Sarsaparilla

I am not posting a photo of this plant because I can’t find one for officinalis and there are tons of Sarsaparilla varieties. Please see my notes at the bottom of this post for a picture of wild sarsaparilla, which is a different botanical plant (but used medicinally, as well).

Botanical Name: S. officinalis and varieties. S. ornata (Jamaica), considered to be the most medicinal Family: Liliaceae

Common name(s): Sarsaparilla, Greenbrier, Catbrier, Bullbrier, Tramps Trouble

GROWING

  • Perennial woody climber | Zones 6-9 | 15 feet tall | Broad, ovate leaves, tendrils, , thorny branches, small green and flowers, black-ish berries
  • Grows in forests

HARVESTING

The root is harvested throughout the growing season

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

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

Tincture: 1-2ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: Essential oil, glycoside, phytosterols, sapogenins, resin, starch, sugar, fat, minerals

Actions: Alterative, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antipruretic, aphrodisiac, diaphoretic,diuretic, estrogenic, tonic

Uses: Inflammatory conditions (including rheumatism), liver disorders, menstrual issues, skin issues, venereal disease, virility

Combinations: Burdock, yellow dock, and cleavers for psoriasis

CHINESE MEDICINE

Sweet, mild, spicy neutral to cool

SOURCES 

  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier
  • SFGate

Aralia nudicaulis is a plant in northeastern forests that goes by the same name – called Wild Sarsaparilla. I learned that it is often used as a substitute in herbalism for Smilax. And I was actually surprised to learn this because I was taught by a local herbalist that this northern plant was Sarsaparilla and didn’t know that it wasn’t the official variety. Also, there are about 300-350 varieties of Smilax (a.k.a. Sarsaparilla). Confusing, to say the least!

This is a picture of the wild version, from my yard’s forest area:

Damiana

Botanical Name: Turnera aphrodisiaca, T. diffusa Family: Turneraceae

Common name(s): Damiana, Mexican Holly

GROWING

  • Shrub | Zone 9-11 | 3-6 feet tall | Serrated green leaves, yellow flowers, sweet-smelling fruit
  • 4-6 hours of direct sun/day | Sandy, fast-draining soil

HARVESTING

Harvest leaves and stems while the plant is in flower.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of the dried herb. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 1-2ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: alkaloids, bitter principal, essential oil, flavonoid, hydrocyanic glycoside, resin, tannin

Actions: Aperient, aphrodisiac, diuretic, laxative, mild anti-depressant, nervine, urinary antiseptic, yang tonic

Uses: mild depression/anxiety, libido, mucus congestion, nervous exhaustion

Combinations: Use with oats as a nerve tonic

CHINESE MEDICINE

Spicy, warm

SOURCES 

  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • Herbal Remedies, Andrew Chevallier
  • SFGate this & this
  • photo credit: rubyonwheels damiana via photopin (license)

Pretty plant. Doesn’t grow in the northeast unless in a pot that can be brought inside. When I was googling for plant information, I saw that there is a Damiana Tequila!

Blessed Thistle

Botanical Name: Cnicua benedictus Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Blessed thistle, Holy thistle

GROWING

  • Annual; herbaceous | Zone 5-9 | 10-30 inches tall | Hairy leaves and stems. Stems are 5-sided. Yellow flowers with spider-web like hairs in them, April – September
  • Full sun | Dry, stony, waste soil

HARVESTING

Harvest aerial parts while in flower and seeds in the autumn.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoons of the dried herb. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 1-2ml 3x/day

External: Apply as a poultice to promote wound healing

MEDICAL

Constituents: bitter glycoside (cnicin), essential oil, flavonoids, mucilage, tannin

Actions: Alterative, antibacterial, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, diaphoretic, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactagogue, hemostatic, stomachic,tonic,stimulant, vulnerary

Uses: stomach and liver issues, appetite stimulant, diarrhea, indigestion, fever, jaundice, hepatitis, blood clots, bleeding, abnormal periods, lactation

Cautions: Large doses may cause vomiting, and it can be used for that purpose

CHINESE MEDICINE

Sweet, bitter, cool

SOURCES 

  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • A Modern Herbal, M. Grieve
  • Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Foster and Duke
  • photo credit: henna lion blessed thistle via photopin (license)

This is another plant listed for reproductive issues in my herbal studies, but when I researched, only A Modern Herbal mentioned it as one of the best herb for lactation. And The Way of Herbs says since abnormal periods are usually accompanied by liver issues, so it is typically added to reproductive formulas. Seems like one of the major use for this herb outside of lactation is as an appetite stimulant.

Also, other thistles, particularly milk thistle, have similar actions.

PS The actions listed are all the ones mentioned across my sources. There are a lot of them!

