Quality herbal products and education about medicinal herbs

ALL ABOUT MEDICINAL HERBS
A MEDICINAL HERB PICTORAL



THIS PAGE IS DEDICATED TO HELPING READERS GAIN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT MEDICINAL PLANTS AND THEIR USES.

Please let me know if there is a specific medicinal herb you want to know more about. I will be adding herbs on a weekly basis, so check in frequently to find out what is new here.

Please note: The herbal and health information provided in this Web Site is intended as historical information only. It is based on the personal experiences of medicinal herbs users. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent diseases. Nothing in this Web Site should be considered as medical advice for dealing with a given medical problem. You should consult your health care professional for individual guidance for specific health problems, especially if you have a serious medical condition. It can be dangerous to mix medicinal herb products with prescription drugs. It can be dangerous to stop taking a prescription drug without consulting with your health care professional. If you are under professional health care, consult your provider before either stopping prescribed medications or adding medicinal herbs.

(Photos on this web page by Hal or Cat Farneman unless otherwise noted.)

We are going to begin with a few herbs that are good for first aid use.

Known as Canaigre, Wild Rhubarb, Red Dock, Tanner's Dock, or Pie Plant (Rumex hymenosepalus), this is a common plant often found in sandy washes of the high western U.S. deserts, usually from 3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

It is best to gather the leaves in early spring before full flower--usually March and early April. Gather the tubers after the plant dies back in May. The plant will disappear after May until it comes back the following spring.

The leaves can be dried for future use and used in salves. The tubers should be sliced into one quarter inch cross sections and dried. The dried slices can then be ground into powder for use in dressing wounds and in salves.

A salve made from the dried leaf, or a tincture of the fresh leaf in either alcohol or vinegar, are all effective to help modify and depress local inflammations caused by hives, contact dermatitis, or chafing. They are also effective for relieving sunburns. The leaf tincture can also be used to relieve sores and inflammations on the face, mouth and neck.

The tubers are very high in tannins so work effectively as an astringent. A slice of fresh or dried tuber, or powdered dried tuber will stop bleeding. An alcohol tincture of the leaves or tubers applied as an astringent to the face will heal acne sores. A strong decoction of the tubers can be used for tanning leather.

(Refer to Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West by Michael Moore.)




SAGEBRUSH, Wormwood, Chamiso, (Artemisia tridentata) is found in a large part of the high deserts of the western U.S. Other types of Artemisia are found all over the world in similar habitats. Mostly the leaves are used, although the roots have strong similar properties.

Collect the leaves in their spring and summer growth, dry and remove from branches. Powder the dried leaves for topical use. This is an age old remedy for diaper rash and any moist area chafing. Simply dust the powder on any afflicted area of the body. If rash develops in dry areas of the skin, make a strong decoction of the leaves, or dissolve the powdered leaves in water and apply.

The entire plant is strongly antimicrobial and antiparasitical. There is a long history of useage in first aid as a disinfectant and cleansing wash used as a strong decoction or tinctured with alcohol. Either the powdered leaves dissolved in water, or a decoction of the leaves can be used as a douche for Candida yeast infections, bathing also the outer areas if irritated.

The aromatics of sagebrush are also antimicrobial and the smoke of the burning leaves is often used by peoples to clear the air of both pestilence and negativity. The steam rising from moist leaves on burning coals is used in this same manner. Sagebrush is used by many nations to make smudge bundles used for purification before and during ceremonies. Native Americans of the west also used the leaves layered around stored dried foods to discourage insect and rodent infestations.

Sagebrush is also used internally to stop internal bleeding, kill parasites such as worms and microbial diseases and is particularly effective against Malaria, Staphlycoccus aureus, Candida albicans, and any internal amebic organisms. It should only be used internally with caution and under the supervision of an experienced practitioner. Avoid internal use during pregnancy.


PLANTAIN, ribwort, snakeweed, common plantain (Plantago major), lance-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), desert plantain, wooly plantain (Plantago insularis), and many other species of plantain: A plant found vitually all over the world with the species varying but the medicinal properties and uses essentially the same. It often grows wherever the ground has been disturbed and was carried by Western Europeans to their colonies, hence a common native name for the plant translates to "white manfoot."



Some photos of plantain to give you an idea of its appearance: lance-leaf plantain, Plantago lanceotata, growing in my herb garden; lance-leaf plantain growing in our lawn; desert plantain, Plantago insularis, which is tiny but prolific, so many can be harvested by pulling up the entire plant, root and all. We then scatter the seeds for more plants. Another variety of desert plantain, Plantago patagonica; next, a common desert plantain variety found in our area; and lastly, the leaves from Common Plantain (or English Plantain), Plantago major, are ovate and large.

The distinguishing characteristics of this plant are the parallel veins of the leaves, the strong fibers of the stems and leaves, the completely basal leaves that grow outward from the root and sometimes clasp the ground (P. major), and the tall, leafless flower stalks with small, inconspicuous flowers in tightly arranged sausage-like spikes that grow above the rest of the plant. To make certain the lance-leaf plantains are not mistaken for poisonous varieties of lilies and green hellebore, it is wise to look for the distinctive flowering stalks of plantain before picking.

