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Herbal Medicine Chest in Your Backyard
What could be easier than growing an effortless herb garden? Of course, you will have to harvest your weeds, but you would do it anyway: it’s called weeding.
Spring is an especially fertile time to harvest your weeds — roots and all — and turn them into medicine. Here are some tips on how to find, harvest, prepare, and use a baker’s dozen (13) common weeds that are probably already growing around you.
To make your medicines, you will need glass jars of various sizes with tight-fitting lids. And at least one pint each of apple cider vinegar (pasteurized), vodka (100 proof is best, but 80 proof will do), and pure olive oil (not extra virgin) or high quality animal fats such as lanolin, fat pig, or stomach. fat from a lamb or kid. You’ll also want a knife, a cutting board, and some rags to mop up spills.
In general, you will fill a jar (of any size) with fresh, but dry, coarsely chopped plant material. (Do not wash any part of the plant except the roots, if you are using them, and be sure to dry them thoroughly with a towel before placing them in your jar.) Then you will fill the jar with you. rule, that is the vinegar, the oil, or the alcohol. Label well and let stand at room temperature, out of sunlight for at least six weeks before decanting and using. (See my book Healing Wise for more specific information on preparations.)
A useful garden guide to properly identify your weeds. What I like best is: A guide to the identification of common weeds in New Zealand in colour, respected by EA Upritchard. (Available from New Zealand Weed And Pest Control Society, PO Box 1654, Palmerston North) This book even shows you what weeds look like when they appear.
Ready? OK! Let’s go out with a plant ID guide or experienced herbalist and see what we can find.
shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa pastoris) is an annual in the mustard family. Cut half of the top of the plant when it has formed its heart-shaped “wallet” (seed pods) and make a tincture (with alcohol), which you can use to stop bleeding. Midwives and women who bleed heavily during periods praise its rapid effectiveness. Gypsies claim it works on the stomach and lungs too. A dose is 1 drop (1ml); which can be repeated up to four times a day.
Cleavers (Gallium aparine) is a persistent, clinging plant that grows abundantly in abandoned plots and hedgerows of cultivated land. The whole plant is used to strengthen lymphatic activity. I cut the top two-thirds of each plant while it’s in flower (or set seed) and use alcohol to make a tincture that relieves sensitive, swollen breasts, PMS symptoms, and allergic reactions. A dose is 15-25 drops (.5 – 1 ml); repeat as necessary.
chickweed (Stellaria media) has many uses, including delicious salad dressings. I cut the whole head of the plant and eat it or use alcohol to make a tincture, which dissolves cysts, tones the thyroid, and helps in losing weight. A dose is one drop (1 ml), up to three times a day.
Daisy (Bellis perennis) is a common perennial weed in lawns and open areas. Quite different from the native Daisy (Lagenifera petiolata), the small English daisy is related to feverfew and has similar abilities. I use the leaves and flowers to make a tincture (with alcohol) or a medicinal vinegar that relieves headaches, muscle pain, and allergy symptoms. A dose is one drop of the tincture (1 ml), up to two times a day; or a tablespoon of vinegar in the morning.
dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is a perennial perennial in lawns and gardens and one of the most well-known medicinal herbs in the world. (Dandelions native to New Zealand – Taraxacum magellanicum – it’s medicine too.) Those who love a greener lawn curse the sunny yellow flowers of the common dandelion. But those who want to see beauty anywhere (like children and herbalists) treasure this weed. You can use any part of the dandelion – the root, the leaves, the flowers, even the stem – to make a tincture or medicinal vinegar that strengthens the liver. A dose of 10-20 drops of the tincture (.5-1 ml) relieves gas, heartburn, and indigestion, as well as promotes healthy bowel movements. A tablespoon of vinegar works well too. Most importantly, taken before meals, dandelion increases the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus increasing the bio-availability of many nutrients, especially calcium. Fresh or cooked leafy greens are loaded with carotene, anti-cancer, anti-heart disease boosters. And the oil of the flowers is an important massage balm to keep breasts healthy. (There is much more information about dandelions at Healing Wise.)
Yarrow, also called Yarrow Yarrow, Curly Yarrow, and Broad Yarrow is a perennial plant, used by my Native American grandmothers for “all women’s problems.” The Maori call it paehenua or runa. It is another plant that does not agree with sheep, especially when the soil is too much. I dug the yellow root Rumex crispus or R. obtusifolius and the tinctures of alcohol to use as an ally when the immune system or the liver needs help. A dose is 15-25 drops (.5-1 ml). I harvest the leaves and/or seeds throughout the growing season and make a medicinal vinegar, one tablespoon at a time, that is used to increase iron levels, reduce menstrual flow and cramps, and balance hormone levels. If the cut roots are soaked in oil for six weeks, the resulting aroma is beneficial to keep the breasts healthy.
Groundswell (Senecio vulgaris) and Ragwort (Senecio jacobea) are hardy perennials that have a reputation for poisoning animals, like their cousin the tansy. Although not good for sheep, these two Senecios are some of the oldest healing plants in the world, found in a 60,000 year old tomb. You can use the flower heads and leaves with your alcohol to make a slow-acting tincture to tone the reproductive organs, ease PMS, and stop severe menstrual cramps. A dose is 5-10 drops (.2-.5 ml) per day, used only once a day, but for at least 3 months. (A higher dose is used to speed up labor.)
