Botanical Name: Chimaphilla umballata Family: Ericaceae | Subfamily: Pyrolaceae

Common name(s): Pippsissewa, prince’s pine, ground holly


  • Perennial | Zones 5-8 | 6-12 inches tall | Lance-shaped, toothed, waxy leaves (pale underneath). Flowers whitish pink with a ring of red anthers, May – August
  • Found in dry, shady woods


The whole plant is harvested when in bloom. Leaves can be harvested throughout the season.


Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1 teaspoons of the leaves or root and let sit in a covered container for 5-10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 2-15 drops, as required. A tincture is the preferred medicinal dosage.

Externally: Apply fresh leaves to rheumatic joints and muscles, and blisters, sores, swelling.


Constituents: Hydroquinones (including arbutin), flavonoids, triterpenes, methyl alicylate, tannins.

Actions: Aperient, alterative, antiseptic,astringent, bitter tonic, diuretic

Uses: Urinary tract infections, arthritis, rheumatism. Even more than these uses are found in homeopathic medicine.*

Cautions: Used externally, it may cause skin irritation – redness, blisters, peeling – to susceptible individuals. Avoid long term use.


  • Bitter, astringent, cool


  • Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Peterson Field Guide (Foster & Duke)
  • Indian Herbalogy of North America, Alma R. Hutchens
  • A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier
  • Herbs2000.com
  • photo credit: Little Pippsissewa via photopin (license)

Pipsissewa is a member of the wintergreen family.

*also used in homeopathic medicine for acne, breast cancer, cataract, cystitis, diabetes, dropsy, fevers, enlarged glands, gleet, gonorrhoea, liver disorders, nephritis, proctitis, prostatitis, pterygium, ringworm, scrofula, stricture, syphilis, toothache, ulcers, unrinary disorders, whitlow – source: Indian Herbalogy of North America.



Botanical Name: Petroselinum crispum Family: Umbelliferae

Common name(s): Parsley


  • Biennial; herbaceous | Zones 5-8 | 12-20 inches tall | White, umbel flowers in early to midsummer in the second year
  • Full sun; partial shade


Aerial parts can be harvested any time. Harvest the roots the fall of the first year or spring of the second year.


Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoons of the leaves or root and let sit in a covered container for 5-10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 10-30 drops, 3x/day.

Food: Use as a culinary herb. It is a rich source of vitamin C.


Constituents: Essential oil (strongest in the seeds), apiol, myristicin, glycoside apiin, vitamin C, mucilage (in root), starch, sugar.

Actions: Anti-rheumatic, aperient, antisepticantispasmodic,  carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue (the seeds), expectorant, sedative

Uses: Urinary inflammation, fluid buildup, stimulating menstruation

Cautions: do not use during pregnancy


  • Root: Sweet, bland, neutral
  • Leaves: Spicy


  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman


Did you know parsley was a great breath freshener? Just grab a few leaves and chew them up. I knew this, but I didn’t know any of the other stuff I just learned while researching this post!

Gravel Root

Joe-pye weed

Botanical Name: Eupatorium purpureum Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Joe-Pye Weed, Trumpet Weed, Purple Boneset, Queen of the meadow, Kidney root


  • Perennial | Zones 3-8 | 5-6 feet tall | Purple to white flowers August and September
  • Distinguishable by the ~1-inch purple band around the leaf joint.
  • Found in low places and meadows, often where it is damp


Harvest the root in the fall.


Decoction: Put 1 teaspoon in 1 cup water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 10-30 drops, 3x/day.


Constituents: Volatile oil, euparin (a flavonoid), resin

Actions: Anti-rheumatic,anti-lithic, carminative, diuretic

Uses: Kidney stones, most urinary tract issues including incontinence and rheumatism


  • Bitter, pungent, neutral


I looked up gravel root only to find out it is Joe-Pye Weed, which is how I know it. I did find out how it got that name while writing up this materia medica. It was named after a New England medicine man who used it to cure typhus. Interesting discoveries while doing my herbal studies. I just LOVE this stuff! 

I have Joe-Pye Weed in my orchard – although I believe it is Eastern Joe-Pye Weed (E. dubium). And as you can see from this picture (not mine), the butterflies love it!

Juniper Berries

Juniper Berries

Botanical Name: Juniperus communis Family: Cupressaceae

Common name(s): Juniper


  • Evergreen tree or shrub | Zones 2-9 | Gardens, yards, fields
  • Full sun


Harvest the ripe berries (they ripen the second year and will be dark purple). If drying, dry in the shade to preserve the oils.


