contraindications when used as prescribed on the package. Avoid ingestion.
Morman Tea, Joint Fir and Ephedra, Ma Huang (Ephedra viridis Coville and E. sinica)
Description: There are several Joint Fir species, Ephedra viridis looks like it has lost all its leaves. It is a yellow-green plant, many jointed and twiggy, one to four feet tall, with small leaf scales, and double seeded cones in the Fall of the year.
Location: Various species are found on dry rocky soil or sand in dry desert like areas of the United States: Utah, Arizona, western New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon.
Food: Native Americans roasted the seeds, then infused into tea. Roasted and ground seeds were mixed with corn or wheat flour to make hot mush.
Traditional Uses: Ephedra viridis, Mormon Tea, was used in infusion to as a tonic, laxative, to treat anemia, to treat backache, to stem diarrhea, for colds, to treat ulcers, and as therapy for the kidneys and bladder. The decoction or infusion is considered an cleansing tonic (blood purifier). Dried and powdered stems used externally to treat wounds and sores. Powder was also moistened and applied to burns. In women’s health it was used by First People to stimulate delayed mentrual flow (dysmenorrhea). Seeds were roasted before brewing into tea.
Modern Uses: The Chinese species E. sinica is commonly used today. In China the dried jointed stems are powdered and used to treat coughs and bronchitis, bronchial asthma, congestion, hay fever and obesity (as a stimulant). Also used as an appetite suppressant and basal metabolism stimulant. The drug is (was) in many appetite suppressants and if abused, may be harmful to your health (see caution).
American ephedra is available as a tea or in capsules over-the-counter and has little or no vasoactive stimulation effects.
Chemistry: Alkaloids: ephedrine, psuedoephedrine, tannins
CAUTION: Ephedra sinica, as a cardiovascular stimulant and central nervous system stimulant this ephedra may be dangerous to people with elevated blood pressure, heart disease, and/or tachycardia. It is Federally regulated and is not to be used during pregnancy or by nursing mothers. Numerous drug interactions, best avoided. The import and use of this drug is restricted in several countries. Deaths have been associated with the abuse of this drug (100mg may be lethal). Currently, the American Medical Association and a number of consumer groups are trying to get ephedra banned on the suspicion it may cause heart attacks and strokes when used as a weight loss aid.
Notes: I have enjoyed the twig tea while filming wild plants in the Four Corners area around Mesa Verde.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.)
Description: All species are low growing perennials and have an oval pad with thorny leaves of various sizes. Flowers are yellowish. Fruits are dull red to purple.
Location: Various species are found from coast to coast in dry, sometimes sandy areas, even along the East Coast and on dry islands of the Pacific Northwest. The Badlands of South Dakota have prickly pear, as does the Sonoran desert from British Columbia to Central Mexico. Great foraging can be found along the backroads of Texas.
Food: Pads are edible and most edible species have flat joints between pads. Flowers and flower buds are roasted and eaten. The pads, which are often mistaken for leaves, (actually the spines are the leaves) are edible. Species with the most plump ones may be thrown on hot coals of fire and roasted. The fire burns off the spines and cooks the interior. Let them cool, then peel the skin and eat the inner core. I like to slice the inner "meat" and stir-fry, or chop the pad "meat" into heuvo rancheros with yucca blossoms and salsa verde. I have eaten the flowers of several species as have Native American foragers, but there is little about this practice in the literature. So do so at your own risk. The fruit when red and ripe is tasty, often made into jelly. I like to eat it out of hand right off plant (avoid the prickly hairs). The pads can be mixed with water, sugar, yeast and fermented into an alcoholic drink. The young green fruit is boiled and eaten by Pima Indians.
Traditional Uses: Flowers are astringent and can be poulticed over wounds. Flowers as tea are eaten for stomach complaints including diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. The stem ash was/is applied to burns and cuts. Pima Indians believed the edible pads are good for gastrointestinal complaints. Pima de-spined, cooked, sliced and poulticed plants on breasts as a lactagogue. Leaf pads are sliced in half and used as as poultice for cleansing and sealing wounds, infections, bites, stings and snake envenomations. Pads are first scorched of spines, then slit, and the moist side is placed against the insult or wound. The infusion of stems of a Sonoran desert species, Opuntia polyacantha Haw. (Plains Pricklypear) was used to treat diarrhea.
Modern Uses: In Mexico and the American Southwest, the plant is still used in its traditional ways. According to Andrew Chevallier (The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, page 240) flowers are still used for treating an enlarged prostate.
Chemistry:Mucilaginous, vitamin C in fruit, bioflavonoids, polysaccharides.
Notes: Opuntia pads are sliced open and applied, moist side down over wounds, bites, stings and envenomations. The inner flesh is a chemotactic attractant, a surfactant, that draws serum from the wound site cleaning it and sealing it. Southwestern holistic practitioners report success in treating scorpion and recluse spider bites.
Wildlife/Veterinarian:Because of its aggressive, invasive nature, the thorny plant is problematic to grazing animals. But goats will eat it as starvation food. I have seen antelope graze on flowers, and in a pinch they will eat the pads. I suspect the gel applied to an animal’s wounds would be just as effective as it is with humans.
Medicinal Plants of the Forested Areas
Mistletoe, Injerto, Phoradendron tomentosum, European mistletoe, Viscum album,
Description: Parasitic epiphyte
Food: Not edible, all parts toxic.
Traditional Uses: Very dangerous abortion inducing agent (abortifacient). Has killed women using it to induce abortions. Native Americans considered all parts of the plant toxic, and they are. Europeans pagans used the herb as a physical aphrodisiac to induce passion..
Modern Uses: Most research has been on Viscum album, which shows promise as a potential antidiabetic. The extract is used to treat rheumatism; and as adjuvant therapy for cancerous tumor treatment. One person with small cell lung cancer responded to mistletoe therapy and lived for over five years (see Bradley and Clover, Thorax 1989;44:1047).The tea is considered hypotensive; and may be effective against asthma, diarrhea, tachycardia, nervousness (as a nervine), amenorrhea, whooping cough and epilepsy. The whole, cut and powdered herb is used, but because of its toxic nature seek consultation with your holistic health care physician.
Chemistry: Phoratoxins and viscotoxins as well as the toxic lectin visumin, beta-phenylethylamine, tyramine and a tumor reducing compound found in the drug Iscador.
Notes: These parasitic epiphytes are reported to have opposite effects with tomentosum raising blood pressure, and increasing uterine and intestinal motility; whereas album reduces blood pressure and is calming and antispasmodic. But the chemistry of the two is virtually identical, which suggests that the activity in vivo may be dose dependent.
Hepatica, American liverwort, Round lobed Hepatica: Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa (Pursh)
Description: American liverwort (toxic) is one of the first flowers to bloom in March or April. Leaves are evergreen, with the two species separated by the end shape of their leaves: rounded or pointed. Flowers of the species are pink, white or blue with six to ten sepals. Stems and leaves are hairy when they emerge.
Location: Eastern forests west to Nebraska north into Canada.
Traditional Uses: Native American infused the plant and used it as an emetic, laxative, and abortifacient. An infusion H. nobilis was considered contraceptive. Menominee used leaf infusion, and root decoction to treat diarrhea; and for vertigo. Doctrine of signatures: Because the leaves look like lobes of the liver, the leaf tea was used to treat liver problems. Folk practitioners used small amounts of the roots and leaves of this plant have been used to treat indigestion and disorders of the kidney, gallbladder and liver.
Hepatica nobilis var. acuta (Pursh) Steyermark, called Sharp-lobed Hepatica, was used in decoction as aid to digestion and with pregnant women to ease labor pain. It was considered a tonic (a blood purifier). The decoction as a uterine stimulate was used to induce childbirth. The infusion was used to treat pain in the abdomen, and as an emetic and laxative. Beware, however, large amounts of hepatica are poisonous. Use of this plant is reserved for a skilled herbalist.
Chemistry: Protoanemonine typically dimerized to anemonine; ranunculin; saponins and the flavonoids quercimeritrin, astragalin, isoquercitrin and anthocyanin.
