One of my first, and still one of my favorite, reasons for learning about plants was to become more in tune with my environment: the weather, the flows of water, the places of special energy, Mother Nature herself. The woods are lovely and deep, and there are many mysterious and powerful plants there, but they are special allies for special times.
(Speaking of which, the Russian government, I am told, in desperation, went to consult with the witch Baba Mat, The Wise Old Woman Who Lives In The Land Of Many Tall Trees Beyond The Black Mountains. She is rumored to be an excellent herbalist and the only one who can save Mother Russia.) And while I like to walk in the woods, the plants I find myself using on a daily basis are the weeds right under my feet - in gardens, yards, driveways, playgrounds, hospitals, fence rows, institutions, and campuses. These ordinary plants have abilities that seem miraculous to me.
Shepherds' purse (Capsella bursa pastoris) is an annual in the mustard family. Cut the top half of the plant when it has formed its little heart-shaped "purses" and make a tincture to stop bleeding. Midwives dealing with postpartum hemorrhage and menopausal women who bleed heavily praise the prompt effectiveness of dropperful doses (1ml).
Cleavers (Gallium aparine) is a persistent, sticky plant which grows profusely in abandoned lots. To strengthen lymphatic activity cut the top two-thirds of each plant while it is in flower (or setting seeds) and tincture it in 100 proof vodka. I find it unsurpassed for easing tender, swollen breasts, PMS symptoms, and mild lymphedema. It is also reduces allergic reactions. I use 15-25 drops (0.5 - 1 ml) as often as every half-hour for 4-5 hours or as needed.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) has secret dissolving powers. Ovarian cysts, dermoid cysts, lumps in the breast and elsewhere can't hold their own against her slippery ways when a dropperful (1 ml), is taken 4-5 times a day, persistently, for many months. And have you tried chickweed pesto? It vibrates with antioxidant power!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is a persistent perennial of lawns and gardens and one of the best-known medicinal herbs in the world. All parts - the root, the leaves, the flowers, even the flower stalk - strengthen the liver. A dose of 10-20 drops of the tincture (0.5-1 ml) relieves gas, heartburn, and indigestion, as well as promoting healthy bowel movements. A tablespoon of the vinegar works well, too. More importantly, taken before meals, dandelion increases the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus increasing bio-availability of many nutrients, especially calcium. And the oil of the flowers is an important massage balm for maintaining healthy breasts. (There's lots more information on dandelion in Healing Wise.)
Dock, also called yellow dock, curly dock, and broad dock is a perennial plant, which my Native American grandmothers use for "all women's problems". I dig the yellow roots of Rumex crispus or R. obtusifolius and tincture them. I also harvest the leaves and/or seeds throughout the growing season to increase blood-levels of iron, reduce menstrual flooding and cramping, and correct hormone levels.
Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and Ragwort (Senecio jacobea) are some of the world's most ancient healing plants, having been found in a grave 60,000 years old. You can use the flowering tops and leaves to make a tincture which acts slowly to tonify the reproductive organs, ease PMS, and stop severe menstrual pain. A dose is 5-10 drops (0.2-0.5 ml) per day; used only once a day, but for at least 3 months. (A larger dose is used to speed up labor.)
Mallows (Malva neglecta, M. parviflora, M. sylvestres) are surprisingly deep-rooted. The flowers, leaves, stalks, seeds, and roots are rich in sticky mucilage which is best extracted by soaking the fresh plant in cold water overnight or longer, or by making a medicinal vinegar. The starch is extraordinarily soothing internally (easing sore throats, upset tummies, heart burn, irritable bowel, colic, constipation, and food poisoning) and externally (relieving bug bites, burns, sprains, and sore eyes). The leaves, flowers, and bark (especially) of the native Hohere (Hoheria populnea) are used in exactly the same way by Maori herbalists.
Plantain, also called ribwort, pig's ear, and the bandaid (TM) plant is a common weed of lawns, driveways, parks, and playgrounds. Identify it by the five parallel veins running the length of each leaf. You may find broad leaf plantain (Plantago major) with wide leaves, or narrow leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) with lance-thin leaves. Either can be used to make a healing poultice or a soothing oil widely regarded as one of the best wound healers around. Not only does plantain increase the speed of healing, it also relieves pain, stops bleeding, draws out foreign matter, stops itching, prevents and stops allergic reactions from bee stings, kills bacteria, and reduces swelling. A first-aid kit in a leaf!
I use a generous application of plantain oil or ointment (made by thickening the oil with beeswax) on sprains, cuts, insect bites, rashes, chafed skin, boils, bruises, chapped and cracked lips, rough or sore hands, baby's diaper area, and burns.
To make a fresh plantain poultice:
Pick a leaf, chew it well and put it on the wound or bite.
"Like magic" the pain, itching, and swelling disappear, fast! (Yes, you can dry plantain leaves and carry them in your first aid kit. Chew like you would fresh leaves.)
To make plantain ointment:
Pick large fresh plantain leaves.
Fill a clean, dry, glass jar with the chopped leaves.
Pour pure olive oil into the leaves, poking about with a chopstick until the jar is completely full of oil and all air bubbles are released.
Place jar in a small bowl to collect any overflow.
Wait six weeks. Then strain oil out of the plant material, squeezing well.
Measure the oil.
Heat it gently, adding one tablespoon of grated beeswax for every liquid ounce of oil.
Pour into jars and allow to cool.
St. Joan's/John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) This beautiful perennial wildflower may be hated by sheep farmers, but herbalists adore it. The flowering tops are harvested after they begin to bloom (traditionally on Solstice, June 21) and prepared with alcohol, and with oil, to make two of the most useful remedies in my first aid kit. Tincture of St. Joan's wort not only lends one a sunny disposition, it reliably relieves muscle aches, is a powerful anti-viral, and is my first-choice treatment for those with shingles, sciatica, backpain, neuralgia, and headaches including migraines. The usual dose is 1 dropperful (1 ml) as frequently as needed. In extreme pain from a muscle spasm in my thigh, I used a dropperful every twenty minutes for two hours, or until the pain totally subsided. St. Joan's wort oil stops cold sores in their tracks and can even relieve genital herpes symptoms. I use it as a sunscreen. Contrary to popular belief, St. Joan's wort does not cause sun sensitivity - it prevents it. It even prevents burn from radiation therapy. Eases sore muscles, too.
Self heal (Prunella vulgaris) This scentless perennial mint is one of the great unsung healers of the world. The leaves and flowers contain more antioxidants - which prevent cancer and heart disease, among other healthy traits - than any other plant tested. And as part of the mint family, self heal is imbued with lots of minerals, especially calcium, making it an especially important ally for pregnant, nursing, menopausal, and post-menopausal women. I put self heal leaves in salads in the spring and fall, make a medicinal vinegar with the flowers during the summer, and cook the flowering tops (fresh or dried) in winter soups.
Yarrow (Achellia millefolium) This lovely perennial weed is grown in many herb gardens for it has a multitude of uses. Cut the flowering tops (use only white-flowering yarrow) and use your alcohol to make a strongly-scented tincture that you can take internally to prevent colds and the flu (a dose is 10-20 drops, or up to 1 ml). I carry a little spray bottle of yarrow tincture with me when I'm outside and wet my skin every hour or so. A United States Army study showed yarrow tincture to be more effective than DEET* at repelling ticks, mosquitoes, and sand flies. You can also make a healing ointment with yarrow flower tops and your oil or fat. Yarrow oil is antibacterial, pain-relieving, and incredibly helpful in healing all types of wounds.
©Susun S. Weed