Lost Plant Medicines, part 1

Last weekend I was at a holistic center selling my herbal products and someone came to speak to me about white sage, Salvia apiana, and its use in ceremony. The first thing I brought up was that it was a plant that was one to watch around conservation efforts due to it’s high frequency of use in ceremony. The person I was speaking with had never heard this and so I went searching to find the list of medicinal plants that are ‘At-Risk’ and ‘To-Watch’ from America.

As a member of United Plant Savers I had access to a great resource, their annual Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation. If you are not familiar with UPS and are interested in medicinal plants I highly suggest getting involved with them. Their annual membership is a low fee and you get seeds and plants from them every year that are ‘At-Risk’ medicinal plants. The Chesapeake Herbal Gathering in a few weeks will be a fund raiser for this great organization looking to help with plant poaching and ethical harvesting.

So what are these plants we should be watching and using ethically and only when we need to?

Now this is a large list so I will only go into detail on the uses of a few of these plants.

Blue Cohosh

‘It is deemed especially an emmenagogue and it is thought also to promote the contractions of the uterus for which purposes it is much employed by the ‘eclectic’ practitioners who consider it also possessed of diaphoretic and various other remedial properties’ (Coulter 1973) This herb has particularly been used for female complaints and for the preparation of child birth. It is useful for cramps, painful menstruation, to prepare the body for child birth, reduce a fever and other similar conditions.

Ladys’ Slipper

‘They are sedative, nervine, antispasmodic &c. and the best American substitute for valerian in almost all cases. They produce beneficial effects in all nervous disease and hysterical affections by allaying pain, quieting the nerves and promoting sleep. They are also used in hemicranias, epilepsy, tremors, nervous fevers. They are preferable to opium in many cases having no baneful nor narcotic effects.’ (Rafinesque 141)

Sundew

Sundew is a very cool plant. It is one of the three carnivorous plants that grow wild in the United States. I have personally seen it growing in Acadia National Park in Maine in the higher altitude marsh lands. It gets no larger than 2in across at the base from end of one leaf to the end of another. It is red in color and has leaves with sticky ends that will catch insects crawling on the ground. This herb is primarily used for bronchial conditions including asthma and whooping cough. It is very harsh on the lungs and is probably best used homeopathically to support the bodies own repair mechanisms through irritation. It also known to be used by women for  ‘the female kind are stirred up to lust by eating even in small quantities.’ (Gerarde-Johnson 1557). Topically this plant, being so irritating, can be beneficial for corns and pimples.

All of these quotes and information on many more of these plants can be found in Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown. This is an excellent reference which looks at the uses of medicinal plants as well as looking at how the uses have changed over time.

Be sure to subscribe to our blog so you can check back next week when we continue this talk and look a bit more at four other endangered plants and how they have been used medicinally.

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