Notes: Look, enjoy but don’t imbib or touch: Externally the plant has caused dermatitis and internally it is caustic to the intestinal tract and the urinary plumbing.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Native Americans and Pioneers spread a decoction of hepatica to lure fur bearing animals.
Jack in the Pulpit duke and foster a dangerous and contraceptive herb.
Fruit of jack-in-the-pulpit is not edible. Informants say Iroquois women used root of A. triphyllum sub species triphyllum in infusion for temporary sterility, as a contraceptive. (More)
__ð Jack-in-the-pulpit (photo) or Indian turnip (toxic) is found in rich soils, generally a woods or shady low land. Like skunk cabbage, this plant contains calcium oxalate and is not edible raw. Indians used to slice jack-in-the-pulpit roots and dry them deactivating the calcium oxalate. The dried root was then sliced, cooked and eaten like potato chips .
Skunk Cabbage smells like its name. The flower is a primitive spathe covering a spadix. Skunk cabbage roots are occasionally used as medicinal. First they must be thoroughly dried to reduce the burning oxalate to harmless crystals. Herbalist make an infusion of the tea from the dried root. According to Malcolm Stewart in his book, "The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism', skunk cabbage root is most commonly used as a mild sedative. Be advised, the plant is poisonous and juice from the fresh plant may cause skin blistering and will severely burn the digestive tract if eaten. Again, only experts should handle this plant .
Skunk cabbage is abundant in wet lands near my home in southeastern Michigan. The genus is one of the rare plants that is endothermic. It can produce heat and initiate early growth through ice and snow. Native Americans used the plant as food, medicine and the leaves of the western variety were used to line cooking pits and to wrap foods to be cooked in cedar boxes. (More) (Also)
Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt. left and below right. Western skunk cabbage below left: Lysichitum americanum (L.) Skunk Cabbage,
Western Skunk Cabbage (Yellow Arum)
Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisb. Nutt.; Lysichitum americanus(m) Hulten and St. John
Description: Large, green elephant like leaves that are lustrous and waxy in appearance with a "skunky" odor when torn. Found as undercover in wet woods, swamps. lowlands. Flower is an archaic showy sheath surrounding club like flower spike. Western skunk cabbage has yellow flower. (Photo and information).
Food: CAUTION: OXALATE CRYSTALS PRESENT. Native American Cooking: Western skunk cabbage leaves and roots were washed and steamed or pit cooked until a mush like consistency. Root can be dried, roasted and ground into flour. Leaves were placed over cooking vegetables as a spice. Young leaves may be thoroughly dried, then cooked in soups. Several Western tribes ate roots after boiling them eight times. It is said that to dry the leaves or roots of Western or Eastern skunk cabbage eliminates some of the peppery, hot taste of the calcium oxalate crystals. Calcium oxalate crystals (raphides) are toxic and makes these plants unsuitable foods. The waxy leaves were used as plates to eat off of, also to line cooking pits and cedar boxes used in cooking. Leaves used to wrap meat and vegetables for cooking. Also used to store foods and cover fresh berries. Typically, leaves used to keep heat and steam in while cooking. Apparently, the oxalate does not effect the food when prepared with raw leaves as a lining or covering. Never eat these plants fresh and uncooked. Roots are numerous and tentacle like. According to Couplan, Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, buds of an Northeast Asia species are eaten.
Medicine: Considered a antispasmodic, expectorant, diaphoretic and sedative. The liquid extract is used to treat bronchitis and asthma. Native American uses: Dried root of Eastern species used as antispasmodic tea to stop seizures (epilepsy), coughs, asthma, toothaches. Paste of dried root used externally for skin irritations, itching. Crushed Leaf poultice used externally on swellings and as an analgesic.. Poultice of leaves considered anti-rheumatic. Root infusion used to treat coughs (dried root?). Root was used as a poultice over wounds. Considered good poultice for bad wounds. Decoction of crushed stalks used as a douche to improved displacement of the womb. Leaves chewed for epilepsy. Dried powdered root used as infusion to treat convulsions. According to Foster and Duke (Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants. Peterson Field Guides) the "skunky" leaf was used as an underarm deodorant. Me thinks this was used by cheating husbands, who rubbed the stink on their body and claimed to have worked all day. Ha!
According to Moerman, In Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, the root decoction was used for a weak heart, root hairs as a hemostat and for toothache. Root also used to tattoo body and whole as talismans against evil.
Modern phytopharmacology uses a liquid extract of skunk cabbage to treat bronchitis and asthma. Plant is antispasmodic, expectorant, sedative and diaphoretic.
Western Skunk Cabbage (L. americanus): Used in the same way as Eastern variety. Flower was steamed and placed against joints to treat arthritis. Sweat lodge, warm leaves used to sit on to treat arthritis. Poultice of smashed root used on boils and abscesses. Root burned and smoke inhaled for treating nightmares, disrupted sleep and flu. Leaves used as poultice for burns. Makah tribe chewed raw root to cause abortion. Charcoal of burned plants steptic used on wounds. Steamed roots used to treat stroke, arthritis.
Chemistry: Calcium oxalate crystals in all parts of plant, volatile oils (odor) and resins.
Notes: Skunk cabbage protrudes through the soil about a month before it should. Plants generate heat to jump start growth through snow and ice. I have eaten the raw leaf and lived to regret it. It was as if a gnome pounded a thousand needles in my tongue.
Warning: Avoid using the fresh parts of this plant as food or medicine.
Bloodroot, Red Puccoon, Red Indian paint (Sanquinaria canadensis L.)
Description: A perennial that grows to seven inches. The rhizome is thick and slightly curved, and exudes red liquid when cut--rootlets are reddish. Leaves are in a basal rossette, with five to nine lobes, accented underneath with protruding rips. Leaves are down covered, grayish green, and clasping. The single flower is white with eight to twelve petals and is a short lived, early spring bloomer.
Location: Found in damp, rich forests, along forest trails, it is subarboreal in Eastern forests south to Florida, west to Minnesota and north to Manitoba.
Food: Not edible. Mildly toxic.
Traditional Uses: The extract from this toxic plant is antispasmodic and warming. Native Americans discovered that the herb induced vomiting. It is an expectorant, said to lower fever. Some folk practitioners suggest a very small dose works as an appetite stimulant. This may be attributed to the bitter alkaloids that stimulate the digestive system reflexively. The root juice was reportedly used to treat warts. Pioneers and First People used the root extraction in cough medicines and to treat rheumatism, fevers, laryngitis. It is anesthetic. Other reported uses were for treating bronchitis, throat infections, asthma and other lung ailments.
Modern Uses: Because of the plant’s potential toxicity it is little used as an expectorant. Research shows sanguinarine and chelerythrine to be anticancer. Sanquinarine, although toxic, has low oral toxicity and is antiseptic. Small amounts of it are used in a name brand mouthwash and toothpaste. This apparently effective addition to mouth washes is also plaque reducing. In human trials, cancer of nose and ear has responded to topical applications of bloodroot extract. It is still used topically as an anti-inflammatory.
Chemistry: Root contains opium like alkaloid isoquninoline derivatives: sanguinarine, protopine, homochelidonine, berberine, coptisine, sanguirubine, chelerythrine, sanquidimerine. Also polysaccharides in root and bioflavonoids.
Note: There are reports that the red exudant when thinned with water and applied to the skin was an effective mosquito repellent. In trials performed with human beings, I have found this to be true. The effects of long term exposure of sanquinarine to the skin is unknown. More research is necessary (see Native American Medicine/Little Medicine DVD, www.herbvideos.com.
Veterinarian/Wildlife: Perhaps the red skin of Native Americans, reported by invading Europeans, was actually bloodroot used as a mosquito repellent.
Black Cohosh(Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.)
Description: The plant can grow to five and a half feet tall from a blackish knotty and tough rhizome. Leaves are double-pinnate, smooth and serrated. The flower raceme is drooping with three to eight petaled flowers. Sepals enclose the flower bud.
Location: Located in forests of southern Canada and the northern United States.
Food:Not a food.
