We don’t often think about those plants around us as the source of the pills in the cupboard. For many years witch doctors, herbalists, pharmacists, and researchers have been looking at plants to make new medications. As far back as we know this was going on. 

Some things worked and we find them mentioned in many places.  The Nebraska Weed Book (“Weeds of the Great Plains”, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Lincoln, NE, 2003) includes in its information about a plant its “medical” history.

          “The Healing Herbs” by M Castelman is 406 pages long. Its first chapter is “from Magic to Medicine” but I notice the 2nd is “Tempest in a Teapot-Are Healing Herbs Safe?” Starting with Alfalfa and going to Yarrow it lists 100 plants that we know and use or have used. “Coltsfoot” (Tusselago farfara) is called the worlds oldest cough remedy, (2,000 years) recommended by Greeks and Romans, Chinese and India, with Colonials bringing it to the Native Americans.  However, Europe has now banned its use because of liver damage from either the leaves or flowers.

          “Garlic” has been touted in the United States for years now.  Also called the stinking rose and studies come out every so often about what it can or cannot do.  It has been found in caves inhabited 10,000 years ago, as well as King Tuts grave. Castleman says Garlic was used to treat battle wounds in World War I.  It has been listed as medicinal for so many conditions that many studies have been done to check it out. During World War II Russian doctors used so much on war wounds it was called Russian penicillin.  Keep your eyes and ears open as we will hear more about Garlic.  The bulb was used as a form of currency in Ancient Egypt and is recorded on the walls of the Great Pyramids.

          One of the “Peterson’s Field Guides” is called “Medicinal Plants”, authored by Steven Fater and James Duke. Peterson drew the line drawings.  It is over 340 pages and lists the plants by regions of the United States.  I will pick a few of our common Midwest plants.  “Lily Of The Valley” was brought in from Europe but is planted all over the United States as a ground cover in shaded, damp areas. If you want to grow this plant in its favorite spot you will give it lots of room as it can be very aggressive. All ariol parts contain glycosides. If glycosides are received in proper dosage they can strengthen heart action.  The entire plant is listed as poison so self medication can be dangerous.

          Another small book “Medicinal Plants” by three pharmacists, 174 pages, has a list of plants in the month they can be harvested for medical use. Of the 200 plants in the book, among them is our Juniper tree with its blue berries. After it is at least three years of age, the wood and leafy shoots contain some lower amounts of a diuretic. 3-6 berries are chewed per day or a drink can be made. The berry juice can also be used as a liniment for rheumatism.  Berries can be collected by beating the bushes over a container to collect them. 

          The bark of the Willow Tree has been chewed for years to treat pain or as an anti-diarrhea. You may recognize its “Solicin” (aspirin). It became so popular that the pills were developed to control the dosage.

          The book “The Truth Lion” by Sanchez has only 132 pages, telling the history of the Dandelion. This plant was carried by women in the boats bringing them to the United States as a medicinal herb.  She says, “No other plant in the world has been linked with such a wildly diverse assortment of cultures and times.  Japanese gardeners formed societies to celebrate its golden beauty. Arab and Chinese physician wrote of its medical benefits a thousand years ago. Dandelions were neither food nor drink, they were medicine.” In 1551, 1562, and 1568 two herbal books were written praising the Dandelion as a medicine.

          The books author spends the pages praising the efficiency of the Dandelion to explain why they are always present.  A rat chopped in half is a dead rat.  A Dandelion chopped in half is two Dandelions. When sailors used to travel on the sea and ate salted food, many of them got scurvy which could be fatal. Some of the Captains found if they could reach land, even in the Spring, and find dandelions just coming up in the snow, their crews could be saved. The little book is full of stories about Dandelions and what we have gotten from them. One can purchase Dandelion greens now for a salad (most likely in a health food store) but at a price of about $6.00 a pound.  When I was about ten I collected Dandelion flowers for a wine maker.

          “The Green Pharmacy” by James Duke is a book of 481 pages that lists 461 ailments we can have and the plants, especially herbs that have been or are used to treat them.  There is a recipe for “Arthritis Soup”.

          Some of these books I have had for years so may be hard to find now. There is a fun one, “Wicked Plants” by Amy Stewarts (2009) that kill people, or are dangerous, that you might be interested in.  Jerry Baker has a book “Oddball Ointments, Power Potions” that he says “will cure whatever ails you”.

Copyright 2013