Plantain is like having a medicine cabinet and first aid kit right under your feet. The fresh leaves are bruised or chewed and then applied as a poultice to wounds, burns, bites and stings for immediate relief: minor bleeding is stopped, easing the swelling, inflammation, pain, itching and stinging of insect bites and stings, snake bites, spider bites, animal bites, and dermatitis reactions to plants such as stinging nettle. It is said to neutralize venom and to reduce allergic reactions. Dried leaves may also be used if moistened first. Keep the poultice wet with the juice or tea of plantain leaves. Change the poultice frequently before it dries. A tea or infusion from the leaves should also be taken internally by the victim to neutralize internal reactions and speed the healing process.

Plantain roots and leaves are an alterative and stimulant for the circulatory system. A tea or infusion of leaves, fresh or dried, is used for kidney and bladder troubles and the juice extracted from the fresh leaves is said to heal stomach ulcers. Plantain is also useful for easing pain and healing problems in the lower intestinal tract. Apply a fine powder of dried roots to the affected area to heal a toothache.

There are many reports of using the leaves as a poultice for wounds that are difficult to heal, and used both externally and internally in cases of blood poisoning where the swelling was completely reduced, swollen glands returned to normal, red streaks go away and the wound is healed. For skin disorders such as ringworm, running sores, old wounds, rashes and other dermatitis, bathe the affected area frequently with a strong infusion of fresh or dried leaves.

The seeds can be used for thrush by making a decoction sweetened with honey and administered via one tablespoon three to four times daily. The seeds are also used similarly to psyllium seeds, a tablespoon or two soaked in hot water until a mucilage is formed and this drunk as a lubricating laxative and source of dietary fiber. The seeds of all varieties of plantain have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels.

The juice or a tea from the leaves (two tablespoons of juice or strong tea to a pint of warm water with a pinch of table salt) makes an excellent douche for vaginitis. A small amount of the powdered juice from leaves can be dissolved in sterile water and used as an eye wash for irritated eyes. Proteolytic enzymes contained in the fresh leaves and the fresh or dried roots make plantain effective as an internal vasoconstrictor for intestinal inflammation, from stomach ache to dysentery or inflammed hemorrhoids.

Plantain has been used successfully for infections such as internal parasites, yeast overgrowth, syphilis and intestinal worms. The juice from fresh leaves or a strong infusion from fresh or dried leaves is taken internally, a cupfull three to four times daily until all symptoms are gone. Also use externally where applicable.

Other uses of plantain: the strong fibers of Plantago major leaves and stems can be peeled away for use in making cordage. Young plantain leaves make a good addition to salad and the more mature leaves can be steamed and eaten with the fibers easily removed after cooking. Taste is similar to chard. Plantain is high in vitamins A, K and C. The seeds gathered when dry are a good source of protein.

So, don't despair when plantain shows up in your lawn and seems to be able to defy your lawn mower. Just dig up the plantain and move it into your herb garden.

OREGON GRAPE (Mahonia [or Berberis] repens, M. aquifolia, M. nervosa, M. pinnata, M. trifoliata, M. wilcoxii, M. haematocarpa, M. fremontii) Other names: Mahonia, Creeping Barberry, Barberry, Yerba de la Sangre, Sangre de Cristo, Holly Grape, Rocky Mountain Grape root, Creeping Barberry.

Technically, Mahonia (Berberis) trifoliata is known locally in Arizona and New Mexico as Algerita; Berberis fremontii is known as Fremont Barberry. Mahonia aquifolia is often used in landscaping and is the state flower of Oregon. Most of these plants found in canyons and arroyos. M. repens is drought tolerant as long as it has shade. Mahonia pinnata is the exception and will even grow on rocky, exposed places within forests and along open rocky ridges in southern California and all the way down into Baja.

The primary bioactive constituent of the species in the Berberidaceae family is the yellow alkaloid berberine. It is found in the foliage, stems and roots, although usually strongest in the roots. Gather the roots and lower yellow stems from midsummer to winter, the leaves from May through mid-fall. The cleaned roots should be chopped while still fresh since they become very dense and hard once dry. If there is a layer of brown bark on the stems and roots, scrape this off and only use the yellow parts. The leaves can be collected and dried in a paper bag. The dried leaves, stored away from any light, will last for up to a year. The dried roots and stems will last for several years.

Oregon Grape can be used as a bitter tonic for impaired salivary and gastric secretions to aid digestion; as a stimulant to liver function; and as an antimicrobial for the skin and intestinal tract. It is a blood alterative in that it cleanses the blood and normalizes blood chemistry. Use up to 30 drops of the root tincture three to four times per day for a digestion and liver stimulant. The root tincture, or tea made from the root or leaf, is used as needed topically or as a mouthwash. Infuse oil with the leaves or root pieces to use as a salve. The dried leaves may be powdered and dusted on skin abrasions and rashes as an antibacterial. M. aquifolia has been shown in laboratory tests to be effective against staph infections. The tea or tincture can be taken every three to four hours for intestinal infections. Since it normalizes blood chemistry, it has been useful in counteracting PMS symptoms. Oregon grape should not be taken internally during pregnancy.

