Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

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WP_20160524_18_15_31_ProMayapple is a perennial native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It can be found in the spring and early summer growing in woodland colonies.

Several plants grow from the same creeping underground rhizome. Some of these produce a single, umbrella-like leaf, and do not bear fruit. Others are double-leaf, and produce a single, downward facing white bloom below the foliage in April or May.

The bloom becomes a single green fruit, which persists after the foliage has died back at the end of summer and the plant has gone dormant. This fruit is eaten by many species of animals, and can be hard to find because of this. It is safe to eat only after it is allowed to ripen fully. The unripe fruit is green and hard and becomes soft and yellow when it is ripe. The skin and seeds should not be consumed.

Mayapple saw historic use by the Native Americans as an emetic, a cathartic, an anthelmintic, and as an antidote for snakebites. However, it was also used as a poison, and is too toxic to be considered medicinally for home use. All parts of the mayapple plant are toxic, including the unripe fruit. It contains podopyllotoxin, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms upon ingestion, and dermal irritation following skin contact. Symptoms of poisoning appear within 12 hours and can be fatal.(1) The toxin is most concentrated in the root.

The plant has some modern medical uses, as described here.

Other common names: Indian apple, American mandrake, wild mandrake, ground lemon.

More identification photos: Ontario wildflowers

 



Emetic: a substance that induces vomiting
Cathartic: an agent that promotes bowel evacuation. Mayapple does this by by stimulating peristalsis.
Anthelmintic: an agent that destroys or causes the expulsion of parasitic intestinal worms.

*these are not safe uses for mayapple*

Symptoms of toxicity include “altered mental states, tachypnea, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, hypotension, vomiting, and fever, as well as muscle paralysis with respiratory failure, renal failure, hallucinations, and seizures.”

cited sources:
(1) drugs.com

 

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)

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There are 13 species of shooting star in North America, two of which can be found in Wisconsin. The most widespread and common species is Dodecatheon meadia.

A spring-blooming perennial native to eastern and central North America, D. meadia can be found gracing meadows and woodlands with its showy nodding flower heads throughout the month of May. Its pink or white fragrant blooms rise on stalks a foot or more above the foliage. A springtime ephemeral, it flowers, seeds, and goes dormant by midsummer.

Shooting star is a much loved Wisconsin native, but it has no known medicinal uses, and though it is not toxic, it is not considered edible. Enjoy this one simply for its unusual beauty!

D. meadia can be confused with the other Wisconsin shooting star species, D. amethystinum (jeweled shooting star), which has darker blooms and lacks the reddish tinge which is present at the base of the foliage in D. meadia.

 

Other Dodecatheon species
Dodecatheon spp. range maps

Synonyms for D. meadia: Eastern shooting star, midland shooting star

Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

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rue anemone range mapRue anemone is a woodland perennial native to eastern North America. It is a small plant, typically growing four to eight inches tall. A true springtime ephemeral, it blooms mid-April to June, before setting seed and going dormant until the following year. Its blooms can be either white or pink.

Rue Anemone Range Map (enlarged)

All parts of the plant are mildly toxic, and the foliage is largely ignored by native wildlife. Contact with the sap can cause inflammation and blistering of the skin. Ingesting large amounts of the plant can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. However, the toxin is destroyed by heat, which renders the tuberous root edible after cooking.

rue anemone leaves
leaves of rue anemone

Interestingly, a tea made from the roots has astringent properties, and has been used in the treatment of diarrhea and vomiting.

Rue anemone can be confused with Anemone quinequefolia (Wood anemone) and Enemion biternatum (false rue anemone), having similar flowers and preferring similar growing conditions. However, the foliage is notably different.

From left to right: False rue anemone, wood anemone, and rue anemone

T. thalictroides was formerly classified as Anemonella thalictroides. Another common name is meadow rue.

Wood anemone identification

False rue anemone identification

More photos of rue anemone

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans)

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polemonium reptans range mapPolemonium reptans is a woodland perennial plant native to eastern North America. Usually growing between 8 and 20 inches tall, it prefers partial shade and moist soil, and is often found alongside streambanks. Its common name, Jacob’s ladder, comes from the appearance of its attractive pinnate leaves, which resemble the rungs of a ladder. It is most conspicuous when it is in flower during mid to late spring. In Wisconsin, you can find it in flower in May and June.

P. reptans is not used often in modern herbalism, but it does have a history of medicinal use. The part of the plant most often used is the root, which is usually harvested in the autumn and dried for later use.

