SPENCER: Discovering the medicinal plants of your garden

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For thousands of years, Native Americans have used herbs not only to heal the body, but also to cleanse the mind and bring balance to their lives and surroundings.

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There are few recorded stories of the use of medicinal herbs in their past culture, but oral history suggests that the natives learned the power of herbs and plants by observing animals, specifically sick animals.

Herbs such as sage, used for digestion problems, ginseng for colds, wild cherry for pain, and willow bark for fever, are just a few of the hundreds of herbal medicines used as a remedy. by the ancestors of our lands. There are plants that can be ingested, dipped, rubbed on the skin and so on for almost any ailment. The wonderful part being that it’s free, effective for animals, and used by humans for centuries.

So why aren’t we accessing drugs more often in our own backyards?

Years ago, an herbalist friend told me about the power of Plantago major. It is a species of flowering ‘weed’ in the plantain family (Plantaginaceae) and is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has become widely naturalized elsewhere in the world, including here. In fact, it is the most abundant and widespread medicinal crop in the world.

My friend told me how very nutritious this edible wild plant is. It is rich in calcium and vitamins A, C and K. The tender young leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten. She told me about the benefits of this plant as a suggestion to my allergies which were in full swing at the time.

Scientific studies have shown that plantain extract has a wide range of biological effects, including “healing, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immunomodulatory, and antiulcerogenic activity,” according to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.

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My herbalist friend described the appearance of the plant as “small broad leaves, smaller than the length of a finger with several parallel veins and a green-brown stem extending from the middle”.

She showed me a picture on her phone and to my delightful surprise I knew the exact plant.

As a family that does not fertilize or use any chemical treatments on our lawn, we actually had a full crop of plantains on our front and back lawns. Each plant producing up to 20,000 self-pollinating seeds, I had more of these weeds than grass.

So I followed his advice. I went to my back yard one morning when my allergies were in full eye, in sneeze mode, found some of the younger leaves (less bitter), rinsed them off (I have two dogs) and tossed them. chewed and swallowed. Lo and behold, after about 30 minutes, my allergy symptoms cleared up.

Plantain can also be used in a tea for indigestion or made into a poultice to place on skin irritations and insect bites to reduce itching and inflammation.

Modern medical herbalists use the knowledge of traditional and historical plant medicine and combine with the latest modern scientific research. Medical herbalists can provide cures for ailments with their in-depth knowledge of the hundreds and hundreds of plants on our land.

But did you know that some of the most common garden plants and weeds (like plantain) can be powerfully beneficial to you and your health?

Dandelions are one of the healthiest and most versatile vegetables on the planet. The whole plant is edible. The leaves are like vitamin pills, containing generous amounts of vitamins A, C and K – far more than even garden tomatoes. It also contains calcium, iron, manganese and potassium.

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The leaves are tenderer and tastier when young in spring. But also throughout the summer there is regrowth as the plant bounces back after you cut or pull them. You can add them to soup or you can make them the Italian way by sautéing them with a little olive oil, salt, garlic and hot red pepper.

When my kids were young, they’d pick dandelions for me and say, “We picked flowers for you, mom,” and while many thought it was a pesky week, I always found them adorable (or maybe that’s it). was the feelings of my children) and put them in a vase. with water. But did you know that you can also eat these bright yellow dandelion flowers?

They can be lightly breaded and fried. You can also make a simple wine with the flowers by fermenting them with raisins and yeast. If you are slightly

adventurous, you can roast dandelion root, grind it and brew it like coffee. It can be a little bitter, so you can add honey or stevia to the mix.

Good old Portulaca olearacea or commonly known as purslane tops the list of plants with omega-3 fatty acids, the type of healthy fat found in salmon. This stuff appears in gardens and sidewalk cracks all over rural areas as well as cities. It is easy to uproot, grows profusely and has a lemon flavor. Stems, leaves and flowers are all edible. They can be sautéed or more commonly served around the world fresh in a salad.

If you decide to forgo chemical fertilizers and live in a low pollution area, the lawn and garden weeds that many consider undesirable are the same medicinal plants that were eaten by indigenous peoples and still used by many today for nutrients, healing and remedies. .

Check your garden to see what medicinal treats it may have for you!

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Alvin J. Chase