In the Southwest, curanderas boil the leaves in water and drink the tea twice a day for anemia, and take the decoction early in the morning before eating to bring on menstruation. The leaves or roots are boiled or tinctured and taken internally to cleanse the blood. The Navajos use a decoction of the leaves and stems to relieve the inflammation of rheumatism. The tea from the roots has been used as an alterative, antisyphilitic, diuretic and laxative. Of the species with juicy berries, the ripe berries can be made into a tasty jam that some call happy berry jam because it tends to lighten depressed moods. The the roots can be used effectively as a yellow dye.

(Refer to Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979; Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, 1993; Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989; and Curtin, L.S.M., Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, Traditional Medicine of the Southwest, Revised and Edited by Michael Moore, Western Edge Press, 1997.)

WILD TOBACCO (Nicotiana attenuata, N. trigonophylla, N. glauca) Other names: Punche, Indian Tobacco, Coyote Tobacco, Mustard Tree, and Tree Tobacco (N. glauca).

Nicotiana glauca, Tree Tobacco, is a perennial plant and not native, but originally from Peru. It has naturalized in Southern California and has even spread out to the southern regions of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The true native tobaccos are annuals, coming up in the spring after rains and not lasting long after the heat of summer arrives. They like dry stream beds, meadows, flats, flood plains, rocky outcroppings and the desert. Both the leaves and blossoms are used.

The various species of Wild Tobacco are mainly used externally as an analgesic poultice and in liniments and salves for its analgesic qualities on sore muscles and joints, sunburns, or any external pain. Add a strong infusion of the leaves to bath water to relieve the pains of hemmorrhoids, menstrual cramps, muscle bruises or muscles sore from over use. Tobacco neutralizes skin reactions to bites and stings, stopping the swelling, burning and itching. Fresh leaves can be crushed and applied to insect bites and stings, dried leaves should be moistened before applying. Even processed commercial tobacco (N. tabacum) can be used on insect bites and bee stings, so if no tobacco plants are nearby, look for a cigarette butt and moisten the tobacco in it to apply as a poultice.

A liniment for sore joints and muscles can be made by steeping one cup of dried wild tobacco leaves and one tablespoon of cayenne pepper powder in a quart of alcohol for at least two weeks. An olive oil base may also be used if the alcohol liniment is too drying to the skin. Tobacco is also useful as an insecticide: steep one cup of dried, crumbled leaves in a quart of boiling water for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add one tablespoon of liquid detergent; cool to room temperature. Strain and spray onto plants. Do not use commercial pipe, cigar or cigarette tobacco as an insecticide on plants in the Solanaceae family, such as peppers, tomatoes and potatoes, as it often contains the mosaic virus which will infects plants of this family.

Tobacco should not be taken internally.

The smoke from tobacco is also used ceremonially as a means of communication with spirit and to facilitate peaceful communications between those in the ceremony. It emphasizes the inclusiveness of those partaking. The smoke travels to the land of the spirits and it is thought that the ancestors remember the pleasure of tobacco smoke used in ceremony and thus return to partake of the essence of the tobacco, bringing with them their wisdom and assistance. Tobacco and tobacco smoke were used in divination among some indigenous peoples.

(Refer to Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979; Savinelli, Alfred, Plants of Power, Native Voices, Summertown, TN, 2002.)


OAK (Quercus spp.) Other names: Live Oak, Scrub Oak, Gambelís Oak, Encino, etc. The bark, galls, leaves and acorns may all be used. The primary useful ingredients are tannin and quercin, which are astringent. The quercin also has analgesic properties similar to salicin. This makes it good as a first aid wash for burns, abrasions, cuts, gum inflammations, as a gargle for sore throats, as an intestinal tonic and for diarrhea. It has a clotting, shrinking and antiseptic effect. The leaves can be chewed into a bolus and applied to insect bites to reduce the swelling, itching and stinging. A piece of the bark can be chewed to lessen the pain from a minor toothache.

The tea is very bitter, so it isnít likely that one would want to overdose, but too much of the tannic acid can be upsetting to the system, so use sparingly for internal use. The galls are the highest in tannins, so use them only for external treatments. Any part of the oak can be combined with Sage leaves in a water base, simmered, cooled and applied to poison oak or poison ivy rash to stop the dermatitis reaction. The tannin can also be extracted and used as a tanning agent for leather, and as a dye. Since Oaks in one species or another are found everywhere in the west, it is a good plant to know for first aid when out in the wilderness. The fruit of the oaks, known as acorns, can be leached of their tannic acid content, either before or after grinding, and used as a food source.