Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)


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:



Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)


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

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

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’.

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.

Yarrow (Soldier’s Woundwort)
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


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


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.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot)

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Wild Carrot is a flowering plant native to Europe and southwest Asia. It is naturalized throughout much of the United States and Canada and can be found growing wild in fields and along roadsides. The root of D. carota is edible, and can be cooked and used in a similar way as cultivated carrots. The dried roasted roots can be ground into a powder and used as a coffee substitute.

Only the first year root should be used. Since wild carrot is a biennial, and flowers in its second year, the root of a carrot in flower is too woody to be used. At this point you can peel the stem and eat it both raw and cooked. The flower (like many things, I suppose) is said to be tasty deep fried.

Queen Anne’s lace umbels and a developing seed-head

The leaves are edible as both a raw (when young) and cooked green. The aromatic seeds can be used as flavoring in stews, carrying “hints of citrus, cumin, coriander, and caraway.” When I tasted the seed I found it to be reminiscent of pine, slightly sweet, and a little bitter.

What really sets this plant apart is its history of use as a contraceptive. Women have been using the seeds for such a purpose for centuries. Research in this area has shown promise. Interestingly, a plant in the same family, silphium, was so prized as a contraceptive that the demand led to its extinction in the 3rd or 2nd century BC.

Seeds of Queen Anne's lace
Seeds of Queen Anne’s lace

Wild carrot has many medicinal properties. The seeds are said to be a diuretic (1). They support the kidneys and help prevent kidney stones. They are also carminative (2), soothing the digestive tract in case of gas, diarrhea, or indigestion. The seeds can also be used to stimulate the appetite, and alleviate menstrual cramps. An infusion of the seeds can be made using one teaspoon of the seeds per cup of boiling water. Note: Because of its contraceptive properties, wild carrot seed should not be used during pregnancy.

queen annes lace 4

The leaves of wild carrot contain porphyrins, which stimulate the pituitary and induce sex hormone production. It also stimulates the uterus. This, of course, makes it contraindicated during pregnancy, but perhaps useful for the purpose of inducing labor. You can make a tea from both fresh and dried leaves. It has similar medicinal properties as the seed infusion.

Cultivated carrots are a subspecies of Daucus carota (wild carrot). Carrots have many health benefits but I will list only a few of them here. Chewing a carrot after a meal is good for your mouth. It contains minerals, stimulates your gums, and cleans your teeth, helping to prevent tooth decay. There is a direct correlation between eating more carrots and lowering your risk of heart disease, and a study from Harvard University concluded that eating more than five carrots a week greatly reduces the risk of stroke in the elderly. [1]

Unfortunately, wild carrot has a few poisonous look-alikes, including poison hemlock, water hemlock, and fool’s parsley. Fortunately, there are differences between them, and it is easy to tell the difference if you know what to look for.

The most telling difference is the existence of a red or purple flower in the center of the wild carrot umbel. If you see it, you can be sure the plant in question is wild carrot.

photo courtesy of Susan Minarik at
photo courtesy of Susan Minarik at

Not all wild carrot umbels have a dark flower, which brings us to the second difference. Wild carrot stems are hairy, while the stems of both hemlock’s and fool’s parsley are smooth and hairless. This difference is important because it can be noticed in even the first year plants, which otherwise look very similar. Wild carrot also smells like a carrot.

First year plants. Note the hairs on the wild carrot leaves
Left: Queen Anne’s lace, Right: Poison Hemlock. Note the hairs on the plant on the left. (Click to enlarge)
Daucus carota
Daucus carota

Click here for more comparison photos:
Poison Hemlock, Water Hemlock, and Fool’s Parsley

More identification pictures for Queen Anne’s Lace:

(1) Diuretic: any substance that promotes the production of urine.

(2) Carminative: a substance that eases griping pains and reduces the production of gas in the digestive tract.

cited sources:
1. Full Circle 2.