Traditional Uses: The root (rhizome) is the medicinal part used. Root infusions were used to induce abortions, stimulate menstruation, and promote lactation. An alcohol infusion of the root was used to treat rheumatism. The infused root was taken to treat coughs. Also, the root infusion was said to be cathartic and stimulating, a tonic, and blood purifier. Hot bath soaks with pulverized roots was used to alleviate arthritis pain.
Modern Uses: The plant extract isCommission E approved for premenstrual syndrome and menopausal complaints. Commercial preparations are used to treat female conditions (dysmenorrhea) including uterine spasms (cramps), menstrual pain, hot flashes, mild depression, vaginal apathy, and menopause. Estrogenic effect reduces luteinizing hormone levels. A recent study of the use of Remifemin, a proprietary Black Cohosh extraction (See Friede and Liske, et.al. Obstet Gynecology. 2005;105:1074-1083) significantly reduced hot flashes, atrophy, and psyche disturbances in a trial group from 304 postmenopausal women. Results confirmed efficacy and tolerability of ispropanolic extract of black cohosh. Forty six percent of breast cancer survivors who received a black cohosh preparation were symptom free of hot flashes, sweating and other symptoms of anxiety and sleep disturbances related to premenopausal breast cancer treatment (see Jacobson, Journal Clinical Oncology; 19(10):2739-2745. 2001). A 2003 study showed an increase of bone formation in postmenopausal women (see Wuttke, et.al. Maturitas; 44(suppl 1); S 67-S 77. 2003). Holistic health practitioners still use the plant for treating fever, arthritis and insomnia.
Chemistry:Triterpene glycosides: acetin, cimicifugoside. Also isoflavonoids: formononetin, Formononetin binds to estrogen receptor sites and is active. The combination of estrogen effect and lowered luteinizing hormone secretions may account for its activity.
Notes:Consult a licensed holistic health care practitioner before using this herb for dysmenorrhea, hormone replacement therapy, or menopausal symptoms. Avoid completely if you are lactating or pregnant.
Blue Cohosh, Squaw root, Papoose root (Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) Michx.)
Description: Here is a leafy perennial to thirty inches in height, grows erect from a brown-gray, branched rhizome. Leaves are tripinnate, leaflets are stemmed, ovate, finely divided with three lobes and wedge shaped at the base. Flowers are from the terminal leaf, yellowish-green to purple, about a ½ inch wide, with six sepals arranged in two rows. There are six petals per flower are inconspicuous. The ovary contains two dark blue roundish seeds about a 1/8 inch in diameter.
Location: Wet woods of the east from the coast southe to South Carolina and Arkansas, then west including Minnesota, Iowa and north to Canada.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Used by Native Americans and Ethnic black medicine to ease and facilitate childbirth. It is claimed to have an analgesic and diuretic effect. Cherokee took the extract internally as an anticonvulsive and anti-rheumatic. Leaves may be crushed and rubbed on poison oak and poison ivy (Cherokee). Root "skin" was scraped and decocted, then used by Chippewa as an emetic. The analgesic effect of root decoction was said to take the edge off uterine cramps and nonspecific stomach cramps. Several tribes used the plant extract to stem profuse menstruation. It was also used as a sedative to settle "fits and hysterics". The Meskwaki and Mohegan used the herb for kidney and urinary problems.
Modern Uses: Roots (rhizome) are prepared as a liquid extract to treat gynecological disorders. It appears to have an estrogenic effect and is used internally to treat dysmenorrhea, potential miscarriage and uterine spasms. Homeopathic preparations may be prescribed by holistic health care professionals. CAUTION: Because of the drugs heart stimulating and uterine stimulating effects it is not recommended and no human trials are available in the literature. Chinese use the drug for treating external injuries and internally to treat bronchitis and acute hepatitis.
Chemistry: Alkaloids to include: isoquinoline alkaloids; quinolizidine alkaloids. Also, saponins and flavonoid, caulosapogenin.
Notes: Like all unproven (and proven) remedies use only under the skilled hands of a holistic health care professional. Never take this uterine stimulant during pregnancy, or if you have hypertension and/or heart disease.
English Holly and American Holly (Ilex aquifolium L. and I.opaca Ait. )
Description: Both species are evergreen shrubs to thirty feet with smooth gray-brown bark. New growth bark is glossy green. Leaves are alternate, stiff, oval to elliptical and pointed. Lower leaves are dentate and thorny. White flower has five petals and four to five stamens. Fruit is red berry, in four sections, with four or five seeds.
Location: Across North America, frequently found in the Northwest and western mountain areas and in gardens and arboretum nationwide.
Food: No part is edible.
Traditional Uses: Aquifolium dried leaves, fresh leaves, berries and flowers are used as a tea to treat bronchitis, coughs, constipation, fever, arthritis and gout. Opaca bark decoction used as eyewash. Berries used to treat colic. Leave infusion used on sores.
Modern Uses: Natural Health practitioners use the plants as it they were traditionally. Over-the-counter homeopathic doses are used to treat conjunctivitis. There are safer and just as effective products, and it is my choice to avoid this plant.
CAUTION: The toxic nature of this plant is well known. Berries are very toxic, as few as five could hospitalize a person.
Chemistry: Flavooids, chlorogenic acid, nitrile glycosides, saponins, sterols to inclue beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, triterpenes, theobromine.
Notes: Excellent bird habitat and a year around garden beauty.
Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum L.)
Description: A perennial with many branches to thirty inches in height. Erect stem with many branches with many leaves. Leaves are fleshy, round to ovate, smooth to slightly hairy. White flowers are in umbel like nodding group, six to ten blossoms. Each flower has five stamens. The fruit is a pea-sized black (occasionally green to yellow) berry.
Location: Worldwide distribution, roadsides, fields, forest edges, waste ground.
Food: Cherokee ate the young plant cooked as a potherb. Fruit and berries were also eaten.
Also made into preserves and pies. Numerous plants of this species are considered toxic, others are quite edible to include: potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillas, peppers.
Traditional Uses: Folk remedies used the berry juice to treat tumors. Berries are diuretic. Plant juice is laxative and emollient. This solanaceous plant was used by Native Americans as an emetic, and applied externally in decoction as a wash or poultice for skin ailments. Smoke of dried plant inhaled to treat toothache. Also used externally to treat psoriasis, hemorrhoids, eczema.
Modern Uses: Ayurvedics consider the berries an aphrodisiac and tonic. In India the plant is considered a panacea used as a laxative, tonic, to treat asthma, bronchitis, dysentery fever, heart disease, hiccups and inflammation.
Preparation: Herb is available dried and cut, powdered, in liquid extract such as a tincture. Moistened plant is used externally as a compress or rinse: a cup of the dried herb to l quart of water. Tinctures are 1:1 ratios dried or fresh plant to 95% ethanol. tincture dose if 3-5 drops (minums) liquid extract, two or three times per day; and 5 to 10ml of tincture once a day.
Internal use should be carefully monitored by a holistic healthcare professional.
Plant extracts are used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine both internally and externally. In India it is used like a food or in decoction to treat congestive heart failure (diuretic for treating edema of heart failure). Fruit powder is used as alterative, tonic, diuretic.
Chemistry: Alkaloids to include: solanine, solasonine, solamargine and phytosterols: saponins.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Dr. Jim Duke in his Handbook of Medicinal Herbs p. 450, reports that cattle, chickens, duck, horses, sheep and swine have been poisoned eating the plant.
Buckthorn, Cascara Sagrada, (Rhamnus spp. And Rhamnus purshiana)
Description: A bush or small tree, thornless, from four to twenty feet tall. It is many branched and densely foliated. When mature the bark is gray brown with gray-white lenticles (spots). Leaves are thin, hairy on the ribs, fully margined, elliptical to ovate and two inches in length. Greenish white flowers are numerous and grow on axillary cymes. Flowers are very small, and five petals. The ripe fruit is red, to black purple with two or three seeds. R. purshiana is taller to thirty feet, with leaves that have twenty to twenty four veins. White flowers are in clusters.
