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Native Medicinal Plants
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Low to Moderate Water Use
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Five Native Medicinal Plants|
Download the Medicinal Plants brochure as a pdf.
Asteraceae - Artemisia tridentata
Description: This species can grow up to seven feet tall. Sagebrush produces two types of leaves, the principal, lobed leaves persist throughout the year. Smaller, softer, non-lobed leaves; appear along the branch tips in early winter and drop off during drought conditions in the summer. This allows more rapid growth during the relatively moist conditions of early spring and enables the plant to conserve resources during the hot, dry summer. Sagebrush also has an efficient two-component root system. Small, widely dispersed, shallow roots absorb water rapidly. Its deep, penetrating roots draw water from reservoirs deep underground.
8 ounces infused Tall Sagebrush oil, 2 ounces cocoa butter 1 oz. anhydrous lanolin, 3 oz. shaved beeswax To make the infused Sagebrush oil, gather fresh Sagebrush leaves and put them into a quart jar, leaving three inches of headspace. Cover the leaves with olive oil. Allow the jar to stand, uncovered, in a warm place for three weeks. Strain oil from the Sagebrush, discarding solids. To make the salve, combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over low heat until beeswax has melted. Stir to mix well, then pour into containers. Allow to cool completely before putting lids on the containers.
Caprifoliaceae - Sambucus cerulean S. canadensis
Description: This opposite-branched shrub can grow up to twelve feet tall. Elder stems are long and slender with opposite branching. The bark is rough and is grayishbrown to black. Soft, light tan to orange-brown pith is found inside the stems and branches. Elder flowers are small, cream colored, and are borne in dense, rounded umbels. The round, dark blue or black berries appear in the autumn.
Harvest: The flowers are collected in spring and early summer and dried as rapidly as possible in the shade. The bark and berries are best collected after the first frost.
Medicinal: Elder is useful for arthritis, rheumatism, flu, colds, an eyewash, as a diuretic, to stimulate sweating in dry fevers, to treat stomach cramps, and to soften skin.
Salicaceae - Populus trichocarpa
Description: Cottonwood is the largest broad-leafed tree in the Northwest. It can reach up to one hundred feet tall. The leaves are triangular, smooth, and are dark green on top and lighter underneath. Late winter aromatic leaf buds contain a reddish-brown resin. During early spring the female catkins form on separate trees. The female catkins are bright red and hang up to five inches long. Smooth, green, bead-like capsules form after flowering; they split into three parts and release seeds with fluffy white hairs. Cottonwoods are found near water sources.
Harvest: Gather leaf buds in winter or early spring while they are still pointed, sealed, and sticky. The buds may be tinctured, infused in oil or dried.
Medicinal: Due to salicin content found in the Cottonwood, the bark is used for many of the same things as aspirin. It is useful as an external application for bruises, swelling, wounds, and inflammations due to rheumatism and arthritis. It helps dry skin conditions, chest colds, sore throats, coughs, and laryngitis.
Onagraceae Epilobium angustifolium
Description: This herb is often abundant in wet open fields, pastures, and particularly on burned land; the name Fireweed derives from the species’ abundance on burned sites after forest fires. It has smooth reddish stems ranging from 1.5’-8’ tall with alternate leaves. Fireweed leaves are unique because the leaf veins are circular and do not terminate on the edge of the leaf, but form circular loops and join together inside the outer leaf margins. This feature makes the plant easy to identify in all stages of growth. The symmetrical flowers have four, pink petals.
Harvest: Harvest the above ground plant while in bloom. Dry in a warm, shaded area. Strip leaves and flowers from the stalks and store out of the light in tightly sealed containers.
Medicinal: The young shoots were often collected in spring by Native Americans and mixed with other greens. They are best when young and tender; as the plant matures the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. In the southeast, Native Americans peeled and eat the young stems raw. When properly prepared soon after picking they are a good source of vitamins C and A. Fireweed can also be used as an anti-inflammatory, for diarrhea or internal hemorrhage, as well as aiding cancer, gynecological, and stomach issues.
Rosaceae - Prunus virginiana
Description: Chokecherry is a deciduous, shrub or small tree up to 20’ tall with smooth, dark reddish to grayish bark. Its leaves are thin, broadly oval and tapering at both ends, with fine, sharply-toothed edges and a short, pointed tip. The white five petal flowers grow in long clusters at the branch tips. The shiny red-black cherries appear in summer and mature in the fall.
Harvest: The bark is gathered from young plants in the late winter or mid-autumn and berries are harvested in the fall. Chokecherry seeds are toxic due to their high content of hydrocyanic acid and should not be eaten. The bark is also toxic if taken in large doses.
Medicinal: The bark is used for cough medicine, inflammation of the eye, fevers, and as a gastrointestinal and kidney aid. Native American women used Chokecherry bark to relax during labor.