The dried root, described as bitter and acrid tasting, can be used as an infusion in water, or as a tincture in alcohol. It has internal use as a diaphoretic- it induces sweating and can help to lower a fever. As an expectorant, it is useful in the treatment of coughs, to loosen chest congestion (see Mullein). It is also astringent, which can be helpful externally on fresh scrapes, broken skin or blisters, or internally in cases of diarrhea.

Other potential and historical uses for P. reptans include: the treatment of colds and coughs, bronchitis, laryngitis, tuberculosis, fever, and inflammatory diseases including skin conditions and snake or insect bites. It can also be used as a hair rinse for skin conditions such as psoriasis.

Interestingly, Jacob’s Ladder is attractive to cats in a similar way to catnip.

Similar plants include its cultivated counterpart, Polemonium caeruleum, and the variegated P. reptans ‘Stairway to heaven’ (bottom right)

Above photo (bottom left) of P. caeruleum ‘Lambrook Mauve’ courtesy of Andrew at www.growsonyou.com

Other common names of P. reptans include: Greek Valerian, American Greek Valerian, Blue Bells, False Jacob’s Ladder, Sweatroot, Abscess root.

Oenothera biennis (Common Evening Primrose)

Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose) bloom
Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose) bloom

Evening primrose is a North American native biennial. The first year it produces a rosette of low-growing leaves. The second  year it spikes and flowers, produces seed, and dies.

First year leaf rosette
First year leaf rosette

Oenothera biennis is known for the oil which is produced from its seeds. Evening primrose oil is a rich source of the omega 6 gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid. Health benefits attributed to evening primrose are largely due to its GLA content. GLA helps prevent high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, eczema, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. It improves circulation, and reduces inflammatory autoimmune reactions. Although it has numerous vital functions, the body is unable to produce it and must get it from food sources.

Due to its positive effect on hormone response, EPO (evening primrose oil) is known to be helpful for PMS and menopause. When taken every day, it is shown to eliminate many issues related  to PMS, such as irritability, depression, bloating, and breast pain. For this purpose, it is recommended to take up to 3000 mg daily.

As an antispasmodic, evening primrose is useful for asthma and cough.  It has a beneficial effect on the liver, and a relaxing effect on the nervous system and muscles. This makes it beneficial for the treatment of anxiety, and menstrual cramps. It has shown promise for lifting depression, especially where when it is related to exhaustion or addiction withdrawal, issues with the GI tract, or when it is hormonally oriented.

Evening primrose blooms and seedpods
Evening primrose blooms and seedpods

A tea, made from the whole plant, is relaxing, and antispasmodic. It is slightly astringent and mucilaginous, and soothing to the stomach. It is also nourishing to the skin when used externally.

The root is both edible and medicinal. The root or the whole plant can be dried and ground into a powder, mixed with warm honey, and taken for sore throat and cough (also see plantain).

evening primrose botanical 116_Oenothera_biennis_LThe leaves can be used as a poultice for insect bites and stings, wounds, and bruises. (also see plantain and yarrow)

The whole plant is edible. The leaves have a slightly peppery flavor and can be added to salads and stews. They are a great source of quercetin. The first year root is best harvested in the spring, and can be eaten raw, boiled, or roasted. The flowers are tasty in a salad. Even the green seed pods can be roasted and eaten. The seeds are a great source of tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, a brain chemical that improves mood.

Oenothera biennis
Oenothera biennis

Vervain (Verbena spp.)

Blue vervain (Verbana hastata)
Blue vervain (Verbana hastata)

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and white vervain (V. urticifolia) are american native perennials. Other vervain species, mostly European natives, are now widespread across most of the United States and Canada.

V. hastata
V. hastata

Vervain is an herb that has not been well studied, but it does have a long history of use. Although once attributed with magical properties (granting love and bestowing immortality) and used as a panacea to treat a wide variety of ailments, these days vervain is mostly used as a relaxing nervine.

It is restorative to the nervous system and calms stress, anxiety, and restlessness. It relaxes and uplifts the mood. Stress sometimes comes with an upset stomach or headache; vervain soothes and promotes digestion, improves the appetite, and is helpful in the treatment of stress headaches. This relaxing effect makes it useful in cases of restless insomnia.

V. hastata
V. hastata

Research has verified that blue vervain has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving (analgesic) effects, similar to aspirin. [1] Vervain is also a gentle astringent which has found use as a mouthwash for for sore, inflamed, or bleeding gums, and as an eyewash for tired, inflamed eyes. Its astringency combined with its antispasmodic properties makes it helpful for IBS, as well as for coughs or asthma. It has a positive effect on the liver.

