Wild Medicine
of Coastal British Columbia
Kahlee Keane
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Copyright 2014 by Kahlee Keane/Save Our Species
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means, including electronic or
mechanical, without the expressed consent of the publisher,
with the exception of brief passages embodied in critical
This book is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or
extended treatment without consulting a physician
Printed and bound in Canada
First edition
Photographs David Howarth, Kahlee Keane,
National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Keane, Kahlee, 1942Wild Medicine of Coastal British Columbia
ISBN 978-0-9699505-8-5
1. Medicinal Plants-British Columbia
Wild Medicine of Coastal British Columbia
Wild Medicines
Balsam Cottonwood
Cascara Sagrada
Highbush Cranberry
Rocky Mountain Juniper
Old Man’s Beard
Western Flowering Dogwood
Western Red Cedar
Pacific Yew
Dull Oregon grape
Pacific Black Snakeroot
Pacific Bleeding Heart
False Solomon’s Seal
Turkey Tail
Vanilla Leaf
Western Trillium
Palmate Coltsfoot
Cow Parsnip
Devil’s Club
Licorice Fern
Sea Milkwort
Red Samphire
American Skunk Cabbage
Wild Ginger
Yellow Pond Lily
Sweet Scented Bedstraw
Canada Goldenrod
Self Heal
Marsh Skullcap
St. John’s Wort
Stinging Nettle
Medicine Making
Infusions and Decoctions
Cold Infusion
Solar Infusion
Medicinal Oils
Sources (Bibliography)
Eco-herbalist Kahlee Keane is known across this
country as a voice for the plants. Over the years,
the plants have beckoned her to many diverse
regions, where each time she brought an
appreciation for the local flora, as well as attention
to their plight. Through her workshops, medicine
walks, books, and newspaper columns, she is a
constant advocate for protection of endangered
plant species.
Now as a silver-haired plant whisperer, she brings
decades of experience back to her beloved wild
island. She knows this botany intrinsically -- for
Kahlee, the Island is where science meshes with
This book will turn a casual afternoon walk into a
magical encounter with the treasures, the power,
and the vulnerability of the Island’s unique and
sumptuous plant world.
- Jacqueline Moore, author of The Saskatchewan Secret:
Folk Healers, Diviners, and Mystics of the Prairies
The elements of this book are designed to give you an indepth yet quick access to botanical and herbal information
for selected wild medicines found in the Pacific Northwest.
I have walked among the wild plants from coast to coast,
writing books and articles, conducting walks and presenting
workshops all with a view to protecting the wild medicinal
plants through education, always stressing the need for
ethical wildcrafting. In this way the plants become intimate
friends that we protect in the wild and grow in our gardens.
To begin ones discovery, fundamental questions have to be
answered starting with the folk and scientific name, proper
identification, whether the plant is plentiful or at risk, what
part to use and when to use it, how to gather it and process
it, how to make a medicine from it, what effect(s) it has on
the body, what its chemical constituents are, what is its
natural history.
The appendix of this book has a glossary of terms that are
used to define the physiological effect of each herb; you will
also find brief information on the chemical constituents. I
have not belaboured this information but rather listed them
as a leaping off point for those interested in this aspect of
herbal medicine. However, I would like to make a couple of
points about them here.
The chemical components in plants came about through
natural selection mostly to protect the plant from predators
and to lure pollinators. Survival of the species is the bottom
These chemicals, the bioactive components of plants, have
been used by humans for centuries. Today, nearly 50% of
the thousands of pharmaceuticals prescribed are either
derived from plant sources or contain a chemical imitation
(synthetic) of a plant compound.
Although synthetic drugs have certainly performed miracles
and saved lives, virtually all of these drugs have side effects
ranging from the unpleasant to the lethal.
Since we did not evolve with these synthetics, our bodies do
not always have pathways for their distribution and
elimination. Such molecules are often xenobiotic and as
such they may indeed help in healing but can also be very
harmful to both humans and to our environment.
As an eco-herbalist, activist and conservationist, my goal is
to protect bio-diversity, to preserve individual species
within the ecosystem. My craft insists on a heightened
ecological awareness and a deep respect for the living Earth.
We humans have evolved in concert with the Earth’s native
plants. We rely on their bio-diversity for our survival. They
will survive very, very nicely without the presence of
humans but ...
Without them, we will not
The author recommends Trees, Shrubs & Flowers to Know in
British Columbia & Washington by C.P. Lyons & Bill Merilees
Arbutus menziesii
Madrone has the rare
distinction of being the
only native broad-leaf
evergreen in Canada.
naturalist and surgeon
with Captain Vancouver’s
expedition to the west
coast of Canada in 1792
wrote his impression of
this fascinating tree saying,
“its peculiar smooth bark
of a reddish brown colour
will at all times attract the
notice of the most
superficial observer”.
Quick ID
Growth habit: old leaves
are replaced by new ones
sporadically in mid-summer
Flowers: white, urn shaped
in clusters
Leaf: glossy green, elliptic
3-6” long
Fruit: toffee to red colour
Bark: red-orange peeling
bark, loose large scales.
Smooth grey underneath
Habitat: open, rocky sites
or rapidly drained soil in
coastal areas
Beneath madrone’s chartreuse exfoliated bark lies a wood
satiny smooth
to the touch
with a fine
swirling grain.
This tree has an intricacy and beauty beyond measure.
Betulinic acid, known to
be anti-inflammatory,
antimalarial has been
isolated from the bark of
madrone. This chemical
constituent has great
potential as an
antitumorigenic agent,
by inhibition of
topoisomerase an
enzyme necessary for
manipulation of the DNA
required for replication.
Part used: leaf and bark
Physiological effect:
Bark: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant,
antitumorigenic, antiviral, astringent, immunomodulator,
Leaf: diuretic, urinary disinfectant
Chemical constituents:
Leaf: hydroquinones, arbutin
Bark: betulinic acid, tannin
Though not as strong as
bearberry, madrone can
still be effective for urinary
tract infections. Arbutin
and hydroquinone break
down in the kidneys, when
excreted they serve to
sterilize and disinfect the
whole urinary tract.
