Medicinal Plants of Distant Hill
A Very Useful Plant
Salidago, commonly called Goldenrod, is a genus of over 100 species of flowering perennial plants in the aster family. The majority are native to North America, with just a few species native to South America and Eurasia.
The pollen of Goldenrod is often unfairly blamed for causing hay fever in humans. However, the true culprit is the wind-dispersed pollen of Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.), which blooms at the same time as goldenrod. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be easily blown about, with the plants relying on insects for pollination.
The flowers of Goldenrod are an important source of fall nectar for bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies. The leaves are also used as a food source by the larvae of many butterfly and moth species
Humans have put Goldenrod to good use over the years. Native Americans used the seeds of some species for food. They also chewed the leaves to relieve sore throats and chewed the roots to relieve toothaches.
Solidago virgaurea, European Goldenrod, is used today as a kidney tonic by herbalists to treat inflammation and irritation caused by bacterial infections or kidney stones.
One of the more interesting uses of Goldenrod took place in the early 20th century, when Inventor Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod to produce rubber. Edison created a fertilization and cultivation process to maximize the rubber content in each plant. His experiments produced a 12-foot-tall (3.7 m) plant that yielded as much as 12% rubber. The tires on the Model T given to Edison by his friend Henry Ford were made from goldenrod.
Is There a Drugstore in Your Backyard?
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.
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 throats.
I 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!
The Three North American Species
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America and one each in Japan and China. They are deciduous shrubs or small trees growing to 10–30ft (3–9m) tall.
Hamamelis virginiana, known as common or American witch-hazel, is a species of witch-hazel native to eastern North America. It blooms in the fall while all other species of witch-hazel bloom in late winter or early spring. H. virigiana grows naturally in the woods of Distant Hill Gardens.
Hamamelis vernalis is a species of witch-hazel native to the Ozark Plateau in central North America, in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Vernal Witch-hazel is under cultivation in our gardens at Distant Hill.
Hamamelis ovalis, known as Big leaf witch-hazel, is a new species of witch-hazel that was only discovered in July 2004, in southern Mississippi. It has since also been found in a few sites in southern Alabama.
aka 'Snapping Hazel'
The seed capsule of witch-hazel splits explosively at maturity, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 30 ft (10 m), giving it the sometimes used common name "Snapping Hazel".
Medicinal Uses of Witch-hazel
Witch hazel is an astringent produced from the leaves and bark of the North American Witch-hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana). This plant extract was widely used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. They produced witch hazel extract by boiling the stems of the shrub and producing a decoction, which was used to treat swellings, inflammations, and tumors. Early Puritan settlers in New England adopted this remedy and witch hazel is a component of a variety of commercial healthcare products today.
More Interesting Facts About Witch-hazel
- Witch-hazel is one of the very few American medicinal plants approved as an ingredient in non-prescription drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- The botanical name, Hamamelis, translates to “together with fruit”. This refers to the fact that witch-hazel is one of the few trees/shrubs that can bear fruit, leaves and flowers simultaneously.
A Beautiful Medicinal Native Plant
American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) is one of my favorite shade-loving native plants under cultivation at Distant Hill Gardens.
American spikenard is a relative of ginseng. A perennial here at Distant Hill Gardens, it reaches up to 6 feet in height and makes a striking display in the garden. The plant produces tiny greenish-white flowers in rounded clusters in the summer and dark purple-red berries in the fall.
One of its most beautiful attributes of Aralia racemosa are its heart-shaped leaves that can reach up to 8 inches across.
We grew our Spikenard from seed gathered from native specimens in our woods.
Medicinally, the roots of American Spikenard have a number of uses, including as a diuretic and as an expectorant. Native Americans used an infusion of the roots to treat a wide variety of ailments, including tuberculosis, coughs, colds, sore throats, menstrual problems, kidney problems, and lung diseases. They also applied a poultice of the root to burns, swelling, wounds, boils, sprained muscles, and broken bones.
A Medicinal Native Plant
Western Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), also known as simply Pearly Everlasting, is a perennial wildflower that was often used medicinally by North American Indian tribes to treat a range of ailments.
Common uses for this species included poultices for treatment of sores, boiling in tea or a steam bath for rheumatism, or smoked to treat colds. The plant was also among many native species of plant used as a tobacco substitute.
Over 100 species of Anaphalis are recognized in India, south Asia, and Europe, but only one, Anaphalis margaritacea, is native to North America. All members of the genus are commonly known by the name pearl or pearly everlasting for the pearl-white involucre bracts that surround the yellow disk flowers. These bracts remain fresh in appearance long after the central disk flowers have wilted, making them well suited for dried flower arrangements.
Western Pearly Everlasting attracts both butterflies and bees and
acts as the host for Skipper, Moth and American Painted Lady caterpillars.
