With the growing season now well underway, there are a number of wild plants growing around us that represent edible wild foods and potent traditional medicines. Dig into your ancestor’s medicine chest and try a few of these remedies the next time you need them in the field or at home.
Pick a Poultice: Plantain (Plantago spp.) is a handy field remedy, but it’s great to have on hand around the home for treating the bite of a venomous insect or arthropod, too. Take several leaves of any plantain species (the older and more bitter, the better), and grind or chew them into a paste. Put this paste directly on the bite or sting and the pain should begin to subside almost immediately. Keep the poultice in place with a bandage or dressing, and keep it moist. Change it every few hours or at least once a day; though you probably won’t need to leave it on that long. Bee stings and similar wounds should be much better within 24 hours. Additions to a plantain poultice can include fresh red clover flowers, stinging nettle root (antihistamine), and yarrow.
Halt Bleeding with Yarrow: The yarrow plant (Achillea millefolium) also has a long history as a powerful healing herb used topically for wounds, cuts, and abrasions. The genus name Achillea is derived from the Greek hero Achilles, who supposedly carried yarrow to treat the battle wounds of his soldiers. Its medicinal traits are also reflected in some of yarrow’s common names, such as staunchweed and soldier’s woundwort. Yarrow’s healing properties include:
• Styptic: Yarrow can stop bleeding quickly, due to its astringent and vasoconstricting compounds.
• Antibacterial: The crushed leaves, fresh or dried, contain compounds that have an antibacterial action. This leaf material can be applied directly to wounds, or soaked in water to make a tea that can be employed as a hot compress.
• Diaphoretic: A strong yarrow tea can increase perspiration, helping to break a fever.
• Anesthetic: Crushed fresh leaves can have a numbing action, though not for everyone. If it does work for you, it’ll desensitize nerves and help with toothaches, cold sores, and boils.
Fight Allergies with Goldenrod: The yellow tops of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) can be dried and used in a tea for allergy relief. It works even better when blended with stinging nettle root or other natural antihistamines. Dry the tops in late summer for use throughout the year.
Heal with Acorn Water: Crushed acorns steeped in hot water can provide a great remedy for inflamed and irritated skin, as well as for toothaches. Make a small batch of this strong medicinal fluid by boiling a handful of crushed oak acorns (Quercus spp.), shells and all, in a pint of water. Soak a clean cloth in this dark brown water and apply it to rashes, ingrown toenails, hemorrhoids, and any other inflamed skin ailment. Leave the cloth in place, and repeat this treatment as needed. For tooth troubles, swish the bitter water back and forth in your mouth, holding it in there as long as you can. Spit it out when you’re done, as tannic acid will irritate the GI tract if swallowed.
Stop Diarrhea with Blackberry: The same blackberry shrubs (Rubus spp.) that grow berries can also provide you with a tea that relieves diarrhea. Collect the green leaves and dry them (before, during, or after fruiting). Steep two teaspoons of dried leaf in a mug of hot water. Drink this and repeat every few hours until symptoms subside. Alternatively, the roots can be used (with the same proportions and timing) to make a stronger medication.
Have you ever made your own wild-plant medicine? Let’s hear about it in the comments.