Location: Purshiana grows in the foothills of British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon. Another small shrub-like Rhamnus species grows throughout the dune-lands of Lake Michigan.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Prior to the Second World War you would find these tablets over-the-counter as a laxative in lieu of Ex-Lax or the like. Native American used the bark infusion as a purgative, laxative, as a worm killing tea. An infusion of the twigs and fruit in decoction were used as an emetic. Curing the bark for a year is said to reduce its harshness.
Modern Uses: The bark extract is a powerful laxative. It is Commission E approved for treating constipation. The drug should never be used to clear intestinal obstructions. Bark infusion considered a cleansing tonic, but chronic, continuous use may be carcinogenic Use only under the care of a physician, holistic or otherwise, laxative response may last eight hours.
Chemistry: Anthracenes, quinones and alkaloids.
Notes: A couple of Naturapathic physicians once laced my salmon with the bark extract as a practical joke. Some joke! My unforgettable experience was far worse than any bout with the "Mexican quick step". Berries from a Rhamnus species I imbibed in the Midwest once ruined an anniversary dinner. These berries can be mistaken for edible fruit with rueful consequences.
Cedar, Eastern White Cedar and Western Red Cedar (Thuja occidentalis L. and Thuja plicata D. Don.)
Description: Thuja occidentalis is an aromatic evergreen tree many branched from the trunk skyward, with flattened needles dark green above and lighter green below. Thuja plicata is the giant red cedar of the West Coast. It is found primarily on the windward side of the Cascades including Vancouver Island, the Olympic peninsula.
Location: Thuja plicata a magnificent tree, tall, thick, a giant of old growth forests in the Northwest. Prefers moist bottomland with deep rich soils. Heavy seed crops are produced every three years. Fertility is reached at about 20 years of age—a very durable, decay resistant wood.
Thuja occidentalis, Eastern white cedar or Arbovitae is found throughout the northern tier of states and Ontario to Newfoundland/Labrador. Found in swamps, bogs, and coastal areas of Lake Superior.
Food: Plicata’s primary use is and was for making cooking boxes, and planks for flavoring and cooking salmon. Cambium (inner bark) could be eaten as a survival food, but there are numerous other safer alternatives (see Meuninck, Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants.).
Traditional Uses: Thuja plicata, Red Cedar is a male warrior plant used by Native Americans in sweeping and smudging rituals to cleanse the body of evil spirits. Northwestern tribes made fine cedar boxes for cooking and storage. Europeans use the wood to line chests and encasements because of the fine fragrance and insect repulsing chemistry of the wood. A decoction of dried and powdered leaves was used as an external analgesic for treating painful joints, sores, wounds, injuries. Leaves in infusion were used to treat coughs and colds. The decoction of the bark in water was used to induce menstruation and possibly as a abortifacient. The leaf buds (new end growth) were chewed used to treat lung ailments. Decoction of leaves and boughs were used to treat arthritis.
Thuja occidentalis, name Arborvitae ("tree of life"), was given by the French when they discovered First People used the bark and leaf tea to treat scurvy. Eastern tribes like the Algonquin steamed branches to treat colds, fever, pleurisy, rheumatism, and toothache. The fruit was infused into water for treating colic. Chippewa scarified (pricked) charcoal from the burned wood of the plant into temples to treat headache. Leaf and bark juice was pricked into skin to treat dizziness and headache. Boughs were used as snake repellent. Leave tea as mentioned for dysentery and scurvy. Leaves were poulticed by Penobscot over swollen hands and feet.
SMUDGING, SWEEPING, SWEAT LODGE: Cedar is considered a warrior plant by Native Americans and is used in smudging, sweeping and steam bath rituals. It clears the body and mind (spirit) of evil spirits that prevent good health.
Modern Uses: Thuja occidentalis is the preferred drug and is use in homeopathic doses to treat rheumatism, poor digestion, depression and skin conditions. Because of the thujone content this is a drug that must be used with consultation and supervision.
Chemistry: Thujone from cedar is toxic to herpes simplex, but thujone should not be taken by pregnant women and is toxic. Professional thujone preparations are below the toxicological limit of 1.25 mg/kg body weight.
Notes: Cedar boxes are used to steam salmon and other foods. Hot rocks are placed on wet plants, often this is skunk cabbage leaves wrapped around salmon. The box is covered with a lid and the salmon slow cooked in steam. Cedar boxes are also used for making seaweed more palatable. Red laver, Porphyra perforata, was decomposed for 5 days, then pressed into wood frames and dried in the sun. Hence they were transferred to cedar boxes and layered with chiton spittle (tidal mollusk with armor like scaly shell) between layers. That is they chewed chiton meat then spit it on the seaweed. The boxes were secured for about a month and then this ritual preparation was repeated three more times. Finally, the cakes were packed in cedar box with cedar boughs and used as winter food. Often eaten with salmon at Potlatch feasts. The trunk of this Red Cedar is used to make totem poles and canoes. The inner bark was used to make baskets.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Red squirrels eat the buds in spring and cut seed laden branches for winter forage. Rabbits, moose and deer browse on the leaves. Porcupines eat the bark and may inadvertently girdle a tree, killing it. Seeds are eaten by the Pine Siskin, a small finch of northeastern evergreen forests.
Black Cherry, Choke Cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.; Chokecherry: Prunus virginiana L.)
Description: The bark of black cherry is rough, scaling, peel the bark and the wood looks reddish underneath. Leaves ovate to lance shaped, toothed, smooth on top, mid rib vein underneath has hairs. Leaf is also paler underneath. Berries are black. Whereas chokecherries are reddish. Both berries hang from long, drooping racemes. Chokecherry is a smaller tree or shrub (black cherry may reach over 80 feet). Leaves are more oval, sharp toothed, sharper teeth than black cherry leaf with no hairs on midrib. White flowers on thicker raceme. Bark of wild cherry when freshly torn is aromatic, whereas chokecherry is not.
Location: Black cherry typically in Eastern forests from Georgia and Texas in the south north to Canada. Chokecherry can be found from coast to coast. Often along roadsides.
Food: Black cherry and choke cherry have edible fruit. Bark, root and leaves are inedible because of toxic glycoside prunasin (hydrocyanic acid). Fruit of both plants make excellent jams, preserves. Put whole fruit on cereal, but do not eat seeds. Fruit may be dried and frozen for later use as a trail food. Preserves are good for flavoring unsweetened, raw yogurt.
Traditional Uses: The inner tree bark and fruit were collected in the autumn and used as medicine. Native Americans and Pioneers used bark infusion as external wash. the herb was used to treat diarrhea, bronchitis, coughs and indigestion. First People used a decoction of the herb as a sedative, to treat colds, fevers, worms, burns, measles and thrush.
Modern Uses: The inner bark of black cherry is used as a flavoring agent and is considered therapeutic for colds, sore throats, diarrhea, respiratory infections and congestion as well as external and internal inflammations. These uses are unproven and little in the way of research has been done on this drug.
CAUTION: Use professionally prepared formulations under the care of a holistic physician.
Chemistry: Cyanogenic glycosides including prunasin, also tannins.
Notes: Black cherry or wild cherry cough drops are still my favorites.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: An important food for birds, raccoons, bears, skunks and porcupines.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer) (Panax quinquefolium L.)
Description: Perennial plant of the forest to three feet in height, with a smooth, round stem.
Greenish, yellow flowers that gives rise to a pea sized, rounded and glossy seed. Three to five leaves are in terminal whorls with three to five palmate leaflets. Leaflets are finely serrated three to eight inches long one to two inches wide.
Location: Mature forest with shading canopy, well drained soil, rare in the wild. Roots may be ordered at www.herbs.com and numerous other plant and seed resources.
Traditional Uses: Root used as a ceremonial fetish to keep ghosts away. Used to reduce fever and induce sweating. Fresh and dried root is used. Considered a panacea in China and Korea. It is used as a tonic and as adaptogenic, that is it helps the user to adapt to stressful conditions. It is said to potentiate normal function of adrenal gland. Root considered a tonic, stimulant, aphrodisiac, enhances immune response, may improves cerebral circulation and function, may regulates blood pressure and blood sugar. In Traditional Chinese Medicine terms it tonifies primordial energy. It is a tonic for spleen and lungs.
