Valerian

valerian

Botanical Name: Valerian officinalis

Common  name(s): Valerian

GROWING

  • Perennial, herbaceous | Zones 4-7 | Partial shade | 3-4’ clumping | blooms late spring / early summer (white flowers with a touch of pink, very fragrant)**
  • Woodland plant. Can tolerate sun as long as it stays wet.
  • Direct sow. Space plants 12-15” apart.

Companions: skullcap

HARVESTING

  • Harvest root in the fall of the first year or the spring of the second. They deteriorate in quality by fall of the second year.
  • Clean thoroughly and dry in the shade.
  • The root has a very strong, unpleasant fragrance.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 tsp of the root, let infuse for 10-15 minutes.

Alternative Infusion: let 1 teaspoon soak in a cup of cold water, covered and placed in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. This way none of the essential oils will evaporate.

Tincture: 2-4ml (10 drops – 1 tsp), 3x/day

Combinations: skullcap (tension), hawthorn berry (high blood pressure), cramp bark (cramps), passion flower and hops (insomnia)

MEDICAL

Constituents: Isovalerenic acid, valerenic acid, caffein acid, tannins, sesquiterpenes, glycosides, essential oils, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins

Actions: strong sedative and pain reliever

Uses: stress, tension, insomnia, nervous system disorders, irregular heartbeat and anxiety that causes it, high blood pressure, muscle relaxant, headaches, pain, menstrual cramps, some forms of epilepsy

Cautions: avoid taking large doses for an extended period of time (causes headache, heaviness, and stupor). Irritating and stimulating to some people.

CHINESE MEDICINE*

Spicy, bitter, warm

SOURCES 

  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
  • *The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra (gives botanical name as Scuttelaria baicalensis)

**A Modern Herbal says it blooms from June – September. Will have to verify. It also says may not flower the first few years, but propagates like strawberries.

 


I received a valerian plant from a friend and planted it down by my stream (the picture above is that plant). I went back recently and I can’t find it! I’m sure it’s there, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised some day at the citizen of the forest it has become. I also spread a bunch of seeds in my new orchard. They came up – not very strong yet – and I’m waiting to see how they come back next year.

Wood Betony

wood betony
Botanical Name: Betonica officinalis (Stachys officinalis) | Family: Labiatae (Mint family)

Common name(s): Wood Betony, Betony

GROWING

  • Perennial, herbaceous | zones 5-8 | 1′ tall | purple blooms from midsummer, on
  • Woodland plant, prefers a moist / shady growing habitat. Will grow in clay. Not a rapid spreader. Seeds need to be stratified for several weeks if starting indoors.

HARVESTING

Collect aerial parts just before the flowers bloom. Dry carefully in the sun.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water onto 1 – 2 teaspoon dried herb. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

Tincture: take 2 – 6ml of tincture 3x/day.

MEDICAL

Constituents: Alkaloids including betonicine, stachydrene and trigonelline

Actions: sedative, nervine tonic, bitter, astringent

Uses: tension headaches, anxiety, sedative, neuralgia (minor aches and pains). Feeds and strengthens the central nervous system.

Combinations: combines well with skullcap for treating nervous headaches, and with equal parts ferverfew, rosemary and skullcap for migraines/nervous headaches

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Bitter, cool
  • Nervous system, liver, heart

SOURCES 

  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • *The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • www.herbcraft.org
  • photo credit: original by Nigel Jones via photopin cc. Modified by me to enhance brightness and contrast.

Note: Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide shows a completely different plant, Lousewort (Pedicularus canadensis), which also is called Betony or Wood Betony.


In my last wildcrafting class conducted by Emily of Sweetgrass Herbals, she gave me some wood betony seeds, which I’ll plant in the orchard next year!

Catnip

catnip

Botanical Name: Nepeta Cataria | Family: Labiatae (Mint family)

Common name(s): Catnip, Nebada (Spanish)

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbaceous | zones 3-7 | 15-24 inches tall | white, purple-spotted flowers on and off in the summer.
  • Found in many environments. Full sun to shade, no special soil needs.
  • Reseeds readily

Companion planting: french or red-veined sorrels, nasturtium, shiso, sage

HARVESTING

Collect aerial parts anytime during the growing season. Cut the plant back to 3-4 inches above ground. It will grow back within a couple of weeks, providing multiple harvests during a season.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Parts: Aerial parts, fresh or dried

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water onto 2 teaspoon dried herb. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: take 2 – 4ml of tincture 3x/day.

Baby dose: ¼ cup of weak tea in a bottle, add a pinch of sugar to sweeten if needed; or mix the tea with breast milk

MEDICAL

Constituents: Volatile oils including citronella, geraniol, and citral; bitter principal; tannins

Actions: carminative, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, sedative, astringent

Uses: colic, teething, hyperactivity (safe plant for children); cold & flu / fever, bronchitis, stomach upset, dyspepsia, flatulence

Combinations: Combines well with Boneset, Elder, Yarrow or  Cayenne for colds

CHINESE MEDICINE*

  • Spicy, bitter, cool
  • Lungs, liver, nerves

SOURCES 

  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • *The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • http://www.aridlandhomestead.com/the-herb-cabinet-catnip/
  • photo credit: fermicat via photopin cc

I planted catnip in my garden this year, but I don’t remember where and I can’t find it! Maybe this week, as I’ve taken a harvest vacation from my day job to work in the gardens and harvest all the food remaining, it’ll turn up. I’ll let you know….