Infusion: Steep, covered, 1 teaspoon of the berries in a cup or boiling water for 20 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 2-3x/day.

Tincture: 10-30 drops 3x/day.

External: Apply as a diluted essential oil (made by steam distillation)

Note: You can also chew on the berries, but not too many (6-10/day).


Constituents: Volatile (essential) oil, various sugars, resin, vitamin C

Actions: Antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, anti-rheumatic, emmenagogue

Uses: Cystitis, edema, digestive issues, chronic arthritis/rheumatic conditions, stimulates menstruation and increases menstrual flow

Cautions: Should not be used in the case of Kidney disease, infection, or pregnancy because of it’s powerful action on the kidneys.


  • Spicy, sweet, warm


  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Indian Herbology of North America, Alma R. Hutchens
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier
  • The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody
  • Backyard Foraging, Ellen Zachos
  • photo credit: Waxy blue berries via photopin (license)

Eastern Red Cedar’s (J. virginiana) berries are also medicinal – I remember these berries on our cedar tree when I was a kid. And, yes, juniper berries (unripe) are used to make gin.

Corn Silk


Botanical Name: Zea mays Family: Gramineae

Common name(s): Corn silk, corn tassles



Harvest the silk when it is still golden/green and sticky (this is before corn is ready to eat).


Infusion: Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 ounces of fresh herb (or 1 ounce dry) and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Drink 1/2 cup, 3x/day.

Tincture: 15-30 drops in water between meals and before bedtime.


Constituents: Allantion, maizenic acid, saponins,  sterols, vitamins C & K

Actions: Alterative, demulcent, diuretic

Uses: Urinary infections/inflammation, bed wetting, edema

Combinations: with dandelion root and golden seal for advanced urinary complaints – 4:2:1 ratio of corn silk to dandelion root to golden seal


  • Sweet, bland, neutral


  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Indian Herbology of North America, Alma R. Hutchens
  • Back to Eden, Jethro Kloss
  • photo credit: corn silk via photopin (license)

Corn silk?!!! I always just thought it was that annoying thing that was hard to get off of your fresh ears of corn! I’ve also read that it is a good thickening agent (kind of on the idea of cornstarch).



Botanical Name: Stillaria media Family: Caryophyllaceae

Common name(s): Chickweed, Starweed, Starwort, Stitchwort (and more!)


  • Annual; considered a weed | Zones 3-8 | Grows along ground, 6-15 inches | Very small white flowers all season (March – September) | Leaves are smooth and oval, stalks are hairy
  • Grows everywhere, easily reseeds | Good ground cover because the roots are shallow and don’t compete with garden plants.


Harvest the aerial parts all season long.


Infusion: Pour 2 cups boiling water over 2 ounces of fresh herb and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Drink 1/2 cup, 3x/day.

Tincture: A dropperful 2-3x/day. (This is not the most common way of using chickweed, but useful for preserving it for use off-season.)

Food: Can be eaten as a green, in salads, or added to juices.

Salve: Infuse wilted fresh greens (spread in a single layer on a basket, screen, or towel out of the sun for a few hours until limp) in oil and use directly or to make a cream.

Notes: The fresh leaves don’t dry or store well, so it’s best to freeze or tincture them, or make them into a salve.


Constituents: Vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, coumarins, saponins

Actions: Alterative,  antitussive,antipyretic, demulcent,diuretic, emolient, expectorant, vulnerary

Uses: Nutrition, weight loss (stimulates the metabolism), kidney and liver disorders, skin irritation, eye irritation. Mild enough to be used on babies and children as a salve for diaper rash.


  • Sweet, mildly bitter, cool


  • Mother Earth Living
  • Susanweed.com
  • Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs (Peterson Field Guide)
  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra

This picture is chickweed in my garden (really close up, the flowers are tiny, and the leaves are delicate). I have another sprawling, similar looking plant in my front garden with larger white flowers and pointier leaves. Loved this article for helping me identify chickweed via its internal “stem.” Still trying to identify that other plant! I haven’t eaten chickweed yet because I wasn’t sure about its identification (you gotta be sure before you eat the weeds!).

Love your kidneys

My herb class is awesome. Today I’m writing about how amazing your kidneys are. You know, I took biology (and loved it) but everything was so factual – brain stuff, missing the heart. I love the herbalist approach to health and the body so much more!