Modern Uses: Chinese, Russian, Korean and European studies suggest it enhances production of interferon improving phagocytosis. It is considered a ergogenic aid (may improve endurance). It is reported to regulate plasma glucose. Other research centers focuses on its anti-cancer, anti-proliferative, anti-tumor activity against leukemia and lymphoma. Anti-microbial, anti-fungal activity has been demonstrated (Cold FX is an over the counter treatment for colds, it contains ginseng and has proven effective in clinical trials). Other preparations of the root lower or raise blood pressure. It is also used as an immune system stimulant to help resist infection. It may increase mental acuity, and has an estrogen like effect on women. Studies suggest it may protect from radiation sickness and other physical, chemical and biological stress, thereby supporting its anti-stress applicaitions.
European studies (over 300 papers) show ginseng may increase concentration, alertness, visual and motor coordination, as well as physical performance. Other studies suggest that ginseng may increase libido, improving male potency. Also has been used to treat stress, treat cold extremities, and short term memory loss. This panacea is said to relieve impotence, attenuate diabetes, and lower hypertension…Considered the closest thing to a cure-all found in Nature
Asian ginseng=Panax ginseng Warming and stimulating. Red Korean ginseng warms more than Asian white. Increases energy. Tonic. Taken to re-energize depleted body functions.
American ginseng=P. quinquefolium Cools, moistens, soothes. Perhaps better tonic than Asian, at least in the eyes of Orientals. Considered adaptogenic, soothing to nerves.
Chemistry: Triterpenoid saponins: gensenosides and panaxosides. Gensenosides are saponins and are described as stimulants and antioxidants that may boost the immune system; lower cholesterol; are anti-fungal, and anti-microbial. Saponins from other plants have been shown to be anti-tumor, anti-microbial, anti-fungal
Notes: I use an old sausage grinder to grind hard dried roots into powder. Dried root is tough enough to break blades on an electronic pepper mill. My typical dose is 3 grams in decoction. Simmer for 30 minutes. Put 60 to 100 grams in 1 liter of spirits (Vodka, Rum) for two weeks, drink judiciously for physiological effects. Powdered herb may be purchased, I use 1 teaspoon of powder to a cup of hot water twice a day. I have followed this procedure for two weeks, then take two weeks off, then two more weeks on. I am a hot, type-A person, therefore, I choose American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) because of its cooling, calming effect.
Safety: Taking more than three grams per day may cause diarrhea, anxiety, dermatitis and insomnia. Mild side effects reported are headache, skin rash. May potentiate effects of caffeine. Large doses may cause hypertension, asthma like symptoms, heart palpitations and rarely dysmenorrhea and other menstrual problems. There have been two reports of interactions with phenelzine a Monoamine Oxidase inhibitor. Avoid ginseng if you have acute illnesses: diabetes, fever, emphysema, hypertension, arrhythmia, upper respiratory infections and disorders including: asthma, bronchitis. Chinese practitioners caution not to use with colds (this is in contrast to its proven benefits fighting re-infection with a cold) pneumonia and other lung infections. Do not use while on internal steroid therapy. Avoid during pregnancy and lactation until further studies are available.
Caution: Always use this herb under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. Ginseng roots imported from China may be sprayed with fungicide. Scrub these roots thoroughly before grinding them for use. I have found many of my Chinese herbs to harbor eggs and larvae that later emerged as some exotic and startling variety of flying insects and fast moving beetles.
Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis L.)
Description: Mature, rare, low lying, forest dwelling herb, grows in colonies, in moist, well-drained soil. Perennial to11 inches in height, with a bright yellow rhizome. The flower, found on an erect stem, is solitary, with three small greenish-white petals that disappear quickly. Fruit is scarlet with one or two black glossy seeds. Two ribbed leaves, lower is small, sessile and the upper root leaf is on a long petiole, with seven lobes, finely serrated.
Location: Found in wet well drained forest, often in spreading colonies on banks in woods. Scarcity is due to overharvesting. Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Niles, Michigan has a beautiful stand. Many botanical gardens have this herb.
Traditional Uses: Air-dried rhizomes and root fibers are used to treat diarrhea. Cherokee used root as cancer treatment, as a tonic and wash for inflammations, infections and wounds. Also used as an appetite stimulant and to treat dyspepsia. Dried root chewed to treat whooping cough. Infusion used for earache treatment. Aqueous decoction of root filtered through skin or cloth used as eye wash. Root with whisky taken as heart tonic. Tuberculosis, scrofula, liver problems and gall problems all traditionally treated with the root extract.
Modern Uses: Standardized extracts from air dried rhizomes and root hairs and root powder are used to stimulate bile secretion, hydrochloric acid secretion and hastens peristalsis. Has weak antibiotic activity, and weak anti-neoplastic (anticancer) activity, anti-cancer in vitro. Constricts peripheral blood vessels. Stimulates and may cleanse liver. Used as therapy for upper respiratory infections, and as a topical eyewash. May increase depressed white blood cell counts as reported in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Clinical trials have suggested it effectiveness against traveler’s diarrhea. Root paste used externally to treat wounds and fungal infections. Bitter taste may stimulate hunger and be useful in treating anorexia.
Chemistry: Isoquinoline alkaloids: berberine, hydrastine and canadine.
Dosage: Typical tincture is 1:10 ration dried root by weight to 60% alcohol by volume. Follow directions on package.
Safety: Do not take if pregnant or lactating due to uterine stimulating activity of alkaloids and insufficient data on breast milk and alkaloid secretions. Extremely bitter may be rejected for that reason by some. Non-toxic at recommended dosages. However, large doses of berberine and hydrastine may be fatal. Amounts in excess of the therapeutic dosages may cause stomach upset, nervousness, and/or depression. Lethal dose leads to involuntary reflex action, convulsions, paralysis and death. Large doses may cause hypertension, respiratory failure, convulsions. The herb may negate the activity of heparin as reported for the isolated alkaloid berberine.
Notes: Personally, not a particularly useful herb. There are safer more benign, yet efficacious herbs for the same ailments. I rely more on Echinacea, Siberian ginseng and Astragalus. I have use it for treating athletes foot I mix equal amounts of cinnamon and goldenseal powder and moisten with alcohol, apply with a Q-tip to areas of foot and between toes. My dentist’s dissertation measured the antimicrobial activity of golden seal root powder in vitro.
My dentist did his dissertation on the alkaloids in golden seal and found them weakly anti-microbial.
Grapes, wine and grapeseed extract (Vitis vinifera L.; Vitis labrusca L.=Fox grape)
Description: Climbing, hairless vine (poison ivy vines have clinging hairs). Vine has shaggy bark, and may climb to 160 feet. Flowers are in a tight panicle (cluster) and are yellowish-green. Fruit is characteristic to grapes bought in a market, but smaller.
Location: Plant is indigenous to America, Europe and Asia. Our wild varieties are found in forest, along forest edges and marshy areas.
Food: Fruit is healthful off the vine, dried as raisins, as juice and as red wine. Add daily to your diet. Eat organic if possible.
Traditional Uses: Vitus labrusca fruit used to treat diarrhea. Infusion of leaf used as blood cleansing tonic. Wilted leaves as a poultice over sore breasts. Root decoction taken to treat rheumatism. Infusion of shaggy bark used for urinary problems. And wet poultice used to treat headaches. Wine of V. vinefera may protect the heart. Fruit may reduce vomiting.
Modern Uses: Grape seed extract is used as an antioxidant, to treat pancreatitis and edema. The extract appears to improve blood flow (venous efficiency), and symptoms relatted to retinal pathology including resistance to glare and poor vision in low light. Seed extract may improve microcirculatory function Capillary protectant; is anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Studies suggest grape seed extract may induce hair growth.
Grape seed extract is also used with heart patients to prevent artery damage due to protective activity of bioflavonoid fraction. It is used in Europe to treat varicose veins, lymphedema acrocyanosis, acroparesthesia, telangiectasia and other compromised capillary blood flow problems due to platelet aggregation, diabetes, and altered blood rheology.