Dandelion

dandelion

Botanical Name: Taraxacum Officianale | Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Dandelion

GROWING

  • Perennial, herbaceous, broad-leaf | zones 3-9 | full sun to part shade | 8 – 24″
  • Found everywhere, lawns, gardens, roadsides, etc. Does best in fertile soil.

HARVESTING

Parts used: Roots, leaves, flowers

Harvest leaves anytime, but spring leaves are less bitter. Harvest roots in the early spring or the fall before they get too woody. Harvest the flowers while they are blooming (and leave some for the bees!).

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: prepare the leaves as a tea.

Decoction: 2-3 tsp dandelion root to one cup water; bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day

Tincture: take 5-10ml of the tincture 3x/day

Food: All parts are edible, young leaves are good in salad, roots can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute, or cooked and eaten like any root vegetable. The flowers are edible, too.

MEDICAL

Constituents: carotenoids, essential oil and bitter principles*, inulin, calcium, iron, potassium, vitamins A, B, C, and D, trace minerals, milky latex

Actions: alterative, antirheumatic, mild diuretic, bitter, tonic, laxative

Uses: high blood pressure/edema (leaves), digestive issues (roots), warts (milky latex), Rheumatism, constipation, general tonic

Cautions: Some people are allergic to the milky latex of the flowers and stems

SOURCES 

  • A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • K-State on Dandelion

* each of my sources listed a bunch of different chemical constituents so I’m just generalizing some of them, as well as listing other recognizable ones.


I’ve always loved dandelions, but never ate them before, or used them medicinally. I made some tinctures this year – a vinegar-based and an alchoholic-based one. And I’ve roasted the roots and ground them to make a coffee substitute. They smell wonderful while roasting. But they are as bitter (or more bitter, according to my husband) as coffee. My son, who can’t do caffeine said they taste just like coffee, so there you go. A couple of verdicts. I tried some, man is it bitter, but I feel the same way about coffee.

As for the leaves, I’ve tried them in salads and they are also a little bitter for my taste, but I’m hoping to develop more of a taste for bitter herbs because they are so good for you! We’ve gotten so far away from our wild food over time that most of us have lost the taste for it.

Chamomile

chamomile

Botanical Name: Matricaria recutita (German chamomile), Chamaemelum nobile (Roman) | Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Chamomile, German chamomile, Roman chamomile (a.k.a garden chamomile)

GROWING

  • German chamomile (annual, to 24″), Roman chamomile (perennial, herbaceous, 8-10″) | Zones 4-9 | Full sun / Partial shade | blooms June – frost (white, daisy-like flowers)
  • Likes well-drained soil. Flowers more prolific/potent when grown in less-rich soil.
    Roman variety good for paths (walking over the plant seems specially beneficial to it). Can be grown in a container.

Companions: plant near other plants to help keep them healthy and free of disease

HARVESTING

When flowers are fully open and fragrant, use your fingers as a rake to harvest them. Dry with care at a not-too-high temperature.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: 1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh/cup of water | 1 oz dried or 2 oz fresh/quart of water. Steep, covered, 15-20 minutes. Drink 2 – 3 cups daily, or as often as needed. Lasting effects if used over a period of several weeks.

  • For indigestion, drink after meals
  • Use a stronger infusion for a mouth wash

Tincture: 2-4 ml 3x/day

Steam bath: 1/2 cup flowers boiled in 4 pints water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam.

Combinations: lemon balm and rose petals (nervous system), calendula & fennel seeds (digestive), hops & valerian (relaxing herbal bath).

Food: flowers are edible

Other: Use a strong infusion on growing seedlings to prevent the soil fungal disease called damping off.

MEDICAL

Actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative,  vulnerary

Uses: anxiety, insomnia, indigestion / gas, inflammation (internal and external), sore throat, wound healing

Cautions: some people are allergic to chamomile, discontinue if you get any signs of allergies. Do not use in pregnancy (as it is a uterine stimulant). Wild camomile has single flowers and is too strong (can destroy the linings of the stomach and intestine). Use the cultivated varieties.

KEY CONSTITUENTS

Azulene and other volatile oils, flavonoids, tannins, bitter glycosides, salicylates, coumarins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus

CHINESE MEDICINE***
Bitter, spicy, aromatic, neutral

SOURCES 

  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • Medicinal Herbs, Rosemary Gladstar
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman
  • A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve
  • ***The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Superb Herbs

I used chamomile as part of a digestive tea (with calendula and fennel seed) to help heal from a severe bout of reflux, along with the addition of fermented food and digestive enzymes.

I also use it as a calming tea, when I’m feeling stressed, or a before-bed tea, if I’m having a bout of insomnia.

This year I planted it for the first time but lost track of where. Just the other day I noticed a plant in my garden that looked just like the pictures I’d seen of it. “There you are!” I exclaimed. I plucked some blossoms, including one that was now a seed head. Afterwards, I got a whiff of my hand, which confirmed that it was, indeed the chamomile. It smelled just like my tea!

The picture at the top of this post is that plant, after the harvesting (forgot to take the picture before pulling off most of the flowers, silly me). PS Do you notice what plant is in the background?