Balsam Cottonwood
Populus balsamifera ssp trichocarpa
Quick ID
General: fast growing, deciduous
Flower: male and female catkin
Leaf: dark green waxy upper surface, white-gray
Bud: resinous, aromatic
Bark: mature – gray deeply furrowed
Habitat: moist open areas
In the warmth of early spring the
heady scent of balsam cottonwood’s
resinous winter bud fills the air. We
hasten to gather the gooey buds
before the awaiting spring leaf
pushes through the sticky casings.
Part used: unopened winter bud
inflammation and is antimicrobial.
Poplar buds make
a simple, reliable
and easily used
Salicin, a major
constituent of the
bud reduces pain
while bisabolol in
the resin reduces
Physiological effect:
anodyne, antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial antiseptic,
Chemical constituents: balsamic resin, volatile oil
The bud is used as the basis of medicinal oil that can be
made in to an ointment or salve. Used externally it helps to
treat sinusitis, chest congestion as well as ease arthritis,
rheumatism and muscular pain. It helps to reduce fever
while stimulating the circulation.
Gather whole buds that have no spring leaf
emerging being careful not to take too
leaving the terminal
bud intact.
Although poplars grow
quickly and seem to be
in endless supply, in
some areas large stands are shrinking.
With care this potent medicine can be
collected with a minimal degree of
impact on the tree.
Cascara Sagrada
Rhamnus purshiana
Quick ID
General: large shrub or small tree
Flowers: small, greenish yellow
Leaf: oblong, prominent veins,
yellow-green, glossy, red stem
Fruit: like small cherries, red to
Outer bark: silver-grey
Inner bark: yellow
Habitat: moist areas, stream
banks, thickets, woodlands and
Cascara, a stimulant laxative, was introduced to the US
medical profession in 1877 by Dr. J. H. Bundy, in a short
time this cure for constipation became an international
favourite. Consequently, commercial harvesting of the bark
escalated with many tons being gathered and cured for
shipment worldwide.
In the 1930s many cascara on
destroyed by commercial
harvesting to supply the
growing demands of the local
and international market.
In 1958, British Columbia took
steps to protect the tree with
the Cascara Bark Regulation hoping to ensure cascara’s
continued growth - in 1981 this regulation was repealed.
The use of cascara bark as an
effective and safe stimulant
herbalists in North America in the
19th century. Today, it is
available in pharmacies and
health food stores under the
common name cascara sagrada
which in Spanish means ‘sacred bark’.
Part used: branch bark, dried and cured for
one year
Physiological effect: bitter, stimulant laxative, tonic.
Chemical constituents: anthraquinones, cascarosides
Emodin, bitter, glycoside, frangulin, resins, tannin
The freshly cut bark, is bright yellow, and after it oxidizes it
becomes dark brown. It has a bitter principle due to the
presence of the glycoside frangulin.
Anthraquinones are chemical compounds that stimulate
contraction of the walls of
the digestive tract, these
compounds are converted
by intestinal bacteria to
substances that increase
peristalsis (rhythmic
intestinal contractions),
thus speeding up the
movement of material through the colon and reducing the
absorption of liquid.
Highbush Cranberry
Viburnum edule
Quick ID
Flowers: 5-petals,
Leaf: 3-lobed,
Fruit: red drupes
Branches: spread
Habitat: moist, open
Spring brings showy clusters of high bush cranberry’s paper
white flowers with their sweet floral scent.
In the fall, flowers give way to orange
berries that mature to a glossy red. After
the first frost the berries reach perfection
with increased carbohydrates and
resultant juices at the ready for jam and
jelly making. But it is the bark of this tree
that is valued medicinally, gathered in the
spring from newly budding branches.
Part used: branch, inner cambium layer
Physiological effect: analgesic, anti-inflammatory,
antispasmodic, astringent, cardiotonic, diuretic, nervine,
uterine sedative
Chemical constituents: vitamin K, viburnin, valerianic
acid, coumarin, biopudial, salicin, arbutin, resin, tannin
The inner bark (cambium
layer) of the branches has
been used in European folk
medicine for centuries.
High bush cranberry contains
antispasmodic as well as
valerianic acid and the
synergistic effect of these
chemical constituents are
responsible for restoring
balance to both voluntary and
involuntary muscles in spasm. This herbal action is achieved
through the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic
nervous systems.
High bush cranberry is used, taken either topically or
internally, to relieve all types of muscle tension. It is a
superior muscle and nerve relaxant particularly for
menstrual cramping, intestinal cramping and leg cramps due
to pelvic congestion.
To assure optimal extraction of
cranberry’s bioactive compounds,
the bark is hand-harvested in the
early spring. Collect the bark by
cutting a branch from the main
trunk or if there are suckers
growing around the established
tree cut these at the ground level.
The paper thin outer bark just needs to be scraped off to
give you access the inner cambium layer. Use the bark fresh
or dried to make a tea (1 tbsp of bark to one cup water)
which may be taken three times a day when cramping is
acute. A tincture made from the bark should be taken at 10
drops 3 times a day.
Rocky Mountain Juniper
Juniperus scopulorum
I always place
berries in my
chewed, the
refreshing and
other benefits.
a few juniper
pocket. When
aromatic oils
provide many
Quick ID
General: evergreen
tree, drought
resistant, known to
live 300 years
Cones: fleshy, bluishpurple, white waxy
Leaf: needles, 3
Bark: red-brown
Habitat: dry open
woods, barren ground
Part used: ripe cones (berries)
Physiological effect: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory,
antilithic, antimicrobial, antiviral, antiseptic, antioxidant,
disinfectant, diuretic
Chemical constituents: volatile oils, camphene, cineole,
myrcene, alpha- and beta-pinene and terpinene
Juniper berries strengthen and detoxify the urinary tract by
their diuretic action. This action increases the filtration rate
of the kidneys and thereby releases toxins from kidneys,
bladder and prostate. In this way conditions caused by
bacterial infections, such as cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis,
vaginitis and inflamed kidneys are helped immensely.
