Prickly Ash

Botanical Name: Zanthoxylum americanum Family: Rutaceae

Common name(s): Prickly Ash, Toothache Tree, Yellow Wood, Suterberry

GROWING

  • Shrub; perennial | Zone 3-7 | 8-15 feet tall | Small greenish flowers before leaves in April/May | Fruit grows in clusters at end of branches and is green to red to blue-black in color | Bark has scattered prickles
  • Grows in wood, thickets, and on river banks

HARVESTING

Berries are harvested in late summer. Bark is harvested in the spring. The bark is a stronger stimulant, and most of what I found refers to using the bark. The berries contain the essential oils, however.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-2 teaspoon of finely chopped or powdered bark and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 2-4ml 3x/day

External: can be applied as a poultice or compress to help promote healing. The powder can be applied directly to a toothache for pain relief or to treat receding gums.

MEDICAL

Constituents: Alkaloids, Essential oil (in the berries), fagarine, coumarins, resin, tannin

Actions: Alterative, antidiarrheal, antipyretic, antirheumatic, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, nervine, rubefacient, sialagoguestimulant.

Uses: Sluggish circulation, pyorrhea and toothache, arthritis and rheumatism, leg cramps, varicose veins

Cautions: Avoid during pregnancy and while nursing

CHINESE MEDICINE

Spicy, warm and infusing

SOURCES 

  • Herbal Remedies, Andrew Chevallier
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • Indian Herbalogy of North America, Alma R. Hutchens
  • Photo credit: “zanthoxylum americanum” by Manuel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I’ll be hunting my property for prickly ash this year! 

In my studies, one reference says that Prickly Ash is similar to cayenne, only it works slower.

Chickweed

chickweed

Botanical Name: Stillaria media Family: Caryophyllaceae

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

GROWING

  • 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.

HARVESTING

Harvest the aerial parts all season long.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

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.

MEDICAL

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.

CHINESE MEDICINE

  • Sweet, mildly bitter, cool

SOURCES 

  • 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!).

Plantain & Psyllium Seed

common plantain

Botanical Name: Plantago species Family: Plantaginaceae

Common name(s): Plantain (there are over 200 varieties)

GROWING

The psyllium seed produced commercially is from a cultivated variety of plantain native to India. However, the common plantain has seeds with similar qualities, although they are smaller. You don’t need to grow the common plantain. It grows everywhere!

HARVESTING

Harvest anytime! (But when leaves are young if you want to eat them, because they get tough and stringy as they age.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Steep 2 teaspoonful of dried leaves in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Take 3x / day.

Tincture: 1/2 tsp (2-3ml) 3x /day

Oil: gently bruise plantain leaves and cover with vegetable oil and let sit in the sun for a couple of weeks. Strain out the leaves. Use directly on the skin or in salves.

External: apply a poultice of the leaves to draw infections or foreign objects from the body, create a salve for all kinds of skin infections / irritations, prepare an ointment for cuts and hemorrhoids.

MEDICAL

Constituents: Flavonoids, mucilage, fatty acids, protein, starch, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, allantoin, bitters

Actions: astringent, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, mild laxative

Uses: Coughs, mild bronchitis, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, cystitis where there is bleeding, skin infections

SOURCES 

  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Prarieland Herbs

I’ve used plantain in a poultice for treating poison ivy. In my experience it was very drying on my skin. But it was used in combination with aloe and jewel weed, so it may have just been the combination that made it so strong.

Golden Seal

golden seal

Botanical Name: Hydrastis Canadensis Family: Ranunculaceae

Common name(s): Goldenseal, Puccoon Root, Yellowroot

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbacious woodland plant | Zones 3-9 | 10 – 15 inches | Greenish white flowers in spring, red berries in summer
  • Fairly dense shade. PH of 6-7 (will not grow well near oaks or evergreens).
  • Moist humus soil. Moderate water.
  • Propagate by root divisions in the fall, 6 – 8 inches apart, 1/3 inch deep. Propagation by seeds is possible, but more difficult and requires stratification and sprouting.

HARVESTING

  • Harvest the rhizomes in the fall (not spring) of the 4th – 6th year. The leaf can also be harvested but it’s not as potent.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Simmer 1 teaspoon root in 1 cup boiling water for 10 – 20 minutes. Very bitter, tincture or capsule form is usually preferred.

