Howdy Grow Appalachians! Holly from HQ writing, wrapping up what’s been a very busy month for us. But the weather is turning cooler and things, at least for now, seem to be slowing down a bit. Personally, I can’t believe how fast 2015 has gone- slow down, time!
I’m branching out a bit, in terms of my expertise, and sharing some information with you all this week about medicinal plants. Even though I both A, grew up in southeastern rural Ohio surrounded by woods, and B, hold a bachelor’s degree in biology, I have not really ventured out to take the time to study and learn about what could be growing, literally, right in my own backyard (Except perhaps not now…ah, the joys of semi-suburban living). Anyway, it turns out that some of those weeds and flowers can, in fact, be beneficial for you!
Before we jump in, what are medicinal plants? They’re exactly what they sound like: plants as a natural remedy for ailments and illness. Plants have been around much longer than modern medicine, and while I’m certainly not opposed to reaching for the Tylenol if I need it, it’s fascinating to me that using plants versus pills is, for lack of a better phrase, making a comeback. According to the World Health Organization, it’s estimated that about 80% of the world’s population still uses plants as primary health tools. To get us started, below is a list of commonly grown and used medicinal herbs and plants. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you have a favorite that isn’t on here, feel free to share it with us!
- Ginger– Most commonly used for its anti-nausea purposes, ginger also boasts a textbook’s worth of benefits. It contains anti-inflammatory properties, which are useful in relieving joint pain, muscle pain, or migraine pain. It contains protein-digesting enzymes that aid in digestion and is probably the best natural remedy for nausea. In addition, ginger also contains antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties, just to name a few. You can even enjoy ginger as a tea- simply chop off a couple inches of the root and steep in hot water. Many people also cook with it.
- Peppermint– If you go out to eat, do you sometimes wonder why you get a peppermint after your dinner? It’s because peppermint is very useful for a wide array of digestive issues. It is also a decongestant, so stock up if you feel a cold coming on. Peppermint also relieves stress and aids in memory enhancement- you’ve probably heard of chewing peppermint gum or mints while studying or taking a test to help with information retention. An added bonus: peppermint is also very easy to grow on your own.
- Thyme– Not only does thyme smell wonderful, it is also chock full of antioxidants and nutrients, such as vitamins C and A, iron, manganese, and dietary fiber. It also helps in the treatment of several types of arthritis, as well skin afflictions and conditions (acne, wounds and bites, oily skin, scars, etc). It also aids with memory/concentration and respiratory issues, much like peppermint. You can also easily grow thyme yourself.
- Aloe– If you are, like me, prone to sunburn, cut off a branch of aloe and apply the clear gel to your skin- it has amazing healing properties, other than just for sunburn!
- Echinacea– Often used to boost the immune system, it can also be used for treating burns, bites and stings, and other wounds. You’ve probably seen the flower at one point or another, so stock up; cold season is upon us!
- Yarrow– I think if our own’s Candace could reincarnate herself as a plant, she would choose this one! Yarrow, like many of the above mentioned plants, boasts anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties, as well as antiseptic and diaphoretic properties. Applied topically, it can also help aid in the healing of bruises, sprains, rashes, and itching.
- Chamomile- Primarily used in aromatherapy, this flower that resembles a daisy is known for its fragrant blooms, and is good for relaxation, stress relief, or sleep aid.
- Pot marigold- More commonly known as calendula, this warm-colored bloom is used to heal wounds and reduce fever, among many other ailments. It is also in the same family as chamomile and echinacea (Asteraceae)
- Nettle- Also known as stinging nettle, which doesn’t sound entirely pleasant, nettle is used primarily for allergy relief, particularly for those who suffer from hay fever. What’s great about nettle is that it doesn’t have any side effects that you might get from OTC allergy relief. Nettle leaves can be used to treat arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, and more.
- Elderberry– “Your father smelt of elderberries!” (Points if you get the reference). Both elderberry flowers and berries have numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, improving vision, boosting the immune system, for cold symptoms, and act as both a diuretic and diaphoretic. It’s important to note that while the berries are edible, they MUST be cooked: raw berries, roots, and leaves must not be consumed.
- Comfrey– Not to be confused with “comfy”…wait. Ok, never mind. Comfrey leaves, the part of the plant most often used, can be turned into a salve or poultice and acts as a cooling agent for muscle strains, to heal wounds, and to soften skin (emollient).
- Holy basil- Similar to sweet basil that you would grow in your garden, holy basil is part of a family known as adaptogens, which work to ensure physiological homeostasis. Or, in layman’s terms, relieve stress. It’s not a mood stabilizer; rather, it helps the body to function as optimally as possible during times of stress. Holy basil also contains antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Passionflower- Some of these are actually growing in Berea- they’re gorgeous! Passionflower is used today to treat insomnia and anxiety.
Taking it like a man! (Or like a woman)
Now that you have this crazy list in front of you, you’re probably wondering what to do with them once you get some of these growing. Much like the food you grow in your garden, you can process plants and herbs in numerous forms for your own consumption. The most common form of ingestion for herbs is drying them and making them into a tea. Simply select your herb or plant of choice, and dry either the herb itself or the leaves, steep in hot water and enjoy! Teas are also the most practical option for chronic or long-term illnesses or conditions.
Tinctures are essentially liquid forms of the herbs or plants, often using alcohol as a solvent, typically vodka, gin, or brandy. For an effective tincture, make sure the alcohol is 80 to 100 proof; half of the proof number is half of the %ABV (Ex:80 proof brandy would be 40% alcohol, 100 proof vodka would be 50% alcohol). If you have an alcohol sensitivity, or are making a tincture for children, apple cider vinegar can also be used a solvent, although it may not be as effective. To make a tincture, chop and dry herbs very finely, making sure they’re fresh. Place herbs in a clean, dry jar, and add enough liquid to cover the herbs 2-3 inches above, ensuring complete submersion. Place jar in a warm location and allow to soak for 4-6 weeks- the longer, the better. Shake the jar daily during the soaking period. Strain the herbs, reserve the liquid, and your tincture is now ready; it will keep almost indefinitely. Tinctures, when completed, are VERY potent, and only to be taken dropwise. More on tinctures here.
If using medicinal herbs or plants externally, consider making a salve, which is an ointment or balm used to heal the skin and protect it. Before you make a salve, you have to start with infused herbs, which involves soaking the herbs in oil, usually olive, and a heat source, either the sun (which takes 2-6 weeks), or in a slow cooker or double boiler (which takes a few hours, so this is a good option if you’re in a hurry!). Once your infused herbs are ready, the next step is making the salve. Take some time to research different recipes! Or you can ask one of our partner sites, GH17; they have an entire line of homemade body care products!
Are any of you medicinal plant users/growers/self-proclaimed connoisseurs? Share your thoughts with us!
Happy medicining, and stay warm! (It’s chilly in Berea today!!)
P.S. Anyone want to guess what’s featured in the first picture? Hint: it is mentioned in the above list.