Chew a berry and the volatile oil
sends off a sharp bitter taste that
assists in the digestion of food
lessening flatulence, stomach
cramps and colic. In small doses, it
stimulates the appetite.
Recently, research has identified a
compound in the juniper berry that has antiviral and
antitumorigenic potential – just for the record it goes by the
name of deoxypodophyllotoxin. Also, in recent lab studies,
juniper has demonstrated antiviral activity against Herpes
simplex virus I and II.
Juniper berry can be taken raw ‘right from the tree’ or made
into a more sophisticated medicine. Once you have picked
the berries, dry them in a shaded well circulated area. When
dry, pulverize to powder to make a tincture or placed into
gelatine capsules.
To encapsulate, make a small
mound of the powdered herb
on a flat surface, take the
capsule apart and fill one side
with the juniper and fit the
two sides together and your
capsule is ready.
You might find that the powdered
herb adheres to the outside of the
capsules. If this is the case place the
capsules into a jar, add a teaspoon of
salt put on the lid and give them a
shake, the salt will clean off any
residual herb quickly and effectively.
Contraindications: Do not take during pregnancy or if you
have a pre-existing kidney disease.
Old Man’s Beard
Usnea filipendula
Old man’s beard is found at lower elevations ranging to
subalpine forests, forming tufts on conifers and deciduous
trees and shrubs.
These unique plants consist
components, fungi and algae
that are individuals yet
dependent on each other for
nourishment, protection and
The fungus provides a rigid structure on which chlorophyllbearing algae spread out and provide food sugars for both,
nature's version of a solar collector. The two become so
interwoven that they act like a single living entity. Together
their reproductive structures are
different from either algae or fungi.
Finding old man’s beard among
other hanging lichens may be a bit
tricky but there is one valuable
diagnostic to assure you that you
indeed have found the right species.
Old man’s beard has a central cord which is a storage area
for energy rich polysaccharides vital to the lichens growth.
Check for it by wetting the lichen then slowly pulling it apart
as shown in the photograph below.
The greenish colour comes from usnic acid contained in the
plant. Usnic acid possesses antibiotic properties and is used
in the treatment of skin diseases and fungal infections.
The outer cortex of the plant contains antibiotic compounds
and the inner core contains immune stimulating
polysaccharides. Recent research has found that these
compounds are effective in fighting cancerous tumours.
The antibiotic and antibacterial activity along with immune
system stimulation makes this a valuable plant for use both
internally and externally. In Europe, usnic acids from lichens
are used in commercial ointments for treating skin problems
ranging from fungal infections to burns.
Old man’s beard is becoming rare and should only be picked
in genuine need. Only take what you need.
One way to gather old man’s beard
without jeopardizing the integrity of
the lichen is to gather the ‘windfall’
that litters the forest floor after a
storm. Gather from below not above.
Always avoid gathering old man’s beard from heavily
polluted areas, as it can absorb heavy metals from the air.
You'll have to clean out the debris that is tangled in the
lichen before making a medicine. This lichen does not
dissolve readily in water, so an alcohol solution is necessary.
To make this solution, break up the cleaned plant, put it into
a jar and cover with vodka, leave this for 14 days shaking
once or twice a day. Strain out the herb after this time and
your tincture is ready. The tincture may be used externally
or internally.
I dry the lichen and make a
powder to dust on athletes’ foot
and other fungal infections; it
keeps its potency for a long time.
It can also be made into a salve
or ointment by placing it in oil for
14 days, then strain out the plant
material and add beeswax to
make it semi-solid. This salve or
ointment may be applied directly
to wounds or fungal infections.
Finally, as a field or emergency
medicine old man’s beard gives
you the whole package. It staunches the wound, acts as a
dressing and stops bacteria and the resulting inflammation.
Western Flowering Dogwood
Cornus nuttallii
Western flowering dogwood
sways elegantly with the summer
breeze. The large white blossom,
the vivid red colour of its autumn
leaf and fruit makes this most
beautiful of BC’s flowering trees.
Quick ID
Flowers: showy
bracts around a
cluster of green
Fruit: bright red
Leaf: opposite, oval,
deep green above
gray-brown below
Bark: smooth black
to brown
Habitat: nitrogenrich soils, at lower
elevation in mixed
Western flowering dogwood, British Columbia’s floral
emblem is protected under the Dogwood, Rhododendron
and Trillium Protection Act, so not even the secret plucking
of one tantalizing flower is allowed.
Each large white flower is
actually a cluster of
flowers inside large white
bracts. These beautiful
displays are attached to
the twigs that bend to
overlapping – it makes a dazzling show.
This dogwood is fairly unique among
hardwoods as it is able to
photosynthesize in just one-third full
sunlight. The tree is often found
growing in the partial to full shade
conditions of mixed and coniferous
forests, though it may not fruit in deep shade.
Although this tree is not used for herbal medicine today,
historically the bark was used to treat malaria due to the
quinine content. It was also used as a diuretic to treat fevers
and stomach problems and to promote appetite.
The bark has an astringent and antiseptic effect on sores
and inflammations of the skin.
Cornus canadensis
Anyone who has seen the
western flowering dogwood
(C. nuttalli) knows how
precious our little native
dogwood is. It is also called
‘dwarf dogwood’ averaging
six inches in height.
Quick ID
General: both the western flowering dogwood and
bunchberry often flower twice in a year
Leaf: bright green on top, lighter underneath, with
parallel veins.
Flower: the large flower is comprised of four large
white petal-like bracts; in the centre is a cluster of small
greenish-white flowers.
Bunchberry is a
native plant that
thrives on moist
well drained sites
and reproduces by
a slender rhizome.
true flowers are
flying insects which are attracted by the showy white bracts.
When the insect alights, the touch of the pollinator induces
each flower to "explode" or catapult pollen at the visiting
insect. This pollination mechanism involves tiny antennae
near the tip of the petal that triggers the flowers to bend
back and the anthers to spring outward.
