One of the workshops that I attended at the Maps Meet was the Medicinal Plant Walk. Taught by an herbalist named "Doc," all the attendants ended up with a wealth of information. Now, believe me when I say that information and discussions on plants and their medicinal and/or edible qualities do not end here, but for now I am concentrating on information that was received at this gathering.
We started our walk underneath a pine tree. Pines (any kind) happen to be full of vitamin C, and when used topically may be used to cure sores, cuts, and rashes. Pine needles, as well as firs, have similiar qualities to willow, which means they may be used as aspirin.
What did we discuss next? No medicinal plant walk would be complete without dandelions! Dandelions are chock full of vitamins A, K, and C, and the leaves and root of the dandelion will actually help to grow back an unhealthy liver.
Mint is also a common one you might hear about. There are over 50 species of mint and all can interbreed with one another. All may be used as insect repellent, as well as a stomach soother and taken for mild fevers (as a tea is best). You may also use heavy doses for headaches and menstrual pains. You may also use the leaves as a wash for muscle aches and sores. Note: A wash is when you boil the plant down and then apply topically, sort of like a tea for your skin. To help stabilize blood sugar, for diabetics and those with hypoglycemia in particular (though good for anybody), adding mint leaves to your water in the morning and drinking mint water throughout the day will help.
Next up we examined some blackberry plants. Blackberry is useful as it is used as a cure for dysentery. In a survival situation with perhaps a limited water supply, having a cure for that particular problem might just save your life. You use the leaves of the plant and boil them for the cure. Use as many as you wish to, and depending on how serious your condition is, the color of the water will end up differently. You will want the water to be green for mild cases of dysentery, brown for somewhat serious cases, and dark brown or black if you are close to death. If the leaves don't happen to be in season you may use the root. Of course, if you wish to use the entire plant, leaves, root and fruit, you can always make yourself some nice blackberry jam!
Strawberry has a great deal of vitamin C hidden away in its roots. George Washington's troops dug in the snow to dig up strawberry roots and headed off scurvy.
Plantain, every-ones favorite medicinal plant. "The plant that thought of everything," is how Ben describes it. To be used topically, the plantain (roots or leaves) must be crushed up, not chewed (you would be asking for more trouble than it's worth), and placed on the wound. Plantain will help to stop bleeding and may even reverse blood poisoning. An example of this is of a man who had a septic cut that resulted in blood poisoning. Not being in an area where he, and his companions, could head off to the hospital quickly, they had to deal with it themselves while traveling. His companions took shifts and placed crushed plantain on the wound every 20-30 minutes. When they arrived at the emergency room, the doctor wanted to know what was wrong. When they showed him the wound, the doctors reaction was one of "Yeah, so what? It's a cut!" The blood poisoning had reversed itself.
Jewelweed, one of the most interesting plants that I encountered on this walk, has leaves that shine like silver when they are underwater. The leaves may be crushed into a juice and rubbed on the skin to be used as a cure for poison ivy and poison oak. Not only is it a cure, but it is also a preventative medicine. If you happen to be in a area where you know you will come in contact with poison ivy or poison oak, rub jewelweed on your skin and you will be fine for approximately 2 hours.
Yarrow is used primarily for the stopping of bleeding. The blossom of the yarrow is the best part for this use. If the blossoms are not in bloom, use the leaves instead. You may also make yarrow tea out of the leaves to help break fevers and get rid of headaches.
Wild Ginger, not related to common ginger, grows low to the ground and if crushed will produce a ginger-like smell. The root and the leaves of this plant may be used to help the breaking of fevers and to help reduce the effects of menopause. It may also be used as a tincture, using the entire plant, to help with coughs. It is not an expectorant, but rather will break up the mucus, making it easier for you to breathe.
Comfrey leaves may be used on burns, placing on the area after crushing it up well. Comfrey has the interesting property of accelerating cell growth. It may be placed on cuts, wounds and even on areas where a bone is broken, as it is transdermal (goes through the skin). It is excellent in helping with stomach ulcers. Comfrey has gotten a somewhat bad wrap for it's cell growth acceleration properties, however, it will not accelerate abnormal cell growth, such as cancer cells.
Well, that is all for now. Look back for more of our experiences and what we learned at the Maps Meet!
– Miranda Vivian