Mallows (Malva neglecta, M. parviflora, M. sylvestres) grow well in neglected gardens and are surprisingly deep rooted. The flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, and roots are rich in sticky mucilage that 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 (relieves sore throats, upset stomachs, heartburn, irritable bowels, colic, constipation, and food poisoning) and externally (relieves bug bites, burns, sprains, and sore eyes). The leaves, flowers, and bark (especially) of the native Hohere (Hoheria populnea) is used in exactly the same way by Maori herbalists.
Plantain, also known as ribwort, pig’s ear, and the bandaid plant is a common weed in lawns, driveways, parks, and playgrounds. It is identified by the five parallel veins that run the length of each leaf. You can find banana leaves (Greater plantago) and broad-leaved, or narrow-leaved bananas (Plantago lanceolata) with lance-thin leaves. Silk can be used to make a healing poultice or a soothing oil widely considered one of the best wound healers around. Not only does banana increase the speed of healing, it also relieves pain, stops bleeding, removes foreign matter, stops itching, prevents and stops allergic reactions to bee stings, kills bacteria, and reduces swelling.
Try a poultice or a generous application of banana oil or ointment (made by thickening the oil with beeswax) on sprains, cuts, insect bites, rashes, frizzy skin, nails, bumps, chapped lips and chapped, rough hands or hurt, the baby’s diaper. the area, and burns.
To make a fresh banana poultice: Pick a leaf, grind it well and put it on the boo-boo. “Like magic” the pain, rash, and swelling disappear, fast! (Yes, you can dry banana leaves and carry them in your first aid kit. Grind like fresh leaves.)
To make banana flavor: Choose large fresh banana leaves. Cut roughly. Fill a clean, dry glass jar with the chopped leaves. Pour pure oil into the leaves, poke with a ring until the jar is completely filled with oil and all air bubbles are released. Looking good. Place the jar in a small bowl to collect any overflow. Wait six weeks. Then strain oil from the plant material, press well. Measure the oil. Heat it gently, adding one tablespoon of toasted beeswax to each fluid ounce of oil. Pour into jars and let cool.
Plan St. Joan/John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) This beautiful perennial wildflower may be hated by sheep farmers but herbalists adore it. The flower heads are harvested after they begin to bloom (traditionally on Solstice, June 21) and prepared with alcohol, and olive oil, to make two of the most useful remedies in my first aid kit. Tent St. Joan’s plan not only lends one a sunny disposition, it reliably relieves muscle pain, is a powerful anti-viral, and is my first choice treatment for people with shingles, sciatica, back pain, neuralgia, and headaches. aches and pains including migraines. The usual dose is 1 drop (1 ml) as often as needed. In extreme pain from a muscle spasm in my thigh, I used a drop every twenty minutes for two hours, or until the pain completely subsided. plan of Saint Joan oil stop cold sores in their tracks and may even relieve genital herpes symptoms. I use it as a sunscreen. Contrary to popular belief, St. Joan’s plan does not cause sun sensitivity; he prevented it. It even prevents burns from radiation therapy. Relieves sore muscles, too.
heal yourself (Prunella vulgaris) This perennial odorless mint is one of the great healers of the world. The leaves and flowers contain more antioxidants – which prevent cancer and heart disease, among other health properties – than any other plant tested. And as part of the mint family, self-healing is imbued with many minerals, especially calcium, which makes it an especially important ally for pregnant women, breastfeeding, menopause, and post-menopause. I put self-healing leaves in salads in the spring and autumn, make a medicinal vinegar with the flowers during the summer, and cook the flower heads (fresh or dried) in winter soups.
Usnea (Usnea barbata) is that gray lichen hanging from the branches of your apple tree or Monterey pine planted in the plantation or almost any tree native to the South Island Alps, where it is known as thin to the Maori. If in doubt about your identification: Gently pull a thread apart with your hand, looking for a white fiber inside the gray-green outer coat. To prepare usnea, harvest any time of the year, be careful not to take too much. Usnea is growing slowly. Place your crop in a cooking pot and just cover it with cold water. Boil for about 15-25 minutes, or until the water is orange and reduced by at least half. Pour usnea with water in a jar, fill it to the top with plant material. (Water should not be more than half of the jar.) Add the highest proof alcohol you can buy. After 6 weeks this tincture is ready to work for you as a superb antibacterial, countering infections anywhere in the body. A dose is one drop (1 ml) as often as every two hours in acute situations.
Yarrow (Achelia millefolium) This beautiful perennial herb grows in many herb gardens so it has a multitude of uses. Cut off the flower heads (use white-flowered spikes only) and use your alcohol to make a highly fragrant tincture that you can take internally to ward off colds and flu. (A dose is 10-20 drops, or up to 1 ml). I carry a small bottle of akulel tincture spray with me when I’m out and wet my skin every hour or so. A study by the United States Army showed that acyl repellent is more effective than DEET in repelling ticks, mosquitoes, and sand flies. You can also make a healing perfume with the flower head of aquile with your oil or fat. Yarrow oil is antibacterial, pain reliever, and incredibly useful in healing all kinds of wounds.
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