Elderberry (Sambucis nigra. S. canadensis, S. mexicana)
Elder shrubs dripping with their heavy load of berries in the fall, or shining with their starry flowers in the early summer, are a welcome sight! This bountiful shrub contains potent medicine that even tastes good! All species of the elder with blue and black berries can be used interchangeably.
Elder flowers arrive in early July and you can harvest these in bunches when they are at their peak, keeping in mind any flowers harvested will not turn into berries later that season. The flowers are a safe and effective relaxing diaphoretic (meaning it promotes sweating) herb that is very mild tasting - for these reasons it is often used to treat fevers in young children. Elder flowers can also be used as a bath herb or for external washes to soothe and soften the skin.
Elderberries are a tasty treat that also have many medicinal properties such as immunomodulating, anti-oxidant, and antiviral. This can make it an important ally at the first signs of a cold or flu. Because of its cooling tendencies, it may be appropriate to add a more warming herb, like ginger, when taking it for a cold with symptoms of being cold. The leaves and bark of this plant also contain strong medicinal properties mostly used for emetic and laxative effects. It’s recommended that a person interested in using these parts in this manner consult with a trained practitioner.
Elderberry syrup is a delicious addition to any herbal medicine cabinet - recipe will be posted soon!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Volumes could be written on the many uses of dandelion - indeed they have been! This common weed is often hated and poisoned by those preferring a “weed free” lawn, while those of us in love with dandelion and its many uses happily support it taking over our lawns. Every part of the dandelion can be used as food or medicine, making back door
herbalism simple and easy, as it should be.
When the first spring leaves pop up out of the ground they can be harvested heavily and eaten fresh with salads, made into a delicious pesto, or dried for tea. The leaves are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and many more vitamins and minerals. The French call this plant pissenlit, which alludes to its strong diuretic properties. A tea of dandelion leaves is a great way to flush excess water from the system. When eaten with meals, the bitter taste of the leaves helps to promote digestion by stimulating bile to relieve indigestion and other digestive disturbances.
The root is a great ally for the liver. It can be tinctured or eaten fresh in a variety of recipes. Dandelion root can help clear up acne and other skin disruptions with the root cause being a stagnant liver. Most herbalists agree that long-term use of dandelion is needed for best results.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Another must-have herb! Chamomile is a cheery plant that looks and smells beautiful. It makes a wonderful ground cover in gardens, producing a sweet scent when walked upon. Chamomile is a very well known herb that has been used by everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to modern day Peter Rabbit who was given chamomile tea before bed. To harvest this plant, gather the flowering tops just before they fully open.
Like many herbs, chamomile is multi-purpose:
- Externally, it can be used as a poultice or salve to heal burns, rashes and eczema.
- Safe for young children, it’s often the preferred herb for a wide range of common childhood complaints such as restlessness, colic, teething, whining, and fevers.
- Adults can also enjoy a cup of chamomile tea to soothe the nervous system, allaying stress and irritability, and thereby promoting calmness.
- Chamomile’s common genus name, Matricaria, insinuates its affinity for women and mothers. The tea can be drunk to bring on delayed menses, reduce uterine cramping, and relieve heartburn when pregnant.
Chamomile is easily prepared as a tea. To make it by the cup, steep
one teaspoon of dried chamomile for ten minutes. This makes a delicious
tasting tea. For a more medicinal brew you can steep it for 30 minutes.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is a wonder herb that produces a beautiful flower that exudes sunshine and joy. To harvest this highly resinous flower, pick it at its peak on a warm summer day. When making medicine with calendula, it’s almost always dried first. Drying calendula for oils decreases the water content, making a more stable oil, and it also concentrates the resins in the plant. When making a tincture of calendula, a higher-proof alcohol will extract more of the resins. Calendula will grow readily in your garden, often self-seeding after the first year of planting. By snipping the flowers regularly, you promote its growth.
Calendula has an affinity to encourage connective tissue to regenerate, therefore it can be made into oils and salves and used for a variety of skin conditions including:
- Varicose veins
- Broken capillaries
- Chicken Pox
- Fungal infections like athlete’s foot
- Internally it can be used to treat swollen lymph glands and soothe ulcers
- You can also spread the fresh petals over your salads for added color and beauty
This is a must have herb for any budding herbalist (pun intended). Shortly I will be posting a how-to for making calendula-infused oils and salves, which are like nature’s Neosporin! Smooth on some calendula salve and your skin problems will be solved in no time!
Burdock is a nourishing herb that has been used for thousands of years to aid in the healing of everything from acne to cancer. It is commonly referred to as an alterative, which is loosely defined as altering the body towards health. Burdock root is so effective because it is a super food that is jammed-packed with essential nutrients.
You may be familiar with burdock and the large burrs that this plant produces in the fall. Burdock is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years to complete its life cycle. The root is typically harvested for medicine in the fall of the first year. You can identify a burdock plant in its first year by the large leaves and absence of flower stalks and the burrs. The root grows deep into the earth and prefers hard rocky soils, which can make it a challenge to dig up. However, the effort put into gathering this tenacious plant is well worth it!
Common uses for burdock:
- Diabetes, syndrome X, insulin resistance, and other blood sugar disorders.
- Strengthening the liver and kidneys (burdock is very high in iron).
- Skin eruptions such as psoriasis, eczema, herpes, acne, and boils.
- Commonly paired with red clover as a duo that has been used for thousands of years to slow or eradicate tumors.
Note: Because of its high inulin content you want to limit the amount of fresh burdock you eat and cook it well. Inulin is a valuable substance, but it is difficult to digest and will cause excessive gas if not cooked thoroughly. Burdock is a strong diuretic and is not appropriate for people with low blood pressure or excessive urination.