Part used: berries, leaf and root
Physiological effect: anodyne, anti-inflammatory,
antispasmodic, astringent, hypotensive, tonic
Chemical constituents: cornine,
cornic acid, flavonoids, querceitin,
salicic acid, tannins
Bunchberry has a mild, aspirin-like effect that decreases
inflammation, fever and pain without causing stomach
effects of both the
cornine and the
flavonoids, coupled
with the astringent
action of the tannins
makes it mild and
predictable herb for
The bright red berrylike fruit ripens into
a cluster by midsummer and are important forage material for wildlife but
are quite mealy and bland to the human palate. However,
they do have medicinal qualities.
The fruits are rich in pectin which is a capillary tonic; they
are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and hypotensive.
Herbalists have used this plant as an anti-inflammatory and
anodyne. Generally it is dried and made into a tea to be
used for its aspirin-like effect; it decreases inflammation,
fever, and pain but does not cause stomach irritability or
allergic reaction.
The tannins along with the anti-inflammatory chemicals
assist people suffering from colitis, dysentery, diarrhea and
chronic gastritis.
To take advantage of its pain relieving qualities, one should
drink it for an extended period to allow your system to build
up sufficient levels. There are no harmful side effects
associated with the remedy such as those produced by
many of the pain relievers sold in pharmacies.
Western Red Cedar
Thuja plicata
Western Red Cedar, the fast
growing giant of the forest, is
Quick ID
Cone: young female
seed cone is green –
brown at maturity;
male pollen, reddish
Leaf: lustrous green,
scale like, with an
Bark: shreds
vertically and is a
cinnamon-red to
grey when mature
Trunk: fluted at base
Habitat: moist forest
at lower elevations
Members of the genus Thuja are
long-lived with the grandest of the five species being
western red cedar - the cedar of timber trade. Its all
weather wood will last a lifetime without preservation. As
with most species of Thuja the timber is aromatic and the
leaves when crushed,
burned, or steamed emit
a clean pineapple-like
odour. In its native
habitat cedar can grow to
sixty meters, with great
buttressed bases up to
ten meters in girth. They
like it cool and moist,
from coastal forests to the hills. Cedar is widely used in
landscaping and lends itself to topiary feats of all shapes
and sizes.
The major constituent of
Western red cedar,
thujone, is a neurotoxin
which, when incorrectly
administered, is likely to
advised. Do not use it internally without consultation with a
qualified herbalist or naturopath.
Part used: boughs and needles of
young trees
Physiological effect: analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal,
anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic,
antitumorigenic, antiviral, demulcent, expectorant, immune
Chemical constituents: acetic-acid, ascorbic-acid, betasitosterol, camphor, limonene, mucilage, quercitrin,
sabinene and volatile oil containing thujone
Western red cedar stimulates the white blood cells and
deepens the immune response. Herbal practitioners
sometimes suggest small daily doses can increase resistance
to chronic infections.
The fresh needles of cedar make a wonderful steam for
sinus and lung congestion as well as acne. For eczema, place
the needles in witch hazel (sold at pharmacies) for a few
days, strain and use as a daily wash on affected areas.
Pacific Yew
Taxus brevifolia
Yew is a slow-growing evergreen
that can live two or three centuries
and can reach seventy feet in height.
Quick ID:
Leaf: two rows of
sharp needles
lying flat along the
Bark: thick, scaly;
cambium layer red
Cones: male small
pollen cones
Fruit: female
fleshy red arils
Habitat: moist to
wet coniferous
With the exception of the female fruit (aril) every part of the
yew is poisonous, even the aril holds a blue seed that is
poisonous itself.
Here is the twist. This highly poisonous tree has brought us
a life giving alkaloid taxol within its root, bark and leaf.
In the 1960s the National Cancer Institute initiated a huge
plant-screening program. Approximately 35,000 native
plants were screened to see if they showed any cancerfighting properties. Yew bark and other parts of the tree
contain taxol, which has been proven to be effective against
ovarian cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer
When taxol became
more widely
available to the
public and demand
increased, concerns
arose about the
consequences of
yew trees.
Pacific yew has very low concentration of taxol in its bark
and the projected medicinal requirements would have
destroyed the entire species within ten years. Alternatives
to the massive harvesting of one non-renewable species had
to be found. The ecological impact of harvesting yew prompted
extensive investigations into alternative sources and they were
Long and very interesting story shortened ... the leaves of
Taxus brevis, provided paclitaxcel a renewable source that
alleviated some of the pressures of over harvesting. (Taxol is
the trade name for Bristol-Myers Squibb's preparation while
paclitaxcel is the chemical name.)
Today, synthetic taxol is a reality and many other naturally
occurring chemicals are being discovered for instance it was
related in the June 1998 issue of Spectroscopy that the
presence paclitaxel in the hazelnut tree
was discovered – quite by accident.
The complete story of Taxol is an
interesting one and a reminder that we
must be aware that bio-prospecting can
and does lead to decline of plant species
and so it is important to seek alternatives
before exploiting at risk species.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Quick ID
General: trailing, mat-forming evergreen shrub
Flower: pinkish-white, urn-shaped
Leaf: leathery, oval, shiny green
Branch: rusty, bark shreds with age
Fruit: dry, bright red drupes
Habitat: found in lower elevations in acidic soil and sun
Part used: leaf
Bearberry a native plant in many countries is found in a
variety of habitats in Canada. Bearberry tolerates saline
conditions as well as drought. I have seen it amid ocean salt
spray and in the drought of the Canadian prairie. I marvel at
the large network of long branches that form a dense mat
to protect the integrity of the soil.
for resolving urinary infections.
For at least 800 years
bearberry has been used
primarily for kidney and
bladder complaints. A
Welsh herbal from the
1200s speaks of its use
for urinary diseases. In
bearberry is recorded
Then, in the 1940s bearberry was replaced by sulfa drugs
and the new antibiotics. Now that antibiotics are no longer
effective or advisable to use bearberry is back in vogue.
Physiological effect: antiseptic, astringent, antimicrobial
Chemical constituents: hydroquinone - arbutin,
allantoin, gallic and ellagic tannins, ursolic and phenolic
acid, quercetin and isoquercetin.
