St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is best known for its use in treating depression. It has many uses but also must be used with caution as it interacts with many medications.

St. John’s Wort lost its popularity in the 1800’s but has made a rebound in recent years. It is the number one treatment for depression in Germany and at one point it had outsold the antidepressant Prozac.

In the mid-1600’s it was popular to use earthworms and other animal parts as a medicinal ingredient. An oil compound made up of St. John’s Wort, earthworms, and other herbs were a popular remedy at that time.Continue reading →

Elderberry

You may have seen elderberry cough syrup on the grocery store shelf right next to the rest of the cough syrup. Recently, it has become a popular home remedy for treating colds and the flu but has been used for centuries to treat these things and more.

Elderberry juice was used to treat the flu epidemic in Panama in 1995 and the German Commission E (German FDA) approved elderberry for treatment of coughs, bronchitis, fevers, and colds. Though it has been known for centuries as a remedy to help treat some illnesses and boost the immune system, only recently has there been studies to show us the possibilities of the elderberry in modern-day medicine.Continue reading →

Poison Ivy Identification

If you have ever had a run-in with poison ivy you know how irritating it can be, but do you know some of the history behind it or how to identify it?

During the late 1700’s Europeans were fascinated by plants that are native to North America. As unimaginable as it may think, poison ivy seeds were sold as exotic plants.

The first written account of poison ivy was in 1624!Continue reading →

Pawpaw

The pawpaw is not only native to North America, but it is also the most northern species in the Annonaceae family, a mostly tropical custard apple family.

In 1541, a Portuguese officer made the first written account of the pawpaw while he was on an expedition of the southeastern United States. He wrote about the Native Americans growing and eating pawpaws in the Mississippi Valley region. Members of this expedition named the pawpaw after the papaya due to their similarities. In some areas around the world, the papaya is also called pawpaw which can lead to some confusion.Continue reading →

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is a plant that you may or may not have had the pleasure to come across. It likes moist and nutrient-rich soils so when you walk along a river or a stream you may have been unfortunate enough to rub up against one. Little hairs on this plant create a stinging or burning sensation when it comes into contact with your skin.

Regardless of the painful nature of this plant people still eat it, use it for medicine, and make fabric and rope from its fibers. However, one should still be cautious of this plant especially with dogs as hunting dogs have died from extreme exposure to the plant.

It was once believed that if you pull up stinging nettles by their roots while calling a sick person’s name it would drive away a fever.

Nettle is native to North America but a different species was brought over from the U.K. Both plants are so similar that they are hard to differentiate but luckily they can be interchangeable. There are some other species of nettle including “false” nettle and wood nettle. You will want to familiarize yourself with the different species if you plan to go out and harvest some.Continue reading →

Wild Violets

Violets are neat little flowers that are sometimes considered a weed. Violets are also called Pansies. There are over 500 different species of violets and pansies in the genus Viola. 60 species are native to North America but a lot of what we find today are from Europe.

Since 500 B.C. violets have been used for medicinal purposes as well as for flavorings.

Syrup made from the flowers was used as laxatives for children and used as an expectorant for upper respiratory issues. The flowers can also be infused in oil to be used in salves and lip balms as well as infusing in honey for violet flavored honey. The flowers are completely edible so they are sometimes left in the honey.Continue reading →

Dandelions

Do you recognize this….this…..weed? Some of you may cringe at the sight of this plant popping up in your perfect, or not so perfectly, mowed lawn. Dandelions are actually really neat plants.

Dandelions are native to Greece. Crazy, right? They can grow just about anywhere the sun touches so they easily spread throughout Europe and then to the Americas when the English settlers sailed to the new land.

Dandelion is derived from the French word dent de lion meaning lion tooth. This comes from the tooth like leaves of the dandelion plant. It is also known by other names including pissabed, Irish daisy, bitterwort, puffball, cankerwort, and more.Continue reading →

Bloodroot

Bloodroot gets its name from the blood-red sap within the plant. It has been used not only as a dye but for medicine. Today, it is planted mainly as a garden ornamental or used as a natural dye.

Bloodroots are early spring perennials that are very popular garden flowers. They have beautiful white flowers but more impressively, they have almost blood-red sap. This sap has played an important role in Native American culture and as a medicine.

The sap was once used as body paint by Native Americans to scare their enemies. It has also been used as a dye for clothing and other materials which can still be done today. For the Ponca tribe, it was used as a love charm. A man would rub part of the root on his hand and then shake the hand of the woman he wanted to marry. It is said that 5 days or so after shaking his hand, the woman would be willing to marry him.Continue reading →

Ramps

Wild leeks, or ramps, have gained in popularity recently spawning specialty dishes in high-end restaurants and even festivals. What exactly are these wild onions and where do they come from?

Ramps are a wild onion that grows in damp woodland areas. They are not, for the most part, grown commercially but are instead harvested from the wild. The bulb and leaves are prized for their oniony to garlic taste. They really are quite delicious.

This plant has a long history in its native region in Eastern North America. It has been used medicinally by many Native American tribes but is best known today as a wild edible. They are best known in the Appalachian regions due to the mountains providing a very suitable habitat for these wild onions to grow. However, there once was a thick grove of ramps along Lake Michigan which led to the name a large city you might be familiar with, Chicago. The name Chicago was a French adaptation of the Native American word for ramps, shikaakwa, which was adapted to Chicagou. Who would’ve known that such a big city was named after a wild onion!Continue reading →

Black Raspberry

Black raspberries aren’t as popular as red raspberries but they too have edible and medicinal properties.

Black raspberries are related to red raspberries but they are two separate species. Both are native to North America but red raspberries are more well known for their fruit and medicinal qualities. You can find black raspberries growing in the wild and if you’re lucky, you may even find them for sale at farmers markets.

The berries from the black raspberry bushes have been used for food and medicine for as long as people have been in North America. Native Americans would preserve the berries for winter to provide them with nutrients that could not find during the winter months. They would also use the roots to treat stomach and intestinal issues as well as a leaf tea for dysentery and a wash for sores and wounds. Today black raspberries are being studied for their role in treating cancer. The Ohio State University found that mice with colon tumors saw a 60-80% tumor reduction while on a diet containing black raspberries. Mice with esophageal cancers also saw an 80% reduction on a diet containing 5-10% black raspberries. Human trials have started and hopefully will provide good results.Continue reading →