Rue 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.
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.
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
Polemonium 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.
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.
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.
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).
The 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.
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.
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.
Research has verified that blue vervain has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving (analgesic) effects, similar to aspirin.  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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.  The flower oil has been used to treat earache ( especially when combined with fresh garlic), as well as mouth and gum ulcers.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
An ointment can also be made from the leaves and used in the same way.  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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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). 🙂
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.
Impatiens capensis is a North American native annual. Related to the garden-variety impatiens, it does not like to dry out and is often found growing in ditches, near waterways, and in bottomland forests. A common name is spotted touch-me-not, named for the seed pods which pop when touched, scattering its seeds. The leaves repel water, and appear silver underwater, possibly the origin of its other common name, jewelweed.
Another species, pale jewelweed (impatiens pallida) has yellow flowers rather than orange, and is less common.
Jewelweed is a traditional remedy for various skin conditions, and is best known as a remedy against poison ivy rash. The sooner it is applied, the better it works. Happily, where poison ivy grows, jewelweed is often not far away.
The leaves of jewelweed can be crushed and used as a poultice after coming into contact with poison ivy, and often this prevents the rash altogether. The juice from the stems can be used, but this is most effective before the plant has flowered. A tea can be made from the crushed leaves, frozen into icecubes, and applied to the skin as needed. Jewelweed can also be applied before potential exposure as a preventative.
The active compound found in jewelweed, lawsone, is proven to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. The plant also contains balsaminones, which have strong antipruritic (anti-itch) properties.
Jewelweed can also be used for nettle stings, hives, eczema , insect stings and bites, cuts, acne, and other various skin irritations. The seeds, while minute, are edible and pleasant tasting.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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.