When healing from the worst flu I’ve experienced in years became my entire schedule this week, I had to shift gears with my post for today. I’ve decided to write about something that’s fascinated me for years, but is categorically ancillary to the conversation we usually have in this space about wildlife gardening.
Herbal medicine and the practice of using plants to heal from disease and discomfort have captivated me for over a decade. In the past year and a half, I’ve been recovering from a health condition that’s a vocational hazard for people who work in the green industry, and one that western medicine has been to date, unfortunately ill-equipped to tackle effectively. This experience has motivated me and jettisoned me exponentially further into learning everything I can get my hands on about plant medicine for healing, and I’ve been astonished to learn how many of our favorite native plants for wildlife gardening were once used medicinally. And they have ostensibly worked wonders. I integrate the use of the same native plants used in wildlife gardening into my healing protocol via tinctures, capsules and teas at every opportunity that seems sensible. Wildlife gardening medicine may just be the future trend needed to turn the tides on the environmental crisis. If people want to have as many native plants growing on their property as possible to ensure there are enough stock plants for their family’s medicinal use harvesting (ie, if people believe there’s something in it for them), then maybe our beloved native plants, even the obscure ones would finally become less marginalized in the landscape.
The abundance of native plants in America that have a history of medicinal use (mostly by First Nations healers and shamans) is much too extensive to be captured in a short post like this. There’s a lot we don’t have records of and most likely a lot we haven’t yet discovered too. I’ve chosen a handful of my favorite native plants that are used in wildlife gardening and have historical records of miraculous herbal healing properties to model this concept, but this barely scratches the surface of the potential healing power and historical use of our native flora.
Joe Pye Weed
The taller pink flowered plant in the photo above is Eupatorium maculata or E. purpureum or Joe Pye Weed. The plant was named for a First Nations healer who was called, “Joe Pye.” Mr. Joe Pye successfuly stopped a burgeoning Typhus epidemic infecting European settlers in New England using Eupatorium purpureum as the core substance of his herbal treatment protocol. (source- Healing Lyme Disease Naturally, by Wolf D. Storl, page 305). Joe Pye Weed has also been traditionally used for healing venereal diseases of bacterial origin. In fact, all of the Eupatorium species have been used for this purpose.
Eupatorium perfoliatum or Boneset‘s elegant plant skeletal-like structure initially nudged the tribal plant healers to experiment with its use in healing problems with pain in the bones, like arthritis. It actually ended up being an exceptional remedy for this purpose. Boneset has many common names including three that went out of fashion in 1885: “Agueweed,” “Feverwort” and “Sweating Plant.” Boneset is used for the treatment of fever chills and other problems of influenza. The sesquiterpene lactones in E. perfoliatum stimulate the immune system, are reported to combat cancer cells and have a pain relief component that easily matches the effectiveness of aspirin. The aerial flower parts are what is used medicinally, and can be fresh harvested and infused in hot bath water for a full body penetrating relief of arthritis-like pain and/or fever reduction. (source, Herbal Antibiotics, Stephen Harrod Buhner, pages 265-268).
All of the lobelia species have a rich history of medicinal use, especially for their bacterial crushing properties. Blue Lobelia, or Lobelia siphilitica is so named because of this plant’s use in curing Syphilis. The eastern woodlands First Nations tribes successfully treated themselves and French settlers of Syphilis with Lobelia siphilitica. A Swedish botanist named Kalm was quoted in 1749 about Blue Lobelia’s action in Syphilis treatment, he said 5 or 6 months of consistent treatment was required for complete healing, but that it was successful if a person stayed the course. (source, Healing Lyme Disease Naturally, Wolf D. Storl, pages 303-304
There are between 200-350 species of Scutellaria, or Skullcap worldwide, and they have been used medicinally on every continent. Oftentimes the regionally native species are the most useful to the people who live there, because the vitality and healing potentcy (known as “chi” in tradional Chinese medicine) seems to be strengthened in a plant that is growing in the region it is indigenous to. This is not always gospel, though, concerning the Scutellarias; some of the species potency or specific actions are intrinsic. Also, there have been upwards of 600 journal articles done on the medicinal properties and successful treatments of the Chinese Scullcap species, S. baicalensis compared to a measly 24 articles on the efficacy of the most widely used American Skullcap, S. lateriflora. There is so much we don’t know. The master herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner hypothesizes that the American Skullcap species are probably as potent and medicinally valuable as the universally worshipped Chinese varieties, but people default to the Chinese Skullcaps and we lack this information. Stephen Buhner encourages open-minded people in North America, especially on the east coast to grow their regionally indigenous Skullcaps liberally and experiment with treating themselves medicinally with the plant’s aerial flower parts combined with root parts, and give him the anecdotal feedback by email. (source, Herbal Antivirals, Stephen Harrod Buhner, pages 125-127. Skullcap is used cumulatively with many other herbs in the treatment of Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection. The Scutellarias are also used in the treatments of viral infections and are wonderful anti-inflammatory agents, which makes them an exceptional herbal medicine for inflammatory sourced conditions like arthritis, chronic inflammation, taxed organs and muscle pain.
Most posts written for this beautiful web location, and its sister sites focus a steady gaze on using the plantlife native to our respective regions and how to demystify the process of successfully doing so by sharing the necessary conditions for each individual plant or the native plants’ legion benefits to our native wildlife. Some of our writers have exceptional designer savvy, and are setting hot, eco-restorative trends while daring the rest of us to keep up. I love every single delightful, passionate, life giving inch of this community and all of its brilliant arc across the ethereal atmosphere. And as I’ve developed as a landscape designer who exclusively utilizes plant material indigenous to my locale, something magical and unexpected has happened inside me, an awakening, a lot like falling in love and it is all about these astonishing native plant species. And I want to know every possible piece of information I can about these beauties. The fact that Asclepias tuberosa is a larval host plant for Monarch butterflies and is, in a parallel world, known to herbal practitioners as, “pleurisy root” for it’s efficacy in pulmonary issues, especially pushing through stalled lymph tissue in the lungs (which is, by the way, the number one reason influenza still kills people in this day and age) literally gets me out of bed most mornings. Wildlife Gardening Medicine might just be the answer for multiple crises on terra firma. It is, hands down, doing a bang up job of fixing what’s wrong with every single thing in my world.
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