Since moving to the country and working toward self-sufficiency, I find myself paying a lot more attention to what’s coming out of the ground. I walk around taking pictures of plants on my phone, so I can look them up online and find out what they are and, more importantly, what use they may have, either nutritionally or medicinally – or both. Plants I had always thought were weeds or just wildflowers I have since found actually have wonderful medicinal uses. Sadly, much of this information has been lost through the generations as young people are more interested in the latest social media craze than what the old folks could teach them. Unless you still have your great-grandmother, who grew up in the mountains and was the local source for home remedies, or your great-grandfather was the medicine man of your tribe, you haven’t been taught what nature’s bounty can do for you and your family.
Years of weed killers have all but decimated beneficial plants and herbs. In the quest for the perfect lawn, society has snubbed the dandelion and the plantain, along with chickweed and clover. All four plants are edible. All four plants have medicinal uses. All four plants produce flowers which feed honey bees, a tiny animal we are very dependent on for life but are in serious danger of losing for good. And yet they are classified as weeds or nuisance plants and thus must be destroyed. When did a good looking lawn become more important than food and healing?
If you are like me and are hungry for more natural solutions as an alternative to “modern” medicine, you’ve spent a lot of time researching other options online. You may be one of the few who has found out there are a lot of beneficial plants that grow wild. But you still need to get outside and see what you have to work with in your own yard. I have found almost everything mentioned in this article growing on our place. It’s exciting to know that I have the tools needed to treat aches and pains, as well as stomach or kidney issues, right outside my door.
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In my internet perusals, I have found some plants that are so similar in looks they are often mistaken for each other. I thought I’d share a few with you in the hopes we can all know what we have and what it can do while giving us something else to keep our eyes out for while walking the land. This is by no means a complete list of the beneficial aspects of these plants. I didn’t have enough room for that here. I strongly encourage anyone who may be interested to look them up. If you want to try them yourself, please check with your doctor if you are on any medications. Sometimes Mother Nature and modern medicine don’t play well together.
Mullein and Lambs Ear
Mullein – (Verbascum thapsus) This plant can be found along the road in many places and has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes. I’ve found at least four plants on our property close to the house. It is used in respiratory disorders such as asthma and tuberculosis. It is a natural expectorant and a cough suppressant. It can be ingested in teas and tinctures, as well as smoked. Because it has antiviral and astringent properties, as well as soothing effects, it can also be used as a topical treatment for things like burns, bruises, hemorrhoids, and herpes.
Lambs Ear – (Stachys byzantina) I planted this in a flowerbed once to use it as a border plant. I just loved the soft, fuzzy leaves. A few years later, it had taken over a third of the bed and was growing in the yard across the walk. I had no idea at the time what an amazing plant it was nor how prolific. Its leaves have been used for bandages and dressings in battlefield situations. The leaves absorb blood quickly and assist with clotting. They have antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It literally is nature’s bandage. It has many more uses than I can list in this article. Search the internet and prepare to be amazed. If you decide to plant some and don’t want it to take over the area, I’d suggest putting it in a container.
How to tell the difference: Mullein will usually be a single plant with long pointed leaves. Lambs ear is more likely to be in a bed covering the ground. Its leaves are thicker and softer. Bonus: both can be used as an alternative to toilet paper!
Devil’s Walking Stick and Elderberry trees
Devil’s Walking Stick – (Aralia spinosa) We found a few of these in the yard. When I first saw them, I thought they were elderberry. The blossoms (which the bees absolutely adore) and the berries are very similar. The only way I could tell them apart is that this tree has large spines on it. The roots and berries are most well-known to ease toothaches, which has garnered it the nickname the toothache tree. In a tincture applied topically they can ease the pain of arthritic joints and rheumatism.
Elderberry – (Sambucus nigra) It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t heard of this plant and the amazing health benefits it provides. With the recent harsh flu season, a combination of a prescribed medicine and elderberry syrup seemed to be the best remedy for getting well quickly. It is one of the top antivirals on the planet. It is also one of the highest in flavonoids which give it a super antioxidant power. If you start taking it at the onset of cold or flu symptoms it can reduce the duration by half or more as opposed to someone who didn’t take it. It can be used just about any way you can think as far as its application. I keep tinctures on hand all the time.
How to tell the difference: The blooms and fruit are very similar. The best way to tell at a glance is devil’s walking stick has thorns on the tree. Elderberry does not. Make sure which it is as the devil’s walking stick berries are toxic.
Yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace
Yarrow – (Achillea millefolium) You may have this in your yard and you may think it’s a weed. It’s actually an herb. It can be used for a number of things such as reducing fever in tea form; topically for rashes and itching, and when combine with plantain helps stop bleeding and avoid infections; in tincture form it can help with menstrual cramps and hormone issues. It can also be added to lotions and salves to help with eczema.
Queen Anne’s Lace – (Daucus carota) Also known as wild carrot, this little plant has a host of vitamins not the least of which are B and C. It contains flavonoids and essential oils. In tea form, it has been used to prevent and eliminate kidney stones. It is used by some women as a contraceptive. The most used application forms are tea or tincture.
How to tell the difference: The flowers are similar, but the yarrow flowers are more clustered as opposed to the umbel of the Queen Anne. The leaves of the yarrow are alternate, while the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace are opposite. The leaves of the yarrow are also more finely divided.
These are just a few examples of plants you may have in your own yard. Amazing, isn’t it? It certainly has made me look at the plants outside my door in a whole new light. To know that I can walk out my door and pick leaves off of one plant to draw the itch out of a bug bite or could quickly pluck a leaf from another plant that would stop a cut from bleeding is empowering. You could even consider cultivating those plants you once considered a nuisance into an area of your yard specifically for that purpose so that you can bypass them with the lawn mower and weed eater.
So, before you drag out the weed killer take a good look at what’s growing there. It might be something you can use to treat yourself or your family. In an emergency situation, it might be the only thing you have. Make sure you know the plant and its use, as well as the proper application of the plant parts. There are many great books available on plant identification and uses, including recipes on how to make tinctures and tonics. I highly recommend buying a few to have on hand.
This post is not meant to steer you away from the prescription drugs you may currently be taking. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist for possible adverse reactions or interactions with your current medications. It is meant to educate you on natural alternatives that are available, so you can make informed decisions about the health and wellbeing of you and your loved ones.
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