Is There a Drugstore in Your Backyard?

Shinleaf flowers blooming in early July at Distant Hill Gardens.
Shinleaf flowers blooming in early July

Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is a native perennial wildflower that can be found growing in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens. It is an evergreen herb, 5-10 inches high with a slender, branching rootstock that produces a set of basal, dark green, ovate to elliptical leaves.


The naked flower stalk bears from 7-15 white, waxy, drooping, greenish-white flowers, which smell like lily-of-the-valley and bloom in early summer here in southern New Hampshire.


Shinleaf is also known as Waxflower Shinleaf or Wild Lily-of-the-valley.


Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) in our woods.
Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) in our woods.

It contains a drug closely related to aspirin. The leaves reportedly have analgesic properties and were used as a poultice on bruised shins and other sores and wounds. Such a leaf plaster was referred to as a shin plaster. Tea made from the plant is said to have been used by some native American tribes as a treatment for epileptic fits, rheumatism, indigestion, and sore throatsI have read that Shinleaf can be propagated by root cuttings or runner divisions. If young plants are containerized, they can be brought inside in late winter to hasten growth. I think I may give it a try. It sounds like it would make a good addition to the medicine cabinet!