Did you know, for instance, that most of the liquid you take in isn’t eliminated by the kidneys (hard to believe for those of us on long rides that need to find the next rest stop after drinking a big bunch of water or tea!)? The liquid you take in is filtered by your kidneys and some of it (3-6 pints, daily) is used to eliminate toxins (your pee). The rest of it is absorbed back into your system along with the substances your kidneys know to keep (like sodium, potassium, etc.). Smart little fellas.

What other functions do the kidneys perform?

  1. They help maintain the proper PH balance
  2. They help regulate blood pressure (via the hormone Renin that they produce)

And lastly – and this is why I love herbalism – they help regulate our emotional state. I mean, what doctor is going to tell you that?

If you retain water (yin excess), you can experience symptoms of PMS. Women often retain water just prior to their period. I never knew that! Did you know that? This explains a LOT!

If you are dehydrated (yang excess) you can become angry / hot tempered.

My studies also mention a headache as a symptom of too much water, but I personally know that you can get a headache from becoming dehydrated. So maybe a headache is basically a symptom of kidney imbalance.

I will be writing up materia medica for the kidneys. You’ll find them tagged with urinary.

Symptoms of Kidney Imbalance

Kidneys are pretty sturdy organs, but if you notice any of these symptoms, you might want to consider nurturing them with some herbs:

  • Dark, puffy circles under your eyes or water retention in other areas of the body
  • Depression / blues
  • Headache
  • Allergies
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Tenderness in the lower back, where your kidneys sit
  • Itchy or irritated ears / eyes
  • Skin rashes
  • Insomnia

Restoring Kidney Imbalance

Like any health issue, there are some universal things you can do to help bring your kidneys back into balance. These include:

  • Adequate Rest
  • Good nutrition
  • Drink lots of water / herbal teas

In addition, particular to the kidneys:

  • Sit up straight so you don’t put pressure on them (slumping = no good. Actually, sitting too long = no good, as well)
  • Drink cranberry juice
  • Take a kidney tonic (made out of combinations of herbs good for the kidneys)
  • Find techniques to deal with stress (kidneys react to stress)
  • Avoid caffeine, alchohol, and drugs (which all tax the kidneys)

If you find you do have a kidney imbalance – especially if you have a few of the symptoms listed above – see an herbalist, who can formulate specific tonics based on your condition and can recommend other supportive behaviors.

Please note that the information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat health issues. Its intent is to inform people on how to prevent disease. If you are dealing with a health issue or on medication, you should not add herbal treatments without discussing them with your doctor.



Botanical Name: Galium aparine Family: Rubiaceae

Common name(s): Cleavers, Clivers, Clives, Goose Grass, Bedstraw


  • Annual; wild, considered a weed | Zones 4-7 | Creeping/climbing plant that can grow up to 6′ | Very small white flowers in late spring/summer | Small, hooked hairs on leaves and stems | Root can be used as a permanent red dye
  • Grows everywhere, likes moisture


Harvest from spring to fall


Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2-3 teaspoonful of dried herb and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: Take 2 – 4ml 3x/day

Juice: The juiced (or pulverized) plant is stronger medicine than an infusion. Take 1 teaspoon, 2 – 3x/day as a tonic, or can be used in external preparations (compress, cream, hair rinse)

Food: Can be eaten as a green, like spinach.

Oil: Infuse wilted fresh greens in oil and use directly or to make a cream.


Constituents: Coumarins, glycosides, tannins, citric acid

Actions: Alterative, aperient, astringent, diuretic, refrigerant,tonic

Uses: Lymphatic cleanser, cystitis or gravel, bed wetting, to break fevers, skin conditions, like dandruff and psoriasis, but also burns and inflammations.

Combinations: Poke root* and echinacea for the lymphatic system; Yellow Dock and Burdock for skin conditions.

Cautions: Cleavers can cause a rash in some individuals. If you break out in a rash, DO NOT ingest the plant. Cleavers is also highly astringent and should only be taken internally for up to two weeks, then skip one or two weeks before taking again.


  • Bitter, cool


*Poke weed (recommended in more than one source as a combination with cleavers) is a very powerful and toxic plant. Please read the information at the link provided. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Toxic-free living


For about a decade, I have been trying to figure out how to live a toxic-free life. This is not completely achievable in our current society, but there are a lot of things an individual can do. Here is a list of some of what I do. It’s taken quite awhile to get here, so I thought I’d share.


It’s good for me, it’s good for the planet, it’s extremely good for all the animals. I do eat local honey, though. Sometimes when I’m in a situation when my own food isn’t available, it turns into a vegetarian diet.

I make my own nut milk.