V. urticifolia, white vervain or nettle-leaved vervain. The growth pattern and leaves resemble common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica.
V. urticifolia, white vervain or nettle-leaved vervain. The growth pattern and leaves resemble common stinging nettle, Urtica dioica.

Vervain helps encourage sweating and regulate fever. Its positive mood benefits make it a great pick-me-up while recovering from an illness. It balances hormones and normalizes thyroid function. It is useful for menstrual complaints including hormonal headaches, and as a tincture to cool menopausal hot flashes.

Vervain contains the glycoside verbenin, which is believed useful as a galactogogue, to increase milk production in nursing mothers.

vervain Verbena-urticifolia-Distribution-Map
V. urticifolia

Vervain is bitter but the leaves and flowerheads can be used alone or with other herbs in a tea. Vervain’s effects blend well with chamomile. I have used the leaves of blue vervain with the flowers of goldenrod and mullein (for a headache), and found the tea quite pleasant tasting. The seeds are edible.

Notes:

Vervain is not meant to be used in high doses. In higher doses, it has been used as an emetic (to induce vomiting.) Vervain can be stimulating to the uterus and should not be used during pregnancy; however, it has been used during childbirth to help labor contractions.

More identification photos for blue vervain: Minnesota wildflowers

Other species of vervain:

Common vervain (V. officinalis)
Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta)
Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta)
vervain verbena-simplex-fl-wcullina
Narrow-leaved vervain (Verbena simplex)

cited sources:
1. Good health herbs

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Common mullein was imported into the United States early in the 18th century and cultivated for its medicinal properties and use as a piscicide. (1) It is common in all the states, and in Canada. Due to phenotype variations within the species, V. thapsus has the ability to grow in a wide range of habitats and conditions.

Mullein rosette
First year mullein

Mullein is usually a biennial. First year plants are a basal rosette of soft, fuzzy leaves. Because they are so soft, the leaves are also called flannel leaf and bunny’s ears. In its second year, mullein spikes and flowers, and can grow quite tall, about 6-8 feet. The second year plants are easy to identify even from far away, and in my opinion can be rather handsome.

Second year leaves
Second year leaves

Mullein is best known as a treatment for respiratory complaints such as chest colds, bronchitis, and asthma. The leaves and flowers contain mucilage, which is soothing to irritated membranes, making it helpful for sore throat. The saponins it contains work as an expectorant. Mullein soothes digestive upsets and relieves stomach cramps. It can be made into a tea; the flowers make a sweeter tea than the leaves, which are slightly bitter. Strain the tea through a coffee filter to remove stray hairs.

Open flowers of mullein
Open flowers of mullein

Native Americans also drank a decoction of the roots for cough, or smoked the dried leaves to treat asthma. Leaf poultices soothe skin rashes, bruises, and rheumatic pains. Mullein’s antibacterial properties inhibit mycobacterium, the bacteria which cause tuberculosis. It supports thyroid function,  relieves migraine pain, and has a calming effect as a sleep aid. Used as a compress, mullein is a soothing treatment for cold sores or hemorrhoids. As a diuretic, it is helpful long-term for the prevention of bladder infections. For incontinence, and bedwetting in children, mullein helps by strengthening the muscle at the base of the bladder. An infusion of mullein root has a moisturizing and lubricating effect on the synovial membranes, helping with inflammation and pain in the spine and joints. [1] The flower oil has been used to treat earache ( especially when combined with fresh garlic), as well as mouth and gum ulcers.

Yellow flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon.
Yellow flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon.

To make mullein flower oil, fill a small jar with fresh mullein flowers. Letting them wilt for a few hours is helpful as it reduces their moisture content. Mash them slightly, and fill the jar with olive oil, submerging them completely. Stir to make sure there are no air bubbles. Cap the jar and place it on a sunny windowsill for at least five days, or up to a month. Then, strain the mixture and pour the oil into another jar. Mullein flower oil will keep for up to two years in a cool place.

V. thapsus
V. thapsus

Notes:

The useful parts of mullein (flowers, leaves, and roots) have almost no toxicity. Mullein is effective and safe. Only the seeds should be avoided.

1) piscicide: a chemical substance which is poisonous to fish.

cited sources: 1. herbcraft.org

Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Greater plantain (Plantago major) in flower
Greater plantain (Plantago major) in flower

There are two species of plantain commonly found growing in lawns and along roadways, Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata. Plantain is truly an adaptable and widespread plant.