Tincture: 5-30 drops.

Roots can also be dried and ground to a powder and used in poultices.

MEDICAL

Constituents: hydrastine, berberine, resins, volatile oil, flavonoids, chlorogenic acid

Actions: alterative,antibiotic, anti-inflamatory, aperientastringent,bitter,hemostatic

Uses: Fighting and treating infections, particularly those of the mucous membranes of the respiratory, digestive, reproductive systems, and skin. It is a common ingredient in washes and topical treatments for eye and vaginal infections, skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, and as a mouthwash for sore mouth / gums.

Combinations: can be paired with echinacea to help fight off infections.

Cautions: It should not be taken during pregnancy, for some cases of hypertension, and from people suffering from anemia or hypothyroidism. If mucous membranes become irritated, discontinue use.

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Bitter, cold

SOURCES 

  • *The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung (directions for growing from seed)
  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar (recipes for topical applications)
  • photo credit: tgpotterfield via photopin cc

I wandered my property this past year taking pictures of plants. I haven’t identified all of them yet and there is one that looks similar to goldenseal but has rounder leaves. Sarsaparilla abounds on my forest floor but not sure about goldenseal. This year I’ll be hunting for it specifically (and potentially planting some)!

Oregon Grape

oregon grape

Botanical Name: Mahonia Aquifolium (a.k.a. Berberis Aquifolium) and related speciesFamily: Berberidaceae

Common name(s): Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape, holly leaved barberry

GROWING

  • Evergreen shrub | Zones 4/5 – 8 | 6 feet tall, 3-5 feet wide | Leaves resemble holly.  Clusters of yellow flowers March – May. Small grapelike berries July – September.
  • Native to the Pacific Northeast.
  • Well-drained, humus-rich soil. Protect from sun in hotter climates, from wind in cooler climates.
  • May be grown from seed or propagated via suckers.

HARVESTING

  • Harvest the root in late fall or early spring.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Boil 1 – 3 teaspoons chopped roots to 2 cups water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. 3 cups / day.

Tincture: 10-30 drops 3x/day.

Roots can also be dried and ground to a powder. Can also be be prepared as an oil infusion for external uses.

MEDICAL

Constituents: berberine alkaloid, other alkaloids (berbamine, oxyacanthine, and herba-mine)

Actions: alterative, anti-inflamatory, cholagogue

Uses: liver and gallbladder problems, menstrual irregularities, skin diseases, arthritis, cancer

Combinations: grows near and combines well with pipsissewa. Also dandelion root. For menstrual issues, combines well with tang kuei, cramp bark, chaste berry, and ginger in a tea.

Cautions: It should not be taken over a long period of time for people that suffer from anemia and hypothyroidism.

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Cool, bitter (while the berry is sour)

SOURCES 


Since I live in the Northeast, as I do my herbal studies I am always looking for what herbs I can grow and use here, preferably native plants. Michael Tierra says in his book that Barberry is the equivalent of Oregon Grape in the Northeast. It is of the same family. I’m finding information on Barberry in most of my herbal reference books, and Oregon Grape in only one of them. According to Annie’s remedy, all the Mahonia species are medicinal.

Chaparral

chaparral

Botanical Name: Larrea Tridenta | Family: Zygophyllaceae

Common name(s): Chaparral, Creosote bush, Greasewood, Hediondilla, Governadora, Guamis

GROWING

  • Perennial; Evergreen shrub | dessert areas of the Southwest | 3-6 feet | yellow flowers from March – September, followed by a fluffy white fruit.
  • Grown as a bush or pruned to a short tree. Nothing will grow under creosote bush because of toxins it gives off.
  • Drought resistant, it’s the dominant shrub in dessert areas.
  • Hull seeds to improve germination. Hard to root from cuttings.
  • Loose, well-drained sand or loam.

HARVESTING

  • Gather leaves from plants that have young green growth.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

There are many ways to prepare Chaparral, as it can be used both internally and externally. Tincture (10-30 drops at least 3x/day), powder, tea, water infusion (1/2 ounce fresh or 3-6 grams dry in a pint of boiling water), compress, poultice, oil infusion. It has a very strong (creosote) taste and smell.