Grapes, raisins and juice: Phenolic compounds in grapes especially dark skinned grapes may improve heart function, protect from heart disease, improve mental function and may protect against Alzheimer's disease. Ayurvedic uses of raisins (dried grapes): Raisins are eaten for chronic bronchitis, heart disease, gout. Raisins are used with fevers. Used to treat an enlarged spleen or liver. Grape juice used (especially with children) to treat constipation.
Studies show red wine raises HDL and provides a protective effect reducing the risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
Chemistry: Grapeseed extract have flavonoiids, tannins, fruit acids, resveratrol and viniferans. Grapes, grape juice and red wine have phenolic compounds, quercetin, resveratrol and ellagic acid.
Safety: No known contraindications. No known contraindications in pregnancy and lactation . Follow recommended dosages on the package.
Notes: We grow three varieties of grapes in our garden. We pick and blend them skins and all to make a tart marmalade (without sugar). This is a freezer jam that is rich in bioflavonoids. Leaves are edible may be steamed and wrapped around rice dishes Greek style. Grapes should be eaten raw (grow your own) or lightly prepared cooked or fermented. Juice is not as effective as wine for prevention.. Tannins and other phenolic compounds released from skins provide a more potent mix of protection induced during the fermentation process.
Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata (Poiret) D.C., and C. monogyna Jacquin emend., C. oxyacantha, C. douglasii Lindl and C. macrosperma Asheover 1000 species)
Description: Shrubs to small trees from six to twenty feet, many branched, branches thorned, three to five lobed leaves, with forward pointing lobes, serrated leaf edges, leaves are yellow-green and glossy. White flowers are numerous, in terminal clusters, with ten to twenty stamens, and give rise to small apple-like fruit. Fruit is ovoid to round, red or black, and mealy. There is one seed in each chamber of the ovary.
Location: Crataegus macrosperma found east of the Prairie, in damp woods and fringes of forests across the United States. Other varieties found nationwide.
Food: May be eaten out of hand, mealy and seedy, but heart protecting value makes it worth the trouble. Fruit may be sliced and dried and decocted or infused in water to make a health protecting drink, use with green tea. Berry has a sour to sweet flavor, a few varieties are bland.
Traditional Uses: In Europe and China, hawthorn has long been used to treat heart disease. The active phytochemistry are bioflavonoids. The bioflavonoids improve peripheral circulation to the heart, extremities and the brain. They improve coronary blood flow and are hypotensive. Native Americans chewed leaves and applied to sours and wounds as a poultice. Shoots used in infusion to treat children’s diarrhea. Thorns uses as a counterirritant on arthritic joints (thrash or puncture joint area with thorn). Okanagan-Colville herbal art included burning the thorn down to the skin, not totally unlike incense burning on Chinese acupuncture needles to heighten effect. Wash of new shoots used to wash mouth sores. Numerous other remedies may be discovered in Daniel Moerman’s NATIVE AMERICAN ETHNOBOTANY.
Modern Uses: Most studies have been on Crataegus laevigata leaves, fruit, blossoms and new end growth are used. Said to improve and protect cardiac and vascular function. Dilates coronary blood vessels and may initiate heart muscle regeneration. May be anti-angina and improve Buerger's disease (paraesthesia of foot or single toe, arterial spasm). Also used to treat tachycardia. And is considered holesterol lowering and hypotensive. Synergistic with vitamin C (anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins). Chemistry is antioxidant and is said to stabilize collagen, protecting it from oxidation damage. Standardized extract improved exercise tolerance in heart patients.
Studies suggest that herb extract may alleviate leg pain caused by partially occluded coronary arteries.
In vitro study showed the ethylacetate extract to be antiviral.
Dried hawthorn berries are used in China with infants with indigestion from improper nursing technique.
CAUTION: Extract may be a uterine stimulate, may induce menstruation, contraindicated for pregnant women. .
In China, the dried fruits are decocted and used for treating irritable bowel and gall bladder problems. Crataegalic acid increases digestive enzyme secretions improving digestion. The berry is considered bacterialstatic (anti-bacterial) to shingella species. Decoction of dried fruit anti-diarrhea and helpful in dyspepsia...Claimed to dissolve cholesterol in lining of blood vessels.
Chemistry: (C. cuneata, C. pinnatifida) amygdalin, ursolic acid, chlorogenic acid, saponins. General chemistry C. Laevigata and C. monogyna: flavonols: quercitin, kaempferol and flavone derivatives, rutin, vitexin, hyperoside, proanthocyanidins, procyanidins, glycosides, orientin glycosides, cyanogenic glycosides, Vitamin C. Also, choline, cratagolic acid, folic acid, pantothenic acid, PABA, tartaric acid, tannins.
Preparations: Fresh flower tops can be made into tea, ½ cup to two cups of water, simmer for five minutes, drink cold. Dried berries, one gram, can be prepared by infusion. Purchase berries at health food stores, for money savings buy them at Oriental groceries. Dosage of standardized tinctures and liquid extracts follow recommendations on bottle, typically 1 to 2 ml./three times a day. In China, the standard dose is 6-15 grams of the dried berry in decoction (13).
Safety: Not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. Proanthocyanidins have been shown not to be mutagenic according to Ames test results (standardized measure of carcinogenicity) Extract from the berry is most studied. Extracts from leaves and flowers less studied. Safety with berry extracts well established. Use standardized extracts of fresh flowering tops by reputable manufacturer. Leaf and flower preparations and potentially fruit extracts may enhance effects of cardiac glycosides. Hawthorn may increase sleeping time in patients who concurrently use barbituates. German clinical medicine practitioners use hawthorn leaf and flower extract with cardiac glycosides for the synergism and lowered risk of toxicity (presumably by lowering the dose of the cardiac glycoside). Hawthorn reportedly has increased the coronary dilation effect of several drugs to include: epinephrine, adenosine, sodium nitrate, caffeine, papaverine and theophylline. Although these reactions are considered by many as insignificant they are here dutifully noted.
Notes: Some circulatory stimulating possibilities in addition to hawthorn,: garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba extract and cayenne. My brother had a heart attack about ten years ago. He has recovered. On his farm grows about a dozen hawthorn trees that have the biggest, sweetest fruit I have ever tasted. In the Spring, we cut off a few dozen clusters of flower buds and emerging new growth leaves to make tea. The hot water extracts the bitter bioflavonoids that are hypotensive and anti-angina. Berries are gathered in August and immersed in boiling water for 30 seconds then cut in half and dried in a food dryer. Berries may be cooked in hot cereals, added to tea...Be creative and to your health.
I have decocted fresh flower tops and experienced flushing and lightheadedness...Perhaps too concentrated. The same experience was felt with an extract made from Ginkgo leaves. I definitely felt enhanced peripheral circulation(flushing).
Lady Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium parviflorum L. (yellow) C. parviflorum var. pubescens (yellow); C. acaule (Aiton) (pink)
Description: A perennial with lily like (broadly lance shaped) leaves to ten inches in length, leaves are bright green above and pale underneath. It has a pink, white, or yellow lady slipper shaped flower, providing a striking sensual appearance. The horizontal rhizome contains the active principle.
Location: Found in the northern United States and Canada in wet forests and occasionally in open wetlands. A rare find, but grows in profusion along the north shore of Lake Superior.
Food: Not eaten.
Traditional Uses: Root is styptic and astringent. This is a superior nervine (tranquilizer) and has been over harvested in the wild. Rhizome was used in decoction or tincture and considered by Native Americans boiled as a panacea to treat: nervousness, colds, cramps, diabetes, flu, hysteria, inflammations (as a poultice), menstrual problems, tonic and antispasmodic. Root is typically harvested in autumn and used fresh, or dried for later use. This plant was considered one of Nature’s finest aphrodisiacs. This was attributed to the flower’s shape. The "Doctrine of Signatures" simply stated says, If the flower looks like a particular organ, then that is where it will perform as a medicine. Try Passionflower instead.
Modern Uses: Overharvested and protected, legal use has been discontinued. Constituents have not been tested. Another indigenous variety, Cypripedium calceolus is cultivated commercially.
Chemistry: Resins, tannins, gallic acids, glycosides. Phenanthrene quinones: cypripedi; volatile oils.