Plantago major, also known as Broadleaf plantain or Greater plantain, is one of the most abundant and widespread medicinal crops in the world. Its seeds, as a common contaminant in cereal grains and crop seeds, have contributed to its success; it has a worldwide distribution as a naturalized species. It colonizes lawns, and pops up in sidewalk cracks. It is able to grow in a wide range of conditions and climates, thrives in disturbed compacted soil, and survives repeated trampling.

Plantain is believed to be one of the first plants to reach America with the settlers; wherever they went, plantain followed, hence its common name among some Native American people- ‘white man’s footprint’.

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P. lanceolata in flower

This success is what earns its title as a weed, but fortunately, it is not a plant without merit. Simply because of its ability to grow in compacted soils, it is an important plant for soil rehabilitation, breaking up the soil and helping to prevent erosion.

The young leaves are edible as both a salad green and a cooked green. Older leaves are tough but can be cooked into soups or stew.

Plantain is valuable for its medicinal merit. It is at its most useful, in my opinion, for its ready availability in the event of an insect bite or sting, or perhaps a skinned knee. No matter where you are, there is bound to be a plantain underfoot. A poultice of the leaves can be used on insect bites as an antihistamine and anti-inflammatory, on poison ivy rash (also see jewelweed) or stinging nettle rash, and on wounds to stop bleeding (see yarrow), prevent infection and speed healing. The leaves contain allantoin, which stimulates cellular growth and tissue repair; and mucilage, which reduces pain and discomfort. They also have astringent and antimicrobial properties. In a pinch, the simplest way to make a poultice is to chew the leaf into a pulp, and apply it to the affected area.

P. major
P. major

An ointment can also be made from the leaves and used in the same way. [1] The recipe is as follows: “Mix one cup of plantain leaves with a quarter cup of olive oil and heat in a small, enameled pan over low heat until mushy. Strain and stir in a tablespoon of grated beeswax. When beeswax has melted, store in a tightly covered container. Use within a couple of days or store in refrigerator for longer shelf life.“

Plantain seeds are high in mucilage, and good for the digestive system. They can be chewed, or made into a tea. Plantain seed (or flower) tea can be used as a home remedy for constipation (Psyllium fiber is made from the seeds of plantain ovata); tea from the leaves is a remedy for diarrhea and, with a high vitamin and mineral content, it simultaneously replaces the nutrients lost due to it.

P. lanceolata
P. lanceolata

A tea made from the leaves also soothes the throat and can be used as a highly effective cough medicine. Plantain works as a gentle expectorant, but is especially useful for soothing dry cough. To make a tea, use 3-4 Tbsp fresh leaves (2-3 tsp dried) per cup of water. Pour the boiling water over the leaves- cover and steep for 10-15 minutes. A simple recipe for cough syrup, using narrowleaf plantain, can be found here.

Plantain is useful in the event of a toothache. Fresh leaves can be chewed and placed on an aching tooth. The root can also be used. (click here for more natural toothache remedies)

Plantain leaves also contain aucubin, which increases uric acid excretion, and may be useful for the treatment of gout.

plantago major
plantago major
p. lanceolata
p. lanceolata

cited sources: 1. everygreenherb.com

Yarrow (Soldier’s Woundwort)

https://gentlestrengthbotanicals.wordpress.com/
Butterfly on yarrow. Photo courtesy of Gentle Strength Botanicals.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium), also called soldier’s woundwort, is best known for its ability to stop bleeding and prevent infection. A functional antiseptic, styptic, and hemostatic, it was used during battle for thousands of years to pack wounds. If you remember only one plant for the purpose of first aid in nature, let it be this one.

Yarrow inflorescence
Yarrow inflorescence

Yarrow contains an alkaloid with the ability to make blood clot faster. It is useful both externally and internally for this purpose. It also contains salicylic acid, a derivative of aspirin, which functions as a pain killer and anti-inflammatory.

Resins present in yarrow possess astringent properties, and the silica helps the body’s natural ability to heal and repair damaged tissues. Yarrow is beneficial to the digestive system, invigorating the appetite and increasing the absorption of nutrients. Its astringent and antispasmodic properties help with digestive and inflammatory issues such as diarrhea or IBS.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Due to the salicylic acid, yarrow can also be useful for treating fever. Some Native Americans chewed the stem for this purpose. The leaves can be chewed for toothache.