MEDICAL

Constituents: NDGA (nordihydroquaiaretic acid)

Actions: alterativeantibiotic, antiseptic, parasiticide, expectorant, anti tumor, diuretic

Uses: blood purifier, cancer and tumors, antioxidant, arthritis and rheumatic pains, colds and flus, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, externally on wounds, bruises, injuries, and warts

Combinations: combines well with other alterative herbs

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Bitter, acid, slightly salty, cool

SOURCES 


I live in the Northeast and don’t know this plant at all!

Echinacea

echinacea

Botanical Name: Echinacea Augustifolia & Echinacea Purpurea | Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Purple Coneflower

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbaceous | zones 3-9 | 2-4 feet (Purperea is taller) | pinkish purple flowers from mid to late summer.
  • Stratify seeds for at least 3 months if starting indoors. Seeds germination rate = 50%; seedlings take 2-6 weeks to sprout. Echinacea grows in clumps; space 12 inches apart.
  • Grows in wide-open, grassy areas.
  • Full sun. E. Augustifloria requires poorer, dryer soil; E. Purperea requires richer soil and regular watering.

HARVESTING

  • Harvest the root in the fall or spring when they are 2 1/2 – 3 years old. E. Augustifloria is easier to harvest.
  • To use the whole plant, gather roots in the spring, young buds when the flower starts to bloom, some full flowers later in the season, and the root in the late fall.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Bring 1-2 teaspoons or the root in 1 cup of water to a boil. Let simmer 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: A whole plant tincture is more effective. Begin the tincture with leaves, then add the other parts as you harvest them, adding more alchohol as you go along. After you add the roots, let the tincture steep for 3 – 4 weeks. If making a tincture from dried roots, use E. Augustifloria. And leave it in the tincture for up to a year, because it will keep getting stronger. Use 1 dropperful (which looks like a half dropper) for every 50 pounds of weight. The dose can be taken as close as 1 hour apart when in crises, every 3-4 hours or more when not. 3x/day is more standard. It can be taken for as long as necessary when fighting infection.

MEDICAL

Constituents: volatile oil, glycoside, echinaceine phenolics

Actions: alterative, antimicrobial/

Uses: bacterial and viral infections, especially respiratory infections

Combinations: combines well with many herbs. For cystitis a combination with yarrow and bearberry is effective.

SOURCES 


I got some echinacea root (3-year old plant) from a fellow herbalist and made a tincture, left a few roots in the fridge that I chewed on, and dried a little bit of it so I can experiment with the differences. It is my understanding that a tincture is the most effective. I read someplace that you could tell if the echinacea was effective if it made your mouth tingle. The tincture I made – and shared with people at Christmastime – does just that. I made a few different tinctures this year, but I feel like this and my black birch tinctures are my first “medicine.” 

Yellow Dock

yellow dock

Botanical Name: Rumex Crispus | Family: Polygonaceae

Common name(s): Yellow Dock, Curly Dock, Broad-leaved Dock

GROWING

  • Perennial | zones 3-9 | 1-3 feet | numerous pale green drooping flowers, from June – July.
  • Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in the soil in single rows, about 8 inches apart.
  • Found in wet open fields. It’s found in the United States, Europe, and southern Canada.
  • Rich, sandy loam.

HARVESTING

  • Harvest the root in the fall of the second year.
  • Roots should be 8 – 10″ long and 1/2″ thick.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Grind 1 – 2 teaspoons dry root into a powder and add to 1 cup boiling water. Cover and steep for 15-20 minutes.

Decoction: 1 – 2 teaspoons fresh or dried roots to 1.5 cups of room temperature water. Slowly bring to boiling (in a covered pan) over medium heat and turn down heat to barely simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let steep for another 15-20 minutes. Strain and drink.

Tincture: (Preferred method) take 2.5 – 5ml of tincture 3-4 x/day taken on an empty stomach.

MEDICAL

Constituents: anthraquinone glycosides, rumicin, chrysarobin, tannins, oxalates

Actions: alterative, blood tonic, cholagogue, mild laxative

Uses: anemia, skin diseases, liver congestion

Combinations: combines well with burdock roots and seeds, stillingia, red clover, and sarsaparilla root

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Bitter, sweetish, cool

SOURCES 


I don’t have any personal experience with yellow dock, yet!

