Medicine at Your Feet
This week's blog is another guest post written by homesteader, Alicia Owen
I'm sure many of you are aware that there are quite a few plants out there with medicinal properties. In fact, some of these are what modern pharmaceuticals stem from (bad plant pun intended). According to the book Medicinal Plants of the Heartland, "Of the one thousand plant species that are used directly or yield some by-product used by the pharmaceutical industry, approximately five hundred grow as native, naturalized, or cultivated plants in the United States." The book goes on to describe two hundred fifty of the plants most commonly found in the "heartland", but let's examine a few easy-to-find plants native to our areas of Indiana and how you can use them**!
Elderberry trees typically flower during the summer (Hoosiers have found our own variations in this depending on weather) and produce ripened, dark purple berries between August and September.
Parts used: Ripe berries
Uses: Making the berries into a syrup (or gummy "vitamins" with a recipe like this) which helps prevent common illnesses such as colds, and also helps you recover from sickness faster. Overall, they work to boost your immune system.
Plantain and Chickweed
Chickweed is abundant in springtime in our area and can still be found here and there even in late spring/early summer. Plantain seems to be a hardy little plant and you can find it all throughout the warmer months. Like dandelions, plantain is tenacious and not picky about where it grows.
Parts used from Plantain: leaves
Parts used from Chickweed: The whole plant
Uses: I lumped these two together because they make an excellent salve when combined for cuts, burns, and insect bites. Think of it as a really good Nature Neosporin. Using it on cuts and scrapes, I think that it works twice as quickly in healing as standard antibiotic ointments.
Plantain also makes great poultices, which is really a fancy word for mashing things up with some liquid. Whether it be water in a mortar and pestle, or spit if you're in a pinch, applying the resulting plant goo on your wound keeps it from external infection. Plantain poultices are especially good for helping with itchiness associated with insect bites and drawing out thorns or spiky hairs from other plants. Photo courtesy of Jokko Marat.
This is the type of plant that you may walk right by without giving second thought to (I know I did), but once you notice its unique stalky stems and quaint little yellow flowers, you should have no trouble identifying it!
Parts used: Stem, leaves, juices
Uses: Jewelweed is excellent in helping with bug stings, bites, and other skin conditions. Rub the juice and/or leaves against poison ivy for some instant relief. (Fresh plant juice was also used to rub on foreheads to relieve headache pain.)
One of its medicinal properties is an anti-inflammatory and fungicide, which is why it is great to use with insect stings as well as warts, ringworm, eczema, and more.
These, like chickweed and plantain, also grow abundantly in our area all throughout the warm months. They sport small, purple, flowers in early to mid-spring and have easily recognizable heart shaped leaves.
Parts used: Flowers, leaves
Uses: Violets have tons of uses, but here are a few for some common ailments.
You can soak a towel in an infusion of violet flowers and warm water to use as a compress to help with swelling. All parts of the plant contains salicylic acid, making it useful for skin conditions such as acne, worts, and to soften hard skin (such as on your heels). Making an overnight infusion with fresh leaves can be used as a mouthwash to help with gingivitis and mouth sores/ulcers.
We know, It's kind of tough to swallow at first that these yard nuisances could actually be useful, but, like violets, they have many uses!
Parts used: Leaves, stem, flowers
Uses: Although not medicinal, many people say that dandelion salads are a delicious, easy-to-come-by meal. Feeling a bit bloated? Dandelion tea (infusing the yellow flower heads) works as a diuretic to help you get rid of excessive water weight. Drinking dandelion tea is also said to cleanse the blood, help with liver and gallbladder functioning, and even help prevent gallstones from forming! You can also use dandelion juice (squeezed from the stem) or tea to rub on stiff joints to ease aches and swelling.
Would you be willing to try native plants in a medicinal context? What would be the first one you would try?
**DISCLAIMER: Never ingest or use any type of plant unless you are 100% sure of what it is! When in doubt, ask someone more knowledgeable.