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Backyard Medicine: 4 Plants You Should Add to Your Medicine Cabinet

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Herbs on a windowsill

Many of the medicines you use today come from plants. You may have heard that aspirin was originally derived from willow bark (it is now made synthetically), but did you know that the anticancer drug Taxol was derived from a chemical found in the Pacific yew tree?

The natural world has a lot of healing to offer, and some of it may be right in your yard. Below are a few examples of easy-to-find and easy-to-use plants that you can incorporate into your medicine  cabinet.

Note: The following are common folk remedies, and although they have long been used safely, it is always good to check with a certified herbalist before taking any herbs, especially if you are already on medications, are pregnant or nursing.


Finally, you can find a reason to love this weed! The dandelion is rich in vitamins, iron and potassium. It is a natural diuretic that is often used in cleansing teas, and is beneficial as a liver tonic.

Here are a couple of options for using this yellow devil:

Dandelion saute: The leaves can be pan fried/sauteed and added to a salad to add a boost of Vitamins A, B, C and D. Start with small amounts, as the leaves are high in inulin and some people are sensitive to this fiber.

Dandelion coffee: The root can be ground and drunk as a coffee-flavored caffeine substitute that also aids digestion and acts as a mild laxative. Here is a “how-to” from the Prodigal Gardens.

Dandelion tea: The leaves can be dried and drunk as a tea used either as a liver tonic or as a diuretic that will not deplete the body of potassium. Take 1-2 tsp of dried leaves and steep in 1 cup hot water. Steep for 5-10 minutes to taste, and drink.

*Warnings : People allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemum, daisy, yarrow, marigold or iodine should avoid using dandelions in any form. If you have kidney problems, gallstones, or are taking a diuretic, talk to a healthcare professional before adding dandelion to your diet.

Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum)

These are edible? Absolutely! They hold a lot of water, so are great in a pinch if you find yourself dying of thirst, but they are also a great skin soother for insect bites, burns and and other minor skin irritations or infections.

Lemon Balm*

This plant grows everywhere, and in fact is often seen growing by the curb or on the side of the sidewalk in the shade of trees. If you rub the leaves, you smell a pleasant lemony scent. This herb is best known for its calming properties.

Calming Lemon Tea: Take 1/4 - 1 teaspoonful of dried lemon balm and steep for 3-5 minutes in hot water. This tea has been used to help with anxiety and insomnia. Click here to find out how to make an iced tea version with fresh lemon balm.

Topical: There are some promising studies that show lemon balm cream to be a useful way to treat cold sores and other types of herpes. For cold sores or herpes sores, use this recipe from the University of Maryland Medical Center: Lemon Balm Popsicles:

Because its flavor is mild and lemony, a medicinal strength tea can be mixed with honey (to taste), then frozen and given to children in popsicle form when they have a fever.

*Possible interactions: Do not take lemon balm if pregnant or nursing. If you are taking sedatives, thyroid medications or HIV medications, ask your doctor before taking lemon balm.

Red Raspberry Leaf

You love the berry, but have you ever considered using the leaves? Red raspberry leaf is sometimes called the “Woman’s Herb” because it is thought to be incredibly beneficial for most menstrual irregularities.

Pregnancy tea: Red raspberry leaf is considered a uterine tonic, and so has long been recommended by midwives at the end of pregnancy to help shorten and ease labor. Here is a recipe to try courtesy of Mommypotamus.

Fertility tea: It is often used in combination with red clover to improve fertility. You can take 1 ounce of dried red clover blossoms and 1/2 ounce of red raspberry leaf. Put them in a 1-quart canning jar, fill it with boiling water and steep overnight. You can drink up to 4 cups/day of this infusion.

Topical use: Because the leaf is high in tannins, it is also great as a tincture at soothing skin issues, such as rashes, eczema, and sunburn.

These are just a few of the easy-to-use medicinals that you can find in your neighborhood. If you are interested in finding out other remedies that you can make on your own, check out the website Learning Herbs.

Erin Brockmeyer, LAc, is owner and acupuncturist at Solstice Natural Health in downtown Portland. She creates custom health plans for patients to help them tackle their most complicated health concerns, including infertility, prenatal care, fibromyalgia, thyroid conditions and chronic and acute pain conditions.  

Visit her website http://www.solsticeacupuncture.com for more information and to download her free e-book 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Health Today.

Home page photo credit:  PAVDW via Compfight cc


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