Burdock

burdock

Botanical Name: Arctium Lappa | Family: Compositea (thistle group)

Common name(s): Burdock, Common Burdock, Lappa, Rox’s Clote, Thorny Burr, Beggar’s Buttons, Cockle Buttons, Clot-Bur

GROWING

  • Biennial, herbacious | zones 3-7 | full sun to light shade | 3 – 4′
  • Any and all soils

HARVESTING

Parts used: Root

Harvest the root in September or October. Use a weed tool, they set roots deep like dandelions. Sometimes the roots go 2 – 3′ deep!

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction/tea: Bring 1 tsp roots in 1 cup of water to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: take 2-4ml of the tincture 3x/day

Food: Roots can be steamed (a steamed version called Gobo is found in Japanese restaurants).

Combinations: Use Yellow Dock, Red Clover, or Cleavers for skin issues

MEDICAL

Constituents: flavonoid glycosides, bitter glycosides, alkaloid, antimicrobial substance, inulin

Actions: alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, carminative, bitter

Uses: skin issues (particularly dry and scaly conditions), stimulation of digestive juices, especially bile secretion, cystitis, externally to heal wounds and ulcers

Cautions: None! It is one of the safest, tastiest and most effective detoxifying and cleansing herbs in both Western and traditional Chinese medicine.

SOURCES 

  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • photo credit: woolcarderbee via photopin cc

I left a couple of plants that look like burdock growing in my yard this year. However, I think they might be a different variety, not common burdock. Since burdock is a biennial, I’ll wait to see what kind of flower they have.

Little did I know that burdock is the plant that creates that burr that is THE WORST to get out of dog fur until I went looking for pictures of it! This picture above shows the flowers before they get to that dried brown sticky burr stage.

An interesting fact: Burdock burrs were the inspiration for velcro.

Sassafras

sassafras

Botanical Name: Sassafras Officianale / Sassafras Albidum / Sassafrass Varifolium | Family: Lauraceae

Common name(s): Sassafras, Saxifras, Tea Tree, Mitten Tree, Cinnamonwood

GROWING

  • Tree, deciduous | zones 4-9 | full sun to light shade | 20 – 50′
  • Neutral to acidic soil

HARVESTING

Parts used: Root bark, root and leaves

Harvest the root late fall as the energy returns to it. After a frost or two is ideal, but before the ground freezes. Pull up either young plants or dig between two plants for the connecting root (new sassafras trees develop from existing ones via suckers).

For making Filé (see *footnote, below), harvest young leaves.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction/tea: Bring 1-2 tsp roots in 1 cup of water to boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit an additional 30 minutes.

Oil: use externally, only

Tincture: take 1-2ml of the tincture 3x/day

Food: Has been used as a tea and beverage, the leaves have been used as a condiment and thickening agent* in sauces and soups.

Combinations: Use with Burdock, Nettles, and Yellow Dock for skin issues

MEDICAL

Constituents: essential oil, safrole, resin and tannin, alkaloids

Actions: alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, carminative, antirheumatic, disinfectant

Uses: skin problems (such as eczema and psoriasis), rheumatism, gout, fever, infection, mouthwash, dentifrice, head lice and other bodily infestations

Cautions: Safrole has been classified as highly toxic by the FDA. However, studies of the whole herb (which contain a complex balance of other elements) have proven safe in humans. Safrole is also found in many other herbs, including basil, black pepper, and nutmeg. But because of the alarm over safrole, you can no longer get sassafras beverages, you’ll need to make your own.

SOURCES 

*This is called “Filé” and is used in southern cooking. The leaves are gathered and dried, then ground up into a fine powder.


For some reason I’ve always loved sassafras trees, being tickled-pink when I come across them. Maybe it’s the mitten leaves. Maybe its because it brings me back to my childhood, when an adult came into our classroom and taught us about the life-cycle of a pond and other parts of the woods, including sassafras and pine forests (another favorite of mine).

And so I was really excited to find some sassafras at the end of my driveway, growing amidst a stand of young white pine trees. We cut back the pines right around the sassafras trees. And there is a second stand of sassafras on the other side of the driveway – the sentinels as you enter Dandelion Forest. Some people have cement lions, I have sassafras trees.