Thousands of years before modern medicine, people depended on medicinal plants to ease pain and aid healing. Only a few generations ago our early pioneer ancestors learned from native Indians what plant to use for what malady.
Many of these plants are very common in our area and easy to identify. What follows is a description of some of the more common medicinals found in our area.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Also called bloodwort, nosebleed, and soldier’s woundwort. This wildflower has a tight cluster of white, five-petal flowers at the top, with soft, aromatic, fernlike leaves along the stem. It is abundant in pastures, roadsides, and disturbed places. The leaves and stems were used to promote healing of open wounds and as a diaphoretic (used to increase perspiration).
Common Burdock (Arctium minus): Also called clotbur. This is the plant with the round button like seedpods that stick to your clothes like Velcro (not cocklebur, which are shaped more like footballs). It is common in disturbed areas and I see it a lot around barns and overgrazed pastures. The root was widely used by Indians as a blood purifier and to treat wounds. In Spain and France it has been used to cure skin blemishes.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): A very common plant in our area; It stands 4-5 feet tall and has round clusters of pinkish to purplish flowers. The leaves are broad ovals that attach to the stem in whorls. The roots of this plant was used as an expectorant (helps force out mucous from the respiratory tract), to ease joint pain, increase perspiration, and to increase urine flow). Warning: the plant is considered toxic, and the white milky sap is an eye irritant.
Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana): Found in about every fencerow in the area and needs no description. The leaves have been used as a stimulant, to induce menstrual flow, and to treat tapeworm. The leaves, seeds, and twigs have been boiled and inhaled to treat bronchitis. The boiled bark has been used to treat skin rash.
Plantain (Plantago major): Found in about every garden in our area. This is the weed with broad, heavily ribbed leaves that lay low to the ground. A leaf tea has been used to treat coughs, diarrhea, and dysentery. Leaves have been applied to blisters, sores, swelling, and insect bites. It has been confirmed to aid in the healing process.
A good book on medicinal plants is the Peterson guide called Medicinal Plants.