People have been using plants as “medicines” for ages. Many of these you may have in your garden. But be careful as some can cause a rash, some may cause calm, while other stress, and some can even kill. Still other can cure various degrees of illness, or there are those causing malignancies. We are worried about side affects from any pills or “meds” in a prescription. Can you imagine what happened when someone went outside, brought in a plant and boiled it or smashed it and then gave it to the sick one? Some of our drugs now are based on those old recipes.

          In searching through books to find those houseplants or garden flowers we grow now that were considered medicinal in the past, I found 8 pages of those that have been used just for toothache. Root paste from CASTER BEANS was pushed into cavities. Remember, we consider CASTER BEANS to be poisonous. The roots were boiled with cornstalks and rubbed on the gums.

          I have CATNIP growing in the back yard.  It was added to CLOVES and made into a poultice on aching teeth.  Also fresh leaves of YARROW were chewed, GARLIC bulbs were held against the gums. Our gorgeous waxy, early BLOOD ROOT was dug (it bleeds red) and applied to the teeth. My little patch of BLOOD ROOT has never been used that way.  The plant prefers damp soil in a semi-shady place.  The white waxy (3 inch) blooms appear first, followed by leaves of various lobed shapes that disappear by late summer when we have very hot weather or dry soil.  The clump has spread slowly by rhizomes.  I have never seen seeds but I do have several solitary plants quite a ways from the original.

          Among the Peterson Field Guides there is one call ‘MEDICINAL PLANTS”. For those of you who hate BINDWEED, it can be used as a “cold leaf tea” on spider bites. It can also be used as a laxative, for gall bladder ailments, and jaundice. Think of this as you spend several years trying to get it out of your flower beds.  The roots go deep and may recover from a treatment of glysophate (Round-up, Kleen-up, or Ortho Weed and Grass Killer) but don’t give up.  It took me 3 years of chopping it down, pulling it up and spraying. Watch close if you neighbor has it. There are those who consider it a “pretty flower”. It is a relative of the MORNING GLORY and some authors also list it as a weed as it sheds seeds that live for a number of years.

          Garlic (Allium sativium) has been used for everything.  Even today there is some discussion going on about how good it is.  Cough syrup is made by “simmering 10 cloves in a pint of milk, add honey” and take as needed.  Kosher dill pickles with a clove added to the jar is one of my “hunger cures”. Name the ailment and GARLIC has been recommended sometime somewhere.  Both CHIVES and GARLIC are Allium or ONION family.  It likes a partial sunny, moist, loose soil.  You can raise from seed but will take 2 or more years.  You can divide the clumps in spring but the more usual way is to break off the offsets (cloves) and plant separately in autumn.  There is giant GARLIC which is milder.  Since it is highly water it needs to be damp but gets root rot easily in wet soil.  Plant the cloves about 2 inches deep.

          Many of us have LARKSPUR (Delphinium ajacis) in our yard about 3 feet tall.  It blooms of red, pink, and mostly blue during May and June .  When its seed matures I pull the plants, shake them, rake the ground and plant another flower.  A clump of blue is gorgeous and called annual DELPHINIUM by many.  It is a terrific seeder for much of the area around but doesn’t transplant well. It will kill livestock if allowed to grow in their grazing area.  The genus name is from Ajax who killed himself when he wasn’t declared “the bravest of Greek troops”. The flower grew from his blood.  It was used in ancient days to kill lice and itch mites.  It was used as such by Union Troops in the Civil War. It quite often comes up in the fall and waits for spring and dries up soon after blooming.  I usually pull it up and plant a fast grower such as ZINNIAS in its place.

          LILY OF THE VALLEY (Convallaria majalis) is a vigorous 5 inch plant that is both loved and hated as a ground cover in shaded areas. It is classified as poisonous by US Food and Drug Administration. Herbalists back in the 16th century used it to ease gout and strengthen memory. It is used today in some heart remedies.  If it likes where planted (usually as a groundcover) it will spread rapidly.  Spreading by root rhizomes I have had it go under a fence out to the sidewalk.  Its tiny blooms are quite often put in bridal bouquets.

          Did you know there is a STRYCHNINE TREE ? And that PINEAPPLE slices were used on wounds to help them heal, and now BROMALIEN is a meat tenderizer as well as used for clearing away dead tissue caused by burns, abscesses, and ulcers.  The POPPY gives us morphine to deaden pain, and an IPECAC shrub is used to make people vomit after taking a poisonous substance. There are 4 foot GINGER stalks but the GINGER we know as an herb or a tea for colds and flu is taken from the roots.  If you read an herb book you will find many uses such as foot bath, candied ginger, and ginger oil for earache. One can find ginger root in grocery stores some times.

          I have a number of books about plants used as medicine. Among them are “Medicine and Magic of Plants”, “Petersons Field Guide of Medicinal Plants”, “Natures Prescriptions”, “The Green Pharmacy”, “Natures Cures”, “Medical Botany”, and “The Healing Herbs”. There are probably many more available.


Copyright 2009