Mugwort

Botanical Name: Artemisia Vulgaris Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Mugwort, Moxa, Cronewort

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbaceous | Zone 4-8 | 4-5 feet tall | Spikes of whitish green flowers on top of purple stems. Green leaves have silver undersides.
  • Full sun/partial shade | Any soil

HARVESTING

Harvest aerial parts any time during the growing season, preferably when blossoming (between July and September)

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb. Steep, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 1-4ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: bitter principle, essential oil, inulin, resin, tannin

Actions: Anti-spasmodic, bitter tonic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, hemostatic, nervine tonic, mild narcotic, stimulant, vermifuge

Uses: Menstruation induction and regulation, menstrual cramps, depression, tension, nervousness, insomnia, liver and stomach disorders,

Cautions: Avoid during pregnancy

CHINESE MEDICINE

Bitter, acrid, slightly warm

SOURCES 

  • The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra
  • Holistic Herbal, David Hoffmann
  • Homegrown Herbs, Tammi Hartung
  • photo credit: Hannah Lena Puschnig Mugwort via photopin (license)

Mugwort was used in many interesting ways by other cultures. The Chinese use it as part of a technique called moxabustion, where the herb is placed on acupuncture points and burned down to the skin. The Native Americans use the dry leaves for smudging.

Yarrow

Botanical Name: Achillea millifolium Family: Compositae

Common name(s): Yarrow, Chipmunk’s tail, Soldier’s woundwort, Milfoil, Nosebleed

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbaceous | Zone 3-9 | 2-3 feet tall | White* flowers in mid- to late summer
  • Full sun/partial shade | Disturbed, well-drained, soil | Likes open, grassy areas

HARVESTING

Harvest aerial parts  mid- to late summer, while in flower

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infustion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink hot 3x/day or hourly when feverish.

Tincture: 2-4ml 3x/day

External: Apply the powdered herb directly to wounds to stop the bleeding.

MEDICAL

Constituents: A bitter alkaloid, essential oil,flavonoids, tannins

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antisepticantispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, hemostatic, hypotensive, stomachic

Uses: Cold, flu, fever, hypertension, bleeding, painful menstruation, hemorrhoids, amenorrhea,menorrhagia, leucorrhea

Combinations: Combine equal parts yarrow, elder flowers, lemon balm, and mint for early stages of a cold (drink the tea, get into bed with covers on until sweating occurs, get out of bed and do a cool sponge bath, then hop back into bed).

CHINESE MEDICINE

Warm, bitter, spicy

SOURCES 


* There is a variety of yarrow that has yellow flowers. That kind is not medicinal. There is a rose-colored variety of the medicinal plant, A. millefolium var. rosea, which is also okay to use. So white and shades of pinks/red are good, yellow is not (although it’s probably really pretty…nothing personal, yellow yarrow).

False Unicorn

Botanical Name: Chamaelirium lutem Family: Liliaceae

Common name(s): False Unicorn, Helonias, Colic root, Devil’s bit, Fairy wand, Star grub root, Grub root

GROWING

  • Evergreen herb | Zone 5-8 | 1 foot, 8 inches tall | White flowers in May-June | Male and female plants, only females produce seed.
  • Dappled shade | Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil

HARVESTING

Harvest the root in autumn and dry for later use.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Pour 1 – 2 teaspoons of the herbin a 1 cup of water. Bring to the boil and simmer 10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day or in large amounts for threatened miscarriage.

Tincture: 2-4ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: Glycosides, steroidal saponins including chamaelirin, helonin, diosgenin

Actions: Adaptogen, anthelmintic, diureticemetic, estrogenic, uterine tonicvermifuge

Uses: Ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalance, low fertility, menopausal symptoms, internal parasites, threatened miscarriage, nausea during pregnancy

Combinations: A cardiac toxin in large quantities, which may cause nausea and vomiting. Should not be used in pregnancy except under the care of an experienced practitioner.

CHINESE MEDICINE

Bitter, warm

SOURCES 


Aletris farinosa is True Unicorn. False Unicorn is an endangered plant because not too many people are cultivating it and harvesting the rhizome destroys the whole plant. I think I have the right conditions for growing this plant so it may wind up on my property at some point. (I haven’t noticed it on my property growing wild.)

There seem to be some contradictory indications in this materia medica. Used for nausea in pregnancy but can also cause nausea…. 

Squaw Vine

Botanical Name: Mitchella repens Family: Rubiaceae

Common name(s): Squaw Vine, Patridgeberry, Twinberry, Deerberry

GROWING

  • Evergreen herb | Zone 4-9 | 1 foot tall | White flowers in late spring/early summer followed by red berries
  • Partial to full shade| Consistently moist soil

HARVESTING

Harvest the aerial parts and berries in late summer.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water onto 1 teaspoons of the herb and let sit for  10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 1-2ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: Mucilage, saponins. Not very well known but probably also contains alkaloids, glycosides, and tannins

Actions: Astringent, diureticemmenagogue, parturienttonic

Uses: Painful periods (dysmenorrhoea), preparing the uterus for childbirth, absent periods (amenorrhea), colitis, diarrhea

Combinations: Use with raspberry leaves for a parturient tonic.