Feathery leaves of yarrow
Feathery leaves of yarrow

A tsp of dried yarrow, or about 3 fresh leaves, can be used to make a cup of medicinal tea, and sweetened to taste. For a milder tasting tea, the flowers can be used. Lemon makes a good addition to yarrow tea. The tea is helpful for allergies (see stinging nettle) and indigestion, and works to lower fever by inducing sweating. It can treat cramps and heavy bleeding during menstruation.

Yarrow tea can be used externally as an astringent face wash. A infusion (strong tea) can be useful as a wash to heal eczema, or can be added to a child’s bath to help reduce fever. Yarrow is a strong herb; for internal use, steep the plant in hot water rather than boiling it.

Yarrow can be found growing in sunny, open places such as in meadows or along the roadside. This perennial native to Europe, Asia, and North America was once a popular leaf vegetable, and the younger leaves, finely chopped, can be cooked like spinach or used in soups. The leaves can be used as a dried herb for cooking.

yarrow achillea millefolium range map1

Notes:

Yarrow is generally considered safe. It may stimulate the uterus and should not be used during pregnancy. Those allergic to plants in the ragweed family may also be allergic to yarrow. Some may develop a contact rash from yarrow. Ingesting yarrow can cause increased sensitivity to light. It also contains small amounts of the compound thujone, which can be toxic in large doses. For information about yarrow’s drug interactions, click here.

cited sources: Gentle Strength Botanicals

Leaves of yarrow

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Stinging hairs of nettle
Stinging hairs of nettle

Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle, is well known for the burning, itchy rash it causes when you come into contact with its stinging hairs. But lesser known is its value as an edible and medicinal plant.

Cooking removes the stinging chemicals from the plant, rendering it edible. As a cooked green, nettle is said to taste similar to spinach, and can be used in place of it in recipes.

Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains silica and other minerals needed to promote healthy hair, skin and nails, and is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Nettle leaves contain up to 25% protein by dry weight. It is best harvested for edible use in the spring, before it has flowered or set seed. For ideas on how to cook nettle, click here.

U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.
U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.

Nettle has shown much value in the treatment of allergies. It has been used for this purpose for centuries, particularly for hay fever (seasonal allergies), the most common allergy problem. Nettle has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. This makes it effective for the treatment of eczema, hives, and asthma as well.

Unlike conventional allergy medications, nettle has been shown to be effective without the risk of side effects, and its effectiveness does not lessen over time as conventional treatments can tend to do. For this purpose, nettle can be taken daily in capsule form, or made into a tea. A tea can be made using 3 or 4 teaspoons of dried nettle leaves in 2/3 cup of water. A stronger infusion has been known to treat allergy symptoms within minutes.

Leaves and seeds of slender nettle (Urtica gracilis)
Slender nettle (Urtica gracilis) leaves and seeds. Slender nettle has narrower leaves and fewer stinging hairs than stinging nettle, and often grows much taller (up to 7 feet).

Stinging nettle has the effect of increasing a mother’s milk supply. (1) It has also been used in conjunction with other herbs, such as Prunus africana (red stinkwood) and Serenoa repens (saw palmetto) for the treatment of an inflamed or enlarged prostate. A combination of nettle and Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) and Alpinia officinarum (lesser galangal) has been used as an antihemorrhagic. (2)

Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)

Stinging nettle tea helps to clear excess uric acid from the body, relieving the pain and inflammation of gout. Due to its ability to decrease blood sugar, it can be helpful for those who suffer from diabetes. And alongside vitamin C and cranberries, it is helpful in the treatment of urinary tract infections. It eases the inflammation of the bladder and urethra, soothing the pain, and promotes urination, flushing the body of the harmful bacteria.

Treatment of Nettle Stings.

Interestingly, the juice of the nettle leaves themselves, as an antihistamine, can be used to treat the welts associated with a nettle rash. Other readily available natural treatments include jewelweed, the common lawn weed plantain, or baking soda. In a pinch you can always use urine (although I am personally uncertain how desperate one would have to be to urinate on themselves). 🙂

Urtica dioica
Urtica dioica
urtica dioica
Urtica dioica

Notes:

Nettle’s properties make it useful against a long list of maladies. Besides those listed above, it is beneficial in the treatment of: arthritis, bronchitis, bursitis, gingivitis, laryngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, tendinitis, rheumatism and other inflammatory conditions, as well as high blood pressure, hair loss, anemia, excessive menstruation, hemorrhoids, neuralgia, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones, multiple sclerosis, PMS, and sciatica. Forgive me for not covering all of them in the article! 😀

1. galactagogue: a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk.

2. antihemorrhagic: a substance that promotes hemostasis (stops bleeding). Also known as a hemostatic.