Notes: Over Memorial Day weekend the north shore of Lake Superior is ablaze with Pink Lady Slippers. Visit Lake Superior Provincial Park, bring your kayak. There are a dozen islands just a stone throw offshore. With your lady or male friend and your aphrodisiacs all around, I guarantee it will be a memorable occasion.
Mayapple, American mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum L.)
Description: Canopy or umbrella like plant with cleft leaves. Two leaves on single stout stalk. Single white flower tucked under leaf, two leaves typically on single stout stalk---5 to 7 lobes. Colonies of the plant spread over the forest floor. Fruit ripens from mid to late summer, only edible when ripe.
Location: Eastern forest dweller that is found in rich woods, and is most evident in spring. A very showy ground cover about the same time I'm plucking morels.
Food: Fruit may be eaten in summer, when soft and ripe. It is difficult to find, as many plants die off in summer, and they do not always provide abundant fruit...Keep in mind you are competing with forest creatures. Cook fruit or, if dead ripe, eat out of hand. Use in pies, muffins, waffles, pancakes. Fruit when ripe may be made into jam or jelly. Native Americans smashed and dried fruit for later use. These dried fruit cakes as they were called were reconstituted in water and used as a sauce.
Traditional Uses: Minute doses of the plant were used by Native Americans to treat a variety of illnesses: as an emetic (purgative), treating verrucae (wart produced by papillomavirus). The root is toxic and was used to kill worm infestations. It is also an emetic and purgative--powerful laxative. The root powder was used externally on difficult to heal sores. Fresh juice of the root approximately one drop) was put in the ear to improve hearing. In the mid 20th Century the resin of Mayapple was injected into venereal warts as a cure.
Modern Uses: Root extract is antimitotic, it contains an anti-mitotic agent modeled from the lignin chemistry of plant. This led to the formulation of synthetic Etoposide a treatment for small cell lung cancer and testicular cancer. Roots and leaves are poisonous. Handling roots may cause allergic dermatitis. Himalayan variety (Podophyllum emodi) is most rich in toxic drug podophyllotoxin. Approved by Commission E for treating warts and genital warts specifically. Caution: Avoid using this plant as a drug without medical supervision. Drug may be absorbed through the skin, it may be allergenic, it is toxic, and anti-mitotic...Said to be used by Native Americans to commit suicide.
Chemistry: Contains lignans: podophyllotoxin, alpha peltatin, beta peltatin, dioxypodophyllotoxin.
Notes: I prepare Mayapple root water as an insecticide for my garden. Blend about eight ounces of fresh root in water, strain through cheese cloth or pantyhose, into garden sprayer (see my Native American Medicine/Little Medicine DVD for this procedure and many others…www.herbvideos.com.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Menominee used an infusion of the crushed plant to kill potato bugs. Corn seeds were soaked in a decoction of the root to discourage fungus and other pests.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium Pursh. Nutt.: Mahonia nervosa (Pursh) Nutt. var. nervosa)
Description: To six feet tall (Mahonia aquifolium) evergreen shrub, with holly like, shiny leaves, leaves leathery, pinnate, compound, pointed edges. Flower small bright yellow. Berries deep blue, waxy. Gray stem, roots and bark bright yellow on inside due to alkaloid berberine. M. nervosa is a smaller forest dweller with rosette of compound leaves whorl up from the ground. up to three feet tall, berries on central spikes.
Location: Mahonia nervosa is found in open forests and graveyards, with numerous sites found along Mt. Baker highway in Washington enroute to the North Cascades. Mahonia aquifolium is found along roadsides, forest edges from Washington state into Idaho and Montana.
Food: Tart berries of Mahonia aquifolium are eaten in late summer in Northwest. CAUTION: When eaten raw in small amounts the fruit is slightly emetic. Native Americans smashed the berries and dried them for later use. They are boiled into jam, be certain to add honey or sugar, the juice is tart. Carrier Indians of the Northwest simmered young leaves and ate them. The smaller creeping Mahonia nervosa was prepared and eaten the same way and is preferred, but not as abundant. Try berries mixed with other fruit to improve taste. Berries may be pounded to paste, formed into cakes and dried for winter food.
Traditional Uses: Tart berries of both species considered a pick-me-up tonic. Native Americans believed berries were slightly emetic. But a decoction of stem (M. aquifolium) was used by Sanpoil as an antiemetic. These two bitter and astringent herbs were used to treat liver and gall bladder complaints. An infusion of bark was used by Native Americans as an eyewash . According to traditional use the decocted drug from the bark (berberine) stimulates the liver and gall bladder, cleansing them, releasing toxins and increasing the flow of bile. The bark and root decoction reportedly was used externally for treating staphylococcus infections. May stimulate thyroid function According to Michael Moore, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, the drug stimulates thyroid function and is used to treat diarrhea and gastritis. According to Deni Brown in her book, Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses (P. 308) M. aquifolium has been used to treat chronic hepatitis and dry type eczema. A root decoction of M. aquifolium was used by the Blackfoot to stem hemorrhaging. They also used root in decoction for upset stomach and to treat other stomach problems.
Modern Uses: Aquifolium extractions are available in commercial ointments to treat dry skin, unspecified rashes and psoriasis. Do not use during pregnancy. The bitter drug may prove an appetite stimulant, but little research had been done. Other unproven uses in homeopathic doses are for the treatment of liver and gallbladder problems.
Chemistry: Alkaloid berberine, bitter liver stimulating principle.
Notes: M. aquifolium was chewed by Native Americans for protection
after hunting when approached by a dying deer. The shredded bark and roots of
both species used to make a bright yellow dye.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Berries eaten by birds. Saanich Native Americans (Northwestern United States) claim that berries are known antidote for shellfish poisoning.
Slippery Elm, Red Elm (Ulmus rubra Muhl. and Ulmus fulva)
Description: Tree to seventy feet tall, spreading branches with an open crown. Older bark is rough and fissured. Younger branches are reddish-brown and downy. Leaf buds are large and downy. Leaves are to eight inches, typically less, with a double serrated margin (toothed). They are obovate to oblong, darker green atop, and rough to the touch. Flowers are in dense, sessile clusters. With up to nine sepals and stamens. Spinning top shaped fruit to an inch long.
Location: Forests and fields of North America, typically east of the Missouri.
Food: The powdered inner bark is dried and made into a beverage to relieve irritated mucous membranes of the throat, stomach and intestines.
Traditional Uses: The inner bark in infusion traditionally used to treat gastritis and ulcers. The bark extract from this tree acts as an antioxidant, it is mucilaginous and demulcent—an emollient. Externally, the extract is an excellent wound dressing, often used on burns. Also, it is used externally to treat gout and rheumatism and arthritis. Often used to treat gastritis and ulcers of the stomach and duodenum. Outer bark was used to induce abortions.
Modern Uses: It is still used by traditional medicine practitioners to treat colds and sore throats, bronchitis. Outer bark used to make salve. Inner bark dried and powdered added to water for gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, colitis. It is considered antisyphilitic and antiherpetic. The bark fraction is used in the Essiac cancer remedy, an unproven combination of slippery elm bark, sheep sorrel, burdock root, and turkey rhubarb root. The compounds may be purchased as lozenges or powder for making tea as a demulcent for respiratory irritations. See your licensed professional holistic health care practitioner for consultation.
Chemistry: Tannins, polysaccharides, phytosterols, sesquiterpenes.
Notes: Leaves are rough enough to shave with. An attractive tree that should be added to the garden for its beauty and timeless medicinal qualities.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum (Nutt.)Nees)
Description: A small to medium tree with mitten shaped leaves, aromatic leaves and twigs. The root is aromatic and smells a bit like root beer. Flowers are yellow green.
Location: Found in eastern forests, often along the edges of woods. It is a first growth in oak/hickory forests.
Food: Dried leaves of spring are used as file in gumbo. Simply crush the dried leaves to powder and use as a spice. Also, spread the leaf powder on pasta, soup, cheese and other savory dishes. For root tea, peel the root before you boil it.