I make a health shake most mornings to get a lot of nutrients in one meal. It includes hemp/nut/chia seeds, detoxing spirulina/wild blueberries/dulse, magnesium-rich cocao powder, almond milk, fresh greens, and frozen banana and other fruit. Sometimes I add other things, but that’s the base.

I make fresh juice.

I also eat gluten-free. 


I still get a lot from the grocery store, especially things like bananas, avocado, and citrus fruits, which don’t grow in my climate. But I trust the food I grow because I use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. I also buy from local food growers if they grow organically (not necessarily certified, because that is too much hassle for a small farmer, plus government involvement in food is why I grow my own). I do look for the organic certification when in stores.

I dehydrate/dry and freeze herbs and produce and make herbal tinctures from plants on my property and in nearby wild places.

The additional benefit of growing my own food is it connects me back to the land. We need that connection for our personal well-being.


Your skin is your biggest organ. You don’t want to slather it with chemicals, which it will absorb into your body. Here are some of the things I do:

I rarely use makeup, except for mascara (blond eyelashes). When I do wear makeup, it’s Bare Minerals.

I make my own toothpaste. It’s actually a tooth powder, and my dental hygienist, not knowing that I had switched, said my teeth looked great.

I use a salt crystal for deodorant and finish it with a home-made dusting powder,. (My powder contains cornstarch, baking soda, bentonite clay, lavender and lemongrass Essential Oils.)

For shampooing, I use J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bar and an Apple Cider vinegar rinse. I love what it does to my hair, it costs less money, and it’s healthy!

I don’t use nail polish/remover. Ugh. Hate the smell, hate the idea. You can use a buffer to give your nails a shine.

I only put on sunscreen if I am going to be long enough in the sun to get a burn. Otherwise I work around being in the sun for too long (I have fair skin and freckles.) And I buy my sunscreen from a health-food store.

I wash my face with Dr. Bronner‘s soap diluted with water in a soap dispenser. I’ve started to moisturize with coconut oil.

You can find healthier beauty options, including sunscreen, at the EWG Skin Deep site.


I make a homemade laundry detergent.

I make my own citrus vinegar cleaner by filling a half gallon mason jar with orange (or lemon, or lime) peels and pouring in white vinegar and letting it sit in a dark spot for 6 weeks. That makes a concentrate. I dilute it with water for a spray cleaner.

Baking soda makes a good sink/tub scrub. Spraying the vinegar on top gives it extra cleaning power.

I buy Seventh Generation or other healthy products for the things I haven’t started making on my own – for example, liquid dish soap and dishwashing detergent.


Keeping our environment clean helps reduce the toxicity. I am trying to do better in this area, but it’s really a challenge.

Composting our food scraps (or giving them to the chickens) gives us nutrient-rich soil amendments for our garden.

Reusable shopping bags cuts down on plastic bags. (And when I forget or don’t have them with me, I save the plastic bags for lining my wastebaskets.)

A refillable glass water bottle (you can use steel, too, but the taste of the water isn’t as pure) cuts down on plastics – both for ingesting and disposing.


I’m working on this one. A daily sweat will release toxins from your body. My favorite forms of exercise are hiking, snowshoeing, and yoga. Most of them aren’t high sweating activities. But I can get a moderate sweat going.

I hope this list will help to inspire you. You can do it! Just take one step at a time.



Botanical Name: Agathosma betulina Family: Rutaceae

Common name(s): Buchu


  • Perennial; bush | South Africa and some parts of South America – cannot grow easily outside of its natural habitat | 2 – 3 meters | White or mauve star-shaped flowers
  • acidic (ph 3.7-5.3), nutrient-poor, sandy soil | Grows on slopes | Hot, dry summers and rainy winters


Is very specialized and the technique is passed down through the generations by experienced cutters. Care is taken not to damage the plants, and harvesting of the leaves happens in February, after they have had a chance to produce seed. Leaves must be processed right after picking for the volatile oil.


Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-2 teaspoonful of dried herb and let sit for 10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: Take 1 – 4ml 3x/day


Constituents: Flavonoids, essential oil (including pulegone and diosphenol, the key active constituent), sulfur compounds, mucilage

Actions: Carminative, diuretic, urinary antiseptic

Uses: Cystitis, nephritis, and urinary infections.

Combinations: Cornsilk and juniper for cystitis, uva ursi and cornsilk for prostatitis.

Cautions: Should not be taken when pregnant since the pulegone constituent is an abortificant and emmanagogue (stimulates menstrual cycle).


  • Pungent, warm


I loved stumbling across the African Aromatics article while researching this herb!