Today, bearberry and Madrone leaf are two of the best
remedies when dealing with cystitis (an inflammation of the
wall and lining of the bladder which is often caused by
bacterial infection) and chronic urinary tract infection,
which often defy conventional pharmaceutical treatment.
Commercial harvesters gather the
leaves in the spring or early
summer from wild plants. Some
countries, such as Germany, have
put laws in place to protect
remaining wild populations from
On Vancouver Island
bearberry is still quite
plentiful and although
it cannot withstand full
harvesting, gathering
small amounts for
personal needs will do
no harm provided
ethical harvesting guides are followed.
Bearberry’s newly developed leaf; at the end of the branch
has the highest amount of the chemical constituents. These
chemicals are effective against several bacterial pathogens
known to cause urinary tract infections, including
Escherichia coli and staphylococcus aureus. They also have
an antiseptic and astringent effect on the lining of the
urinary tract.
The main chemical constituent responsible for the action of
bearberry is arbutin, when bearberry is ingested this
chemical appears to be absorbed intact, undergoing
hydrolysis in the urine to hydroquinone.
In fact the antimicrobial action only takes place when urine
is alkaline, so herbal practitioners often suggest excluding
fruits, juices, and acidic foods from the diet while taking
bearberry preparations. However, if you have to utilize
bearberry immediately take a teaspoon of baking soda in
water half an hour before taking the medicine.
The infection should clear by the tenth day; if it has not;
seek the advice of a doctor.
Bearberry is often referred to as ‘kinnikinick’ (spelling varies
according to locale) and was used historically by First
Nations to extend tobacco.
Digitalis purpurea
Quick ID
General: biennial; flowering in the
second year
Leaf: coarsely toothed, green and
soft-hairy above, grey and woolly
Flower: tubular, pink-purple with
purple spots on lower lip
Habitat: moist disturbed sites and
low elevations.
Foxglove was introduced from Europe and
has escaped from the garden into the wild
and so has become widespread
throughout British Columbia.
Foxglove is a poisonous plant in the
wrong hands but beautiful to see growing
wild in the landscape.
The early herbalists knew of the valuable plant, using it to
treat heart failure even though they had no knowledge of
foxglove’s chemical constituents, such as the glycosides,
that stimulate the heart.
Herbal remedies that have an action on the cardio-vascular
system usually owe their power to the presence of these
cardiac glycosides. Some of the remedies in this group are
very powerful and have provided the base for
Today, foxglove is known as the
medicinal plant from which the drug
digitalis was first obtained. Here is how
the story goes; Foxglove was mentioned
in the writings of Welsh physicians in
1250. The herbal medicine was
Pharmacopoeia in 1650, though it did not
come into frequent use until a century
later, first brought prominently to the
notice of the medical profession by Dr. W. Withering, who
wrote an account of his research on foxglove in 1785.
Today the pharmaceutical Digitalis is used to
increase the activity of all forms of muscle
tissue, but more especially that of the heart
and arterioles, the all-important property of
the drug being its action on the circulation.
Foxglove is grown commercially for the
pharmaceutical manufacturers from wild
seed stock only. It is absolutely necessary to have the true
medicinal seeds to supply the drug market: Crops must be
grown and harvested from carefully selected wild seed using
no variations and embellishments to the seeds.
This plant will flourish best in well-drained loose soil, with
some slight shade, although it is said that the plants that
possess the most active qualities are grown in sunny
Foxglove is the source of two potent glycosides used as
heart stimulants, digoxin and digitoxin. These glycosides
prolong the relaxation phase of the heart, thus allowing the
left ventricle to fill with more blood.
Dull Oregon Grape/Tall Oregon Grape
Mahonia nervosa/M. aquifolium
Quick ID
General: perennial;
evergreen shrub
Leaf: evergreen,
holly like – turning
red on occasion
Left: dull Oregon
grape leaf
Right: tall Oregon
grape leaf
Root: rhizome,
yellow wood
Flower: intense
yellow, in clustered
Fruit: edible;
clustered, greyeyed, blue glaucous
grape has
a rhizomatous root that may
extend for several yards, sending
up a lot of offshoots along its
length. This plant reproduces
from root or from the seed
contained within the berry. It is a
good idea to plant the berries
close by if you are taking the root
for medicine, or leave the berries
for the birds, bears and other
animals that eat them and re-distribute them to other areas
via their digestive tracts in their droppings and spoor.
Part used: rhizome
Physiological effect: antibiotic, antifungal, antiinflammatory, antimicrobial, digestive tonic, hepatic
Chemical constituents: alkaloids, berberine, hydrastine;
Oregon grape improves the flow of blood to the liver and
acts as a bitter tonic, stimulating the flow of bile and
intestinal secretions.
It is often used to treat
jaundice, hepatitis, poor
intestinal tone and
function, and general
A constituent of Oregon grape, the alkaloid berberine, has
been shown to be of benefit for cirrhosis of the liver. There
is no question that the alkaloids make it an effective
antiseptic and treatment for diarrhea.
Berberine is the most studied of the alkaloids and has been
shown to possess fungicidal and antibacterial activities.
Tests in North America indicate that Oregon grape is one of
the most powerful herbal antifungal agents.
The root may be dug anytime, but fall roots are slightly
more potent and can be collected after the plant has
dropped its seed.
Collect the plant by grasping the main stem just above
ground level, pull slowly and steadily upward until you have
a foot or so of root. Cut at
this point with a sharp
knife and cover the
exposed root with soil in
this way you are only
taking a portion and
leaving the plant to
The root can be used fresh to make a tincture or dried for
future use as an infusion.
To process the root for drying you can cut into small pieces
and lay out in the shade to dry. I have found that the woody
root is easily cut into long thin strips that are easily dried
and more potent. However either way is quite acceptable.
Both species of Mahonia
may be used for making
medicine. However, tall
Oregon grape’s root is not as
easy to access as its
diminutive cousin.