Traditional Uses: Extracts are used to make perfume and root beer. The root oil was used as an antiseptic until 1960 when USDA declared it unsafe because of the content of safrole, a carcinogenic toxin. The root decoction was medicinally used in traditional healing as tonic and blood purifier to relieve acne, syphilis, gonorrhea, arthritis, colic, menstrual pain, upset stomach. Bark tea was used to cause sweating.
Modern Uses: there is no proven effect as a medicine, and because of the toxic effects of safrole the plant extracts should not be eaten. Small amounts of the dried leaves of spring are still used as a spice.
Chemistry: Safrole concentrated in the oil is carcinogenic to laboratory animals. Also isoquinoline alkaloids.
Notes: When camping I use the twigs as a toothbrush (chew stick). Chew the end of the twig until it is bristly, then use the bristles to clean between your teeth. Slippery elm twigs, rich in antioxidants, also makes a fine chewing stick.
Uva ursi Kinnikinnick, Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng)
Description: The plant is a trailing shrub, prostrate and mat forming. Leaves are dark, evergreen, leathery, smooth edged, obovate or spatula shaped, less than ¾ inch wide. Alpine variety of bearberry has larger leaves.
Location: I have found this plant in Michigan, Ontario, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia and throughout the Western and Eastern mountain states.
Food: Leaves dried and mixed with tobacco for ritual Native American smoke. Berry is dry, mealy, was cooked with goose fat and other animal fats and eaten. Because of the berry's lack of flavor they were often mixed with fish eggs and stronger tasting foods to extend the nutrition. Berries may be dried in a food dryer and smash into flour like substance. First people in the Northwest would use this flower like a spice on meat, liver. Leaves traditionally used in tea as a diuretic treatment for dropsy. Bell a Coola mixed berries in fat and ate them. Berries and leaves as a tea: tonic, diuretic, analgesic. Lower Chinook tribe dried berries then mixed them with fat for food. Native Americans boiled the berries with roots and vegetables to make a soup. typically, First people ate the berries with fish eggs, preferably salmon eggs. Berries are sauteed in grease until crisp, then placed in cheesecloth (pantyhose will work) and pounded to break up berries. Add raw or cooked fish eggs and stir, pound to mix some more. Sweeten to taste.
Traditional Uses: Whole plant was infused in water, then mixed with animal grease from a goose, duck, bear or mountain goat. The glue cooked from an animal hoof, either a horse or deer was mixed into the grease and the resultant salve was used on sores, scalp, babies scalp, rashes. Infusion of aerial parts was gargled as mouthwash to treat canker sores and sore gums. Dried leaves and stems were ground and used as a poultice over wounds. Infusion of leaves, berries and stems was taken orally for cleaning kidneys and bladder complaints as a diuretic. Same beverage had an analgesic effect on back pain and sprains. Berries were eaten or infused with whole plant for colds. The whole plant was also infused, then mixed with grease and taken for diarrhea. Kwakiutl smoked leaves for the reported narcotic effect. A decoction of leaves was used to treat a victim spitting blood. Dried leaves were crushed to powder and sprinkled on sores. Raw berries may be a laxative according to the Upper Tanana tribe. And raw leaves may be chewed to quench thirst when traveling as a sialagogue. The infusion of the whole plant was also taken to strengthen bones and bone breaks. Leaves and tobacco were mixed and placed in all religious bundles for spiritual healing. Ritual smoking: leaves dried, toasted or roasted, crushed and smoked alone or mixed with tobacco. Pioneers considered the leaf infusion best known as diuretic, astringent and tonic.
Modern Uses: A cold water maceration of the dried and powdered leaves may increase the percentage of arbutin and other active hydroquinones and lower tannin content. The hot tea is considered styptic, astringent, antibacterial. As a diuretic it increases urine flow. Also considered anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and has prevented kidney stone formation in lab animals. The prepared herb is approved by Commission E (Germany) for treating infections of the urinary tract. Commercially Available dried, powdered in capsules and as whole leaves for tea.. Also, there are numerous homeopathic preparations.
Warning: Do not use during pregnancy and while nursing. Avoid acidic foods when using the tea to treat urogenital and biliary tract diseases. Prolonged use may damage liver and inflame and irritate bladder and kidneys. Not recommended for children
Chemistry: hydroquinones, arbutin, tannins.
Notes: Berries were boiled to make a grayish to brown dye. An application of rushed berries was used to waterproof baskets.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.)
Description: A deciduous small tree or shrub to ten feet in height, but occasionally much taller. Bark is thin, brown on the outside and red on the inside. Very bushy. Younger branches are haired and yellow-brown. Leaves are alternate, margins are rough, blunt, and indented. Five to seven yellow, short stemmed flowers in clusters before leaves emerge. Flowers grow from the axils of the leaf buds. Petals are bright, long, narrow and linear, and roll to a spiral in the bad. Fruit capsule is odd shaped, woody, oval about ¾ inch long.
Location: Typically found in coastal forests of the East Coast. But I have found it in Michigan, and it is common in nurseries, gardens and arboretums.
Food: Not edible.
Traditional Uses: Leaves and bark are used. Native American used the leaf tea externally on muscle aches, athlete's food, wounds, burns and various skin afflictions. Tea was consumed for coughs, asthma, colds, sore throats, dysentery, and diarrhea. Tea is considered styptic to diarrhea. Used by Cherokee, Chippewa, Iroquois, Mohegan, Menominee and Potawatomi covering the whole range of the plant east of the Mississippi River. Twigs and inner bark are used in infusion to treat colds, pain, sores, fevers, sore throat, tuberculosis. Infusion of twigs also used to treat dysentery and bloody dysentery, diarrhea. Tea used externally to treat arthritis. Decoction of new growth tips, leaves and sprouts (shoots around base of plant) are used as a blood purifier or spring tonic. Young end tips used in decoction to treat colds and coughs. Root and twig decoctions were considered a panacea, a cure all for just about any ailment: bruises, edema, cholera, arthritis.
Modern Uses: Commercial products include liniments, eye ointments, and skin toning astringents. Witch hazel water is distilled from leaves and twigs to treat piles, also as an eye wash, and to treat hemorrhoids, colitis and varicose veins, sore muscles, bruises and sprains. Tannins from distilling the active compound used to treat local skin irritations and inflammations, including eczema. Witch Hazel water (distilled) contains no tannins but is still astringent and is used as a gargle for sore throat and sore gums. Commission E approved for external use on hemorrhoids, skin inflammations, venous conditions (varicose veins), wounds, burns, and for mouth and pharynx treatment.
Chemistry: Seven to ten percent tannins (protein precipitants): hamamelitannin, oligomeric procyanidins, monogalloylhamameloses, other gallotannins. Volatile oils: aliphatic alcohols and esters. Also safrole.
Notes: Popular use as a topical astringent.
Wildlife/Veterinarian: Native Americans decocted the twigs to make an insect bite wash. To prepare the remedy, First People dropped hot rocks in a skin bag of water. Gourds and pottery were used in the same way. The fire-heated rock provided an instant boil. Drug was then added and the wash was applied to bites.
Yaupon, Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria Ait.)
Description: Yaupon is an evergreen holly, shrublike with glossy green leaves, that have sharp points.
Location: It is found in Texas and throughout the Southwest.
Food: Berries are toxic, not edible.
Traditional Uses: Leaves and fruit were used in ritual healing by numerous First People nations. A decoction of the roasted leaves was used to make one vomit (emetic). It was used to purge and clear out organ systems. Sipping the decoction helped older people sleep by quelling nightmares. Said to cure talking in sleep and restlessness. It is considered hallucinogenic (hallucinogen). The long straight branches were used to make ramrods for flintlock guns and arrow shafts.
Modern Uses: Leaves are still roasted, then steeped in water to make a light tea as a diuretic and stimulant. Strong infusions are used in purification rituals to purify the body through vomiting. The stimulating property comes form the presence of caffeine in the plant much like the beverage Mate infused from the South American holly, Ilex paraquariensis.
Notes: The leaves and berries can be used to make dyes. The ripe red berries make a red dye in a mordant of alum. Use it on wool, place the wool item in the dye and let the color infuse in full sunlight. Grays can be achieved with leaves in water with iron and or copper.