There’s a saying, “the best herbalist is not someone who knows one use for 100 plants, but 100 uses for one plant.” and that is where I want you to start… Here are 7 plants to get you on your way to working with herbal medicine. The plants below can be taken as teas, tincture, glycerites, capsules and topically as poultices, compresses or in salves.
Ginger – Zinziber officinalis: Found throughout the tropical world, native to various parts of Asia, Ginger is one of those spices that everyone seems to know. It can be found in candies and confections, teas, and many different dishes. Ginger is an amazing medicine for fighting off colds and the flu, especially when there is digestive upset. It soothes a nauseous stomach in the case of morning and motion sickness. It also will settle a “sour” stomach and help with menstrual cramps when the bleeding is not too heavy. A wonderful tea for menstrual cramps would include Ginger as well as two other plants on this list… Yarrow and chamomile. Ginger is also a nice tea for soar throat and a chest cold, mix with other plants on this list, echinacea and licorice! Ginger can be used topically as a compress for sore muscles and bruises or in a bath for the same.
Yarrow – Achillea millefolium: Native to Europe and has been naturalized around temperate regions of the world, Yarrow is often a common garden “weed”. Called by the Roman’s Soldier’s Herb/Plant, it was used as a styptic (stops bleeding) in the field for various injuries. Yarrow has what we call an affinity for blood, an intelligence of sorts, in that is knows how to work with the blood for what it is needed for… meaning, if you have bruises or congealed blood, it will break up the blood and get it moving, OR if you are bleeding and need it to stop, it will stop it up. Therefore, yarrow can be indicated for a variety of menstrual complaints from a heavy flow to a scanty one. Yarrow is also wonderful for bacterial and viral infection as it helps to maintain a healthy fever while also being antiseptic. Yarrow can be used internally as a tea or tincture, or topically as a poultice or compress.
Chamomile – Matricaria sp.: Native to Europe, this too has been naturalized around temperate regions of the world. Chamomile is anti-inflammatory to the skin and eyes and is an antispasmodic and nervine internally. Chamomile compresses can be used for itchy, irritated eyes (where the person is not allergic to asters) and in creams and lotions for sensitive skin prone to redness. Internally I love chamomile for menstrual cramps, gassy belly and nerve pain. Steep like any tea, but use two tea bags and cover for 15-20 minutes. Make sure that your chamomile is mostly flowers, some places will sell cut leaves in the mix, which dilutes the potency and adds unnecessary weight and cost,
Echinacea – Echinacea purpurea: Native to North American, Echinacea was originally used by the indigenous Plains people to denature the venom of snake, spider and scorpion bites/stings. It wasn’t until much later that the Germans did studies, which found that echinacea potentiates the immune system. I always use echinacea in the case of spider, scorpion, ant, bee, wasp and animal bites/stings. I have not had the opportunity to try it out on snake bites, which I would someday like to treat, though I don’t want anyone to get bit. I also use echinacea in the case of a staph or other bacterial infection. Echinacea always needs to be taken in high doses for shorter periods of time, high dose meaning 2 – 4 tablespoons every few hours for the first day and a tablespoon every four hours for the following days. Echinacea is a threatened species in the wild, so always make sure your source is domesticated and organically grown.
Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: Native to India, tulsi, also known as Holy Basil is a delicious, uplifting tea that brightens the mood, relaxes the nerves and eases an upset stomach. Tulsi is a true adaptogen, meaning that it works on the endocrine system, specifically the adrenal glands to help our bodies cope with stress. Tulsi is a great remedy for cannabis fog. In replacement for coffee, I love tulsi mixed with yerba maté. For tension headaches, I love tulsi, meadowsweet, skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)and lemon malm (Melissa officinalis) in equal parts as a tea.
Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra: Native to China, licorice can be found around the world. Many people do not like licorice because they associate it with black jelly beans and other artificial sweets, but that flavor is actually anise, not true licorice, which just tastes very sweet. Licorice is a demulcent, meaning it moistens and soothes tissue, especially mucus membranes, like the throat and lungs. Licorice is also an adaptogen and helps down regulate hyper immune issues, such as allergies. It also is a great antiviral and can be used for colds and the flu.
Meadowsweet – Filipendula ulmaria: Also native to Europe, meadowsweet is one of our natural sources of salicylic acid, which is an anti-inflammatory and can actually remove the outer layer of the skin, being used in acne and fungal treatments topically. Meadowsweet is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and salicylic acid is a metabolite found in Aspirin, but the plant will not thin the blood. It is also used in cases of bowel inflammation and can be used with plants like ginger or licorice to bring relief to various ailments of the digestive system.
This has been an extract from the author’s blog @The Village Witch and is used with permission.
A representative for Mother Nature as a writer and teacher of Deep Ecology, Therapeutic Ecology and whole systems design through the lens of Herbalism and Permaculture. Sarah Wu has 20 years studying the science, art and craft of Planetary Eclectic Herbal Medicine, with a foundation in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Wise Woman Tradition.