The overlooked potential of plant-based remedies
I was raised in a way that when some sort of everyday ailment came up, such as a deep cut, brief sickness, or infection, the best thing to do was head to the drug store to pick up whatever product we needed at the time. Little did I know that many of our common plant friends hold strong medicinal capabilities, from healing our scars to fighting infection, or deeply nourishing our bodies when depleted of nutrients.
Throughout this piece, we’ll explore a variety of plants* that have served as nature’s own first aid kit and herbal remedies for everyday ailments over the centuries.
Immune support: Echinacea, Astragalus, Elderberry
From Covid-19 to mononucleosis, the common cold, or strep throat, we’ve all had a need for some kind of immune support.
Our immune system works hard to defend against invaders, repair damaged tissues, and maintain a balance within our bodies, and sometimes it needs a boost to perform at its best. Herbs like Echinacea, Astragalus, and Elderberry work to fortify our natural defenses, invigorate the body, and support overall wellness.
Echinacea is renowned for its ability to enhance white blood cell activity, acting as a natural defense booster against pathogens. Astragalus is a traditional adaptogen, strengthening the body’s resistance to stress and supporting optimal immune function. Elderberry, on the other hand, is famed for its antiviral properties and its ability to boost the production of immune cytokines.
A very common use of Echinacea is to shorten the duration and severity of cold symptoms. See below a recipe that can be used at the onset of symptoms such as a cold or Covid-19
- 2 teaspoons dried Echinacea root or 1 tablespoon fresh Echinacea root
- 8 ounces (1 cup) of water
- Optional: maple syrup, honey or lemon to taste
- Preparation: If using fresh Echinacea, wash the root thoroughly and chop it into small pieces. If using dried pre-bought echinacea, measure out the respective size.
- Boil the Water: In a pot, bring water to a boil.
- Add Echinacea: Once the water is boiling, add the dried or fresh Echinacea root.
- Simmer: Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
- Strain: Remove the pot from the heat and strain the liquid into a cup, discarding the Echinacea pieces.
- Serve: Add honey or lemon if desired for flavor. Stir well and sip while warm.
- Repeat: For optimal benefits when you’re feeling under the weather, it’s recommended to drink Echinacea tea 3 to 4 times a day until symptoms subside.
Burns & skin relief: Aloe, Comfrey, Yarrow, Calendula
Skin issues, be it minor burns, cuts, or bruises, often require immediate attention.
Aloe Vera is almost synonymous with skin relief – the gel from this plant cools burns, moisturizes, and speeds up skin recovery. Aloe Vera can be easily grown indoors as a house plant in milder climates and also grown outdoors in hotter and desert-like climates.
Comfrey, with its nickname “knit-bone”, accelerates the healing process of bruises, sprains, and other injuries. It contains allantoin, a substance that promotes the growth of new skin cells. For those minor kitchen burns or sunburns, a Comfrey poultice can be a lifesaver. See below an easy recipe for a comfrey poultice.
Yarrow, with its feathery leaves and clusters of tiny white or pink flowers, is often seen as a simple meadow herb. However, its medicinal properties are profound. Historically treasured for its styptic qualities, yarrow can swiftly halt bleeding, making it an invaluable addition to any herbal first-aid kit. Its astringent properties have been utilized for centuries, both in battlefield conditions and domestic settings, to help in wound management and promote healing.
Calendula, with flowers that are some of my personal favorites, is truly nature’s versatile healer. While it’s widely recognized for its external skin-soothing prowess — ideal for addressing inflamed, irritated, or damaged skin — its healing capabilities go beyond. Internally, calendula has a history of aiding the digestive system, particularly when inflammation is present (see digestion section below). Whether you’re seeking relief from sunburn, minor cuts, or digestive discomfort, calendula stands as a testament to nature’s boundless capacity for healing, making it a staple in holistic health practices and natural cosmetic formulations.
Comfrey Poultice Recipe
- Fresh Comfrey leaves
- Wash and chop the fresh Comfrey leaves.
- Blend them in a blender or mash them until you get a smooth, paste-like consistency.
- Apply the paste directly onto the affected area and cover it with a bandage or cloth.
- Leave it on for several hours or overnight for best results.
You can also purchase Comfrey Ointment at many stores if you would like to try it before making your own.
Stress: Hops, Lemon Balm, Passion Flower
In an era of what seems like extreme stress, stress has made its way into the daily lives of many. Thankfully, the earth has its own collections of calming agents.
Hops, while famous for brewing beer, has a less-known side: its sedative qualities, making it a perfect remedy for restless nights.
Lemon Balm‘s delightful citrus aroma isn’t just a treat for the nose; it’s a balm for the soul, known to ease nerves and anxiety. Lemon calm is also excellent in the garden, as it acts as a pest repellent due to its strong aroma.
Passion Flower, with its intricate beauty, is more than just a pretty face. It serves as a buffer against overwhelming anxiety, especially when the mind races at night.
Digestion: Dandelion, Fennel, Calendula
Our ancestors, without the use of modern medicines, turned to what was around them to soothe their stomach troubles.
The Dandelion, often dismissed as a mere weed, is a powerhouse when it comes to aiding digestion. Dandelion roots support liver health, promoting better fat digestion, while its leaves act as gentle diuretics.
Fennel seeds, with their sweet undertones, aren’t just culinary delights. They are age-old remedies for bloating, gas, and indigestion. A quick chew post meals can offer almost instant relief from digestive discomfort.
Lastly, Calendula, beyond its reputation for skin relief, offers gut-soothing properties. Its anti-inflammatory nature works wonders on an irritated digestive tract, making it a gentle remedy for those with sensitive stomachs.
Pain relief: Valerian, Wild Lettuce, Skullcap
In a world where synthetic painkillers dominate, nature offers potent alternatives.
Valerian, for instance, has been cherished for centuries for its sedative properties, helping to alleviate pain and induce sleep. Often taken as a tea or tincture, Valerian can be a nighttime savior for those with chronic pain, allowing true rest.
Wild Lettuce, sometimes called “opium lettuce”, is not as well-known but acts as a mild sedative, helping with anxiety and pain.
Lastly, Skullcap soothes the nervous system and can be particularly helpful for nerve-related pain or tension headaches.
For anyone looking to start bridging the gap between the drugstore and the garden like me, my three main recommendations are these:
- Learn everything you can about the specific plants you feel drawn to and are known to heal the everyday ailments you see in your life
- Learn and practice the right ways to utilize those plants for your health and wellness
- Practice being in a mutually beneficial relationship with each plant to be able to give back just as they’ve given to us.
With these 3 parts, we create a collective cycle of life that not only nurtures our personal well-being but also deepens our bond with the earth, allowing us to move in harmony with nature’s rhythm and wisdom.
*Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before using the above-mentioned herbs to ensure they don’t conflict with any existing conditions or medications you’re on.