Its Tea Time
All parts of the
(Actaea pachypoda) plant are considered poisonous to humans. But, according to Wikipedia, both Native Americans and settlers made tea out of the roots for relieving pain of childbirth. The early colonists also used the plant to improve circulation and to cure headache or eyestrain. This plant is sometimes called Dolls Eyes because the white fruits resemble the china eyes once used in dolls.
In cultivation White Baneberry requires part to full shade, rich loamy soil, and regular water with good drainage to reproduce its native habitat. We have had good luck transplanting Doll's Eyes from the forest to the gardens of Distant Hill. Come late summer, the flowers will transform themselves into the large white berries shown above.
A Poisonous Native Plant (unless you are a bear)
Jack-in-the-Pulpit is one of those red-berried plants that families with small children should avoid planting in their gardens. All uncooked parts of the plant are poisonous to humans. However, the corms can be eaten by humans if processed correctly, and Black Bear, who happen to love the corms of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, can eat them without a problem.
Medicine in the Bog
Extracts of the Round-leaved Sundew, also called Common Sundew (Drosera rotundifloia) have show great efficacy as an anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. The sundew was used during the middle ages to treat the plague, and is used today as a Homeopathic cough remedy.
There are hundreds of Round-leaved Sundew growing in the bog at Distant Hill Gardens. Sundews comprise one of the largest genera of carnivorous plants, with near 200 known species.
The plant feeds on insects, which are attracted to its bright red sticky tentacles. It uses enzymes to dissolve the insects and extract nitrates and other nutrients from their bodies. It is thought the Sundew has evolved this carnivorous behavior in response to its habitat, which is usually poor in nutrients or so acidic that nutrient availability is severely decreased.
The Round-leaved Sundew, one of the most widespread sundew species, is found in all of northern Europe, Siberia, Korea, Japan, New Guinea and much of northern North America.
In North America, it is considered endangered in the US states of Illinois and Iowa, exploitably vulnerable in New York, and threatened in Tennessee.
Pulsatilla vulgaris is an early blooming perennial at Distant Hill Gardens. One of its common names is Pasque flower. However, Pasque flower is also the common name for a number of other species of plant of the genus Pulsatilla. Proof that using the common name for a plant can be quite misleading. To add to the difficulty, the genus Pulsatilla is sometimes considered a subgenus under the genus Anemone. Pulsatilla vulgaris is synonymous with Anemone pulsatilla. Even the Latin names can be misleading. I think those who name plants go out of their way to make it complicated!
A Poison or a Medicine ... or Both?
Pulsatillas are highly toxic, and produce cardiogenic toxins and oxytoxins which slow the heart in humans. The herb is harmful if eaten fresh and only the dried plant should be used medicinally. The anemonin compound in Pulsatilla is a powerful irritant, and overdoses cause violent gastroenteritis, vomiting, looseness of the bowels, convulsions and even coma. Even so, some Native Americans have used Anemone pulsatilla as a medicine for centuries. They used it to induce abortions and childbirth, among other things.
In researching my blog posts about the various plants at Distant Hill Gardens, I have discovered just how many plants have proven (and some unproven) medicinal qualities. According to the 'US Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers' webpage on Medicinal Botany, a full 40 percent of the drugs behind the pharmacist’s counter in the Western world are derived from plants that people have used for centuries, including the top 20 best selling prescription drugs in the United States today. Here is a link to a Wikipedia list of Medicinal plants, many of which grow at Distant Hill Gardens.
Lungwort ... A Cure For What Ails You
The photo is of Pulmonaria saccharata 'Mrs. Moon', also called Lungwort or Bethlehem Sage. It is one of the earliest blooming perennials at Distant Hill Gardens. In spring, the plant produces small clusters of 5-petaled flowers that are pink at first, and later turn to blue-purple. It easily self-seeds, but the seedlings are manageable. It makes a beautiful ground cover or single plant early in the season, but can turn quite ugly in the heat of summer if it doesn't get enough water and shade.
The genus Pulmonaria or Lungworts have been cultivated for centuries as a medicinal herb, because the ovate spotted leaves were thought to be representative of diseased lungs. This followed the 'Doctrine of Signatures' - the concept that the key to the medicinal use of various plants was indicated by the form of the plant. This concept was employed by the herbalists of the Renaissance, and was accepted until the latter part of the 19th century.
Lungwort Tea is still used in the treatment of chest diseases and asthma. Its benefits are thought to include a therapeutic effect on the respiratory system, and it is said to be one of the best herbal remedies to relieve the most common symptoms of flu and colds.
Some -Wort Plants and Their ‘Signatures'
- Lousewort, Pedicularis - thought to be useful in repelling lice
- Spleenwort, Asplenium - thought to be useful in treating the spleen
- Liverwort, Marchantiophyta - thought to be useful in treating the liver
- Toothwort, Dentaria - thought to be useful in treating tooth ailments
- Hedge woundwort, Stachys - thought to have antiseptic qualities
- Lungwort - Pulmonaria - used in treating pulmonary infections.