Cautions: Do not take during the first 6 months of pregnancy.

CHINESE MEDICINE

Bitter, cool energy

SOURCES 


It consistently amazes me when I do one of these materia medica only to find out that it is a plant I know – by sight, not by name. I love connecting the dots! I live in a forest town and see this plant all over the place, and I usually bend a leaf and sniff it to see if it is  wintergreen, a look-alike.

Cramp Bark

Botanical Name: Viburnum opulus Family: Caprifoliaceae

Common name(s): Cramp Bark, High Cranberry, Snowball Tree, Guelder Rose, Squaw Bush

GROWING

  • Perennial; shrub | Zone 2-7 | 8-15 feet tall | White flowers in June followed by red berries which can stay on the bush throughout winter
  • Full sun to partial shade| Well-drained, moist soil

HARVESTING

Harvest the bark between spring equinox (March 21) and summer solstice (June 21)

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Put 2 teaspoons of the dried bark into a cup of water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for  10-15 minutes. Drink 3x/day while hot.

Tincture: 4-8ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: Bitter (viburnin), valerianic acid, salicosides, resin, tannin

Actions: Antispasmodic, astringent, nervinesedative

Uses: Menstrual cramps, PMS, threatened miscarriage, asthma, muscular tension and spasms, heart palpitations, rheumatism

Combinations: Combine with False unicorn root for a female reproductive tonic. Combine 1 part cramp bark, 1 part ginger, 1 part angelica root, and 3 parts chamomile for menstrual cramps, PMS and convulsions.

CHINESE MEDICINE

Bitter, neutral

SOURCES 


I planted a highbush cranberry. Now I have to do some additional research on what variety I am growing. According to the University of Maine source, the berries of the European version are not edible, it is considered an ornamental, as opposed to the American version.

Black haw is a near relative and is considered a more powerful plant than crampbark.

Dong Quai

Botanical Name: Angelica sinensis (syn. A. polymorpha) Family: Umbelliferae (syn. Apiaceae)

Common name(s): Dong quai, Chinese angelica, Dong qui, Dang gui, Tang quei, Female ginseng

Related: Angelica, which can be substituted in some cases

GROWING

  • Perennial | Zones 6-9 | 3 feet | White, umbrella-shaped flowers August-September and seeds ripen September-October
  • Full sun to partial shade | Moist, well-drained soil | Woodland garden plant
  • Sow seeds directly in spring or fall (better germination rate in the fall, keep in cold frame for first winter). Does not transplant well because the taproots go very deep. Not frost-hardy.

HARVESTING

Harvest the root/rhizome in Autumn. Plants take 3 years to mature. Slice the roots before drying for easier use.

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Put 1 tsp of the dried root into 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drink 1-2x/day.

Tincture: 2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) with water up to 4x/day

Dried root: 4-7 grams

Culinary: All parts of the plants can be used in cooking – leaves, stems, roots.

MEDICAL

Constituents: Coumarins, essential oils, ferulic acid, phytosterols, polyacetylenes

Actions: Alterative, antispasmodic, uterine tonic

Uses: Female gynecological ailments, especially cramping, irregularity, menopausal symptoms; insomnia, hypertension, constipation

Cautions: Promotes bleeding, do not take when pregnant, on blood thinners, or with heavy menstrual flow. The oil in the plant can cause sensitivity to sunlight if used externally.

CHINESE MEDICINE

Warm energy, bitter and acrid taste

SOURCES 


Sometimes doing a materia medica is very difficult. This was one of those. Information all over the place, trying to find all the pieces I needed, including a photo of the plant. Couldn’t find one that I could use, but found one of the roots. There are also multiple spellings of the common name (Dong Quai appears to be the most used) and synonyms for the botanical names!

Blue Cohosh

Botanical Name: Caulophyllus thalictroides Family: Berberidaceae

Common name(s): Blue Cohosh, Squawroot, Papoose Root

GROWING

  • Perennial; herbaceous | Zone 3-8 | 1-3 feet tall | Leaves dark purple when they emerge then they turn green. Greenish-brown or yellow-brown flowers mid to late spring, turn into waxy yellow flowers that hang below the foliage.
  • Partial to full shade| Moist, hummus-rich, acidic soil | Grows in woods

HARVESTING

Harvest the root/rhizome in Autumn

PREPARATION / DOSAGE

Decoction: Put 1 tsp of the dried root into 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drink 3x/day.

Tincture: 1-2ml 3x/day

MEDICAL

Constituents: Alkaloids, glycosides, gum, minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, silicon, phosphorus), salts, starch, steroidal saponins, resin

Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, anthelmintic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emmenagogue, uterine tonic

Uses: Menstrual irregularities (including cramping), genito-urinary disorders, worms, colic, easing childbirth

Cautions: Do not take during the first two trimesters of pregnancy

CHINESE MEDICINE

Acrid, bitter, warm, mildly toxic

SOURCES 


This herb may be growing down by my stream. I’ll be looking for it!