An infusion is made from the
dried shredded root or root
pieces. Use 1 teaspoon of
the root per cup of boiling
water and let simmer for 15
If you are using the tea as a
digestive tonic it is important to actually ‘taste’ the bitter
quality (think stomach bitters) to affect the digestive juices.
Sip your tea slowly so that the bitter effect is utilized to its
maximum. If you are using the tea for other reasons feel
free to add a good natural sweetener like honey or maple
A tincture can be made by covering the
dried or fresh root (preferably) with
alcohol to immerse the entire herb. Let
this stand for 14 days agitating daily; at
the end of this time strain out the bark
and your tincture is ready. Be sure to
label the tincture with plant name
(common name and Latin binomial),
date gathered and solvent used.
Amazingly this tincture will last for 30 or more years.
Pacific Black Snakeroot
Sanicula crassicaulis
Quick ID
Flowers: yellow-green
in a compound umbel
Seed: covered with
fine hooked bristles
that are designed to
hitch a ride
Black snakeroot is a member of Growth: erect plant
the parsley family. I always warn
growing to three feet
people to be careful when
dealing with members of this Leaf: Alternate; basal
family as some of them, such as and lower stem leaves
poison hemlock, are deadly. palmate 3-5 lobed or
Black snakeroot is quite safe but divided
like all herbal remedies should Root: Tap root
be treated and ingested carefully with respect to the fine
medicine that it is.
Sanicula comes from either the Latin sanus, ‘to heal’, or
sanare, to ‘cure’, referring
to its medicinal virtues. This
plant has been part of
centuries – “Where ever
the trouble is this medicine
will find it". In fact, I have
found it to be a good tonic
for internal and external use and yes, it seems to go “where
it is needed”.
Nature is abundant in herbs
that have a tonic action on the
body. Each system of the body
has plants that are particularly
suited to it, some of which are
tonics. Black snakeroot is a
tonic for all systems and
therefore valuable tonic or
‘cure all'.
I find it is one of the most
reliable tonics to strengthen
and enliven either the whole
body or individual organs.
Snakeroot seems to ‘hone’ in
on the area of the body where it is needed most.
Although either the roots or leaves may be used to make a
tonic, I suggest that you use only the leaf, gathering one or
two from each plant. Use a sharp knife to avoid pulling on
the stem and disrupting its growth. You can either dry them
for later use or make a fresh infusion.
Pacific black snakeroot not only is a valuable spring tonic to
be used internally as an infusion it also makes a rich and
potent salve for quickly and effectively healing old sores as
well as fresh ‘cleaned’ wounds.
To make a quick oil or salve, cover
the bruised leaves with an oil such as
olive oil or grape seed oil and leave
to infuse for fourteen days. At the
end of this time remove the leafy
material and strain your oil. To make
it easier to use add beeswax to
harden (1/4 cup per cup of the
herbal oil) reheat the oil to melt and you have a fine
Pacific Bleeding Heart
Dicentra formosa
Quick ID
Flower: nodding, pinkish
Leaf: blue-green, fernlike, basal, yellowing in
late summer
Growth habit: the entire
plant grows back in early
Root: rhizome that grows
close to the surface
Habitat: moist mixed
forests with nutrient rich
Graceful, fernlike foliage and heart shaped rose pink flowers
on faint purplish stems makes pacific bleeding heart an
intricately beautiful plant.
The leaves will sometimes cover the beautiful
flowers that hang from arching foliage; you
may need to have a closer look to discover
these perfect little flowers.
Originally from the Far East, the species was brought to
England in 1847 and was so popular that many immigrants
to North America brought the seeds along to the new
Part used: leaf and root
The genus Dicentra means ‘two spurs’, referring to the
double-spurred flowers. Since the spurs hold the valuable
nectar deep in their furthest reaches, a symbiotic
relationship has developed with the bumblebee, which has
a tongue long enough to retrieve this life giving food.
Many of the species in the Dicentra
constituents known to be toxic.
Although very useful to a skilled
practitioner, I do not recommend
self treatment.
Physiological effect: alterative,
analgesic, sedative, tonic
Chemical constituents: alkaloids
bulbocapnine, cucullarine,
Looking at the chemistry of the Papaveraceae family, of
which bleeding heart is a member, I found that members
share many poisonous compounds all of which are alkaloids.
Many of these chemical compounds may be used by
knowledgeable practitioners as valuable medicines and
healing agents.
The alkaloid bulbocapnine has been used in the treatment
of Ménière's disease and muscular tremors, and as a preanaesthetic. Another alkaloid cucullarine acts as a local
anaesthetic for such things as toothache, bites, burns and
Internally, it has been used for trauma to the body as it
calms increased sensitivity, calming anxiousness and fear
and generally abates the general reaction to shock, both
physiologically and psychologically.
Bleeding heart calms the cycle of grief and shock following
an accident, illness or death allowing a person to carry on
functioning in the midst of devastation. Trauma also brings
sensations in the body and hypersensitivity to touch on the
skin or clothing. Medical procedures and operation that
leave scar tissue can be assisted by a salve or a liniment of
the leaf.
Chimaphila umbellata
Pipsissewa’s genus
Chimaphila comes from the
Greek cheima, meaning
'winter' and phileo, 'to love',
in reference to this plant
being an evergreen.
Quick ID
General: small evergreen
shrub, 30 cm in height
Flower: white to pink,
waxy, loose nodding
clusters (note the
protruding ovary in
photo below)
Leaf: dark green, shiny,
leathery, toothed, in
Stem: single, flower
clusters at tip
Fruit: brown erect
Habitat: cool coniferous
forests at low to mid
This little plant is semiparasitic
various micro-organisms and fungi specific to its habitat in
order to flourish. Consequently, it is difficult to grow
commercially to meet the demands of the herbal industry.
Unfortunately, pipsissewa has been harvested commercially
in great quantities in both the US and Canada putting
considerable strain on wild populations of this diminutive
medicinal plant. Since many wild medicinals are being
threatened by commercial harvesting and loss of habitat,
herbalists are encouraging the use of other plants (referred
to as analogs) that, in combination or alone, achieve the
same physiological effect or have the same chemical
situation would be the use
of commercially grown
analogs; if they are not
available the next choice
plants that may be used as
an alternative. In many
species are much more
widely distributed and, in a
few cases, invasive. Many of them are powerful medicinals.
Part used: leaf
Physiological effect: alterative, antifungal, antiinflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent,
diaphoretic, diuretic, lymphatic stimulant, urinary
antiseptic, tonic
Chemical constituents: hydroquinone, arbutin,
chimophilin, ericolin, triterpenes, ursolic acid,
taraxasterol, phenols, salicylate, essential oil,
Historically, the fresh or dried leaf of pipsissewa was picked
in the fall after the fruit has formed. The fresh leaves were
either made into a tincture,
or dried for use as an infusion
or powdered and capsulated.
The antiseptic qualities of
prince's pine arise from the
hydroquinone. Chimaphilin is
False Solomon`s Seal
Maianthemum stellatum
Quick ID
Flower: white, starlike, raceme
Leaf: opposite, light
green, smooth
Berries: terminal
bunches of creamy
yellow turning to
green with brown
Root: creeping
Habitat: moist,
shady, margin of
This pleasing colonizer of the
forest understory propagates
from a creeping rhizome that
travels through the moist humus
just below the soil surface before
sending up the green leafy stalks. The leaves, like those of
most members of the lily family, are semi-clasping with
prominent veins.
Part used: rhizome,
Physiological effect: antacid, anti-inflammatory, demulcent,
emollient, expectorant.
Chemical constituents: plant steroid,
sitosterol, allantoin, polysaccharides, saponins
Although the chemical constituents of the rhizome of false
Solomon’s seal include plant steroids and a cell proliferant,
herbalists prize the root for its mucilage and saponin
Mucilaginous compounds have the
beneficial property of being slippery
and glutinous when in contact with
water. Under such conditions, the
mucilage is able to coat irritated or
providing a soothing effect.
Actually, mucilage is a common
constituent in many plants. The
demulcent action of the mucilage
throughout the body, thus protecting the digestive tract
from irritation, acidity and inflammation.
Demulcents also protect the mucous membranes in the
throat, lungs, kidneys and urinary tubules. In the case of
Solomon’s seal, the demulcent action is specific for healing
the throat and lungs.
Saponins are soluble in water, being found in many herbs
used for healing wounds. To check for saponins in an herb,
take the plant part you are interested in and place it in a jar
with secure top and agitate the container. Suds will appear
at the top of the solution if there are saponins present. Just
as if you put a little soap in the container.
These sudsy saponins work by lowering the surface tension
between the cell walls so that the toxins and other matter
causing inflammation can be expelled. The saponins
contained in Solomon's seal irritate the mucous membranes
of the upper respiratory tract assisting the expectoration of
excess mucous from the lungs.
As you can see, the chemical constituents of this plant work
synergistically by first aiding expectoration from the lungs,
then soothing the area with demulcent (mucilaginous)
properties. When you think about it, this is quite amazing.
Even though this plant
appears to be
plentiful, it is
important to tread
carefully when
gathering; a whole
colony could be
carelessly damaged.
In its own eco-system Solomon's seal contributes greatly to
all of the plants and trees around it, being an effective soil
aerator due to the creeping rhizome. The rhizomes also help
to hold together mats of plant debris that act as moistureretaining mulch for the whole bio-community.
The often extensive root systems form a
"subterranean highway" for insects,
small rodents, and microorganisms that
play integral roles in the maintenance of
the whole ecosystem.
False lily of the valley (M. dilatatum)
Gather the roots when the earth is dry to avoid unnecessary
soil compaction. Avoid soft, mossy, consistently moist areas
and places where the plant is growing within a proliferation
of other growth.
If you are going to use a lot of this root, gather gently,
conservatively, and closely monitor the area you frequent
for at least two years. It is important for any wildcrafter to
keep comprehensive records of re-growth and to watch for
any indications of your impact on the colony.
To gather, take only 3" or less of the rhizome, which is
rather small and easy to damage. Grasp the rhizome just
below the soil and cut it with sharp scissors, leaving plenty
of roots for the next year’s growth.
Turkey Tail
Trametes versicolor - formerly Coriolus versicolor
Quick ID
Cap: flat or wavy,
overlapping leathery
and hairy zones of
various colours
(blue, green, rust,
brown) with a
whitish margin
Growth pattern:
often found in
semicircular, fan, or
kidney shape
Beautiful turkey tail is possibly the
most common mushroom that
you will find in any forest setting.
In a forest where many stumps
and fallen trees are left to give
nourishment to the ecosystem,
the turkey tail is present seeking a rotting stump or other
decaying organic matter on which to live.
Part used: whole mushroom
As ‘versicolor’ may suggest, turkey tail are quite variable in
colour and form. They are not at all fleshy and so dry easily
ending up quite tough and leathery.
Physiological effect: antioxidant, antitumorigenic, antiviral,
Chemical constituent: polysaccharide Krestin (PSK)
and polysaccharide peptide (PSP) glutamic and aspartic
Turkey tail mushroom has been the subject of a large
number of controlled clinical trials in Asia showing that it
can help rebuild the immune system in people with a wide
range of cancers.
The benefit is quite powerful, for it has been demonstrated
again and again that turkey tail, taken as an adjunct cancer
treatment with mainstream cancer therapies significantly
lengthens lifespan.
Turkey tail is also recognized for the ability to alleviate the
side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
It is considered, given turkey tail’s positive effects on the
immune system, that it could prevent cancer or help other
conditions in which immune suppression is a major
problem, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Turkey tail also helps to alleviate the side effects of
Gather nice clean specimens. You
might find scissors useful in cleaning
by cutting off the edges that were
attached to the wood. Turkey tail is not a plump mushroom
so the thin pieces dry readily. After drying break into small
pieces or grind to a powder. Make an infusion, capsule or
tincture from the herb that will boost you immune system.
Vanilla Leaf
Achlys triphylla
Quick ID
Leaf: trifoliate, 3” to a
foot across
Stem: single wiry
Flowers: white on a
spike that rises above
the leaves
Root: rhizome running
just under the soil
Habitat: shady, moist
Vanilla leaf plants are
spaced widely on the
rhizomes, but often
networks that result in carpets of vanilla leaf that dominate
the near-surface understory. This plant seems to prefer
moist soil, so at middle to higher elevations it is easier to
find them along stream banks or well-shaded ravines.
Part used: leaf
Vanilla leaf contains a fragrant compound that is the source
of the well-known aroma of ‘sweet grass’ – coumarin.
Coumarin is responsible for the sweet vanilla scent as well
as the vanilla taste in this plant’s leaf. However, coumarin is
a natural blood thinner so caution is advised, particularly if
you are taking pharmaceutical blood thinners such as
Although vanilla-leaf is not classed as a medicinal it is valued
for its wonderful scent and delicately refreshing taste when
made into a tea.
Hanging bunches of the large
leaves placed in your home or
placed in dresser drawers emit a
sweet scent and act as an
The crushed dried leaf also
makes a fine smudge and an
additive to herbal tobacco.
Recent research has found four new flavonol glycosides in
the root of vanilla leaf but the results are not in at this
writing – who knows what valuable medicines this plant
Another plant well known for its vanilla scent (like newmown hay) is:
Hierochloe hirta
Habitat: moist meadows and forest openings from the
lowland to subalpine. Sweetgrass is not found in abundance
on Vancouver Island (it can be found).
The braids of sweetgrass signify the hair of Mother Earth.
Each of the three sections within the braid signifies mind,
body and spirit. Traditionally, when taking something from
the Earth, the spirit of the plant is told why it is needed and
an offering of tobacco and thanks is given in return.
Hierochloe species
grow all over the
world and all have
the same sweet
scent. It has been
used as incense in
churches and in
religious ceremonies
in many countries
including those in
Europe and Asia as well as in Canada by First Nations.
The chemical coumarin is found in almost every plant family
as plants use growth inhibitors as well as defence
Research has shown that naturally occurring coumarins
(NOCs) are anti-carcinogenic in animal studies. Since NOCs
are widely distributed in nature, and are abundant in the
human diet (e.g., citrus fruits, legumes, celery) they have the
potential to impact human cancer risk.
This chemical has a sweet scent so it is readily recognized
and has been used in the perfume industry since 1882.
It has medical value as the precursor for several
anticoagulants such as warfarin a product used to kill
rodents by hemorrhage.
The aspirin-a-day that doctors recommend for heart or
stroke patients as a preventative measure (blood thinner)
could be easily substituted by a cup of vanilla leaf tea for
instance. This would then act as a preventative medicine to
offset the potential of aspirin to damage the gastrointestinal tract.
Western Trillium
Trillium ovatum
Quick ID
Flower: single tripetalled white
flower turning pink
to purple with age
Leaves: stem leaves
usually 3 in a whorl,
diamond to triangular
in shape
Fruit: fruit is a
fleshy, yellow,
three-sided capsule
filled with tiny seeds
Habitat damp, shady
Development, logging
and over picking have
led to a dramatic decrease in wild trilliums on the Pacific
Northwest coast. They were once protected under the
Dogwood, Rhododendron and Trillium Protection Act which
was repealed in 2002. With this in mind it is up to
conservation minded citizens to care and protect this
vulnerable plant. Only cultivated roots should be used for
Three leaves and three petalsthis is reflected in the genus
name, Trillium, which comes
from the Latin word trilix, for
Part used: leaf and root
Physiological effect: hemostatic for uterine bleeding
Chemical constituents: saponins, trillarin and
diosgenin, fixed and volatile oils, tannin and trilline
Trilliums do everything they can to reproduce. They have a
special scent (some say it is fetid) that is irresistible to
pollinating insects and they have a special arrangement with
ants which play a special role in ensuring trillium’s future
seedWestern trillium & Indian hellebore
trillium mature in late
summer, they fall to the
ground and split open,
exposing the seeds.
Each seed is equipped
with a structure that
elaiosome. There are
some 3000 species in 70 different plant families that
produce seeds with these fleshy lipid-rich appendages
which are attractive to ants and are thought to be an
evolutionary adaptation for effective seed dispersal.
It is the little appendage that is rich in fat as well as
chemicals that mimic the smell of ant prey. Chemically
deceived by this hoax, ants carry trillium seeds back to their
nests, eat the high fat snacks, then discard the seed in the
tunnels of their mounds, in this safe haven they will flourish
The plant was introduced into the American
medicinal community in the early 1800’s and
was recommended for childbirth and labour
as well as hemorrhage.
Menyanthes trifoliate
Quick ID
General: semiaquatic, shade
Flower: 5 white
petals with long
white hairs
Leaf: smooth, 3
leaves per stem
Root: dark-coloured
Habitat: bogs,
marshy areas,
shores of lakes and
Bogbean produces an exotic white
flower with a fuzzy beard. Since
the flowers appear in early spring
and wither fairly quickly, it is often
difficult to view the flower in
time. However you can recognize
the three clover-like leaves even after the flowers are gone.
Part used: fresh (dried) leaf
All parts of bogbean are medicinally active; however, the
dried leaves are most commonly used in herbal medicine.
The leaves are best
spring or early summer
and dried before use
(the fresh plant may
cause nausea).
Physiological effect: analgesic, anti-inflammatory,
antilithic, astringent, bitter tonic
carminative, digestive, diuretic, stomachic
Chemical constituents: phenolic acids,
iridoid glycosides, menyanthine,
iridoids, flavonoids
Bogbean is closely related to gentians,
which are famous bitter herbs used as a
digestive and general body tonic. This
plant can be used similarly, but may cause
irritation if you have gastric inflammation
or infection.
Gentiana spp.
Bitters are of major importance to the
digestive system. They are a tonic to the
body's organs such as the liver and
pancreas, stimulate the appetite, as well
as repair damage to the intestinal
Bogbean is recommended for loss of
appetite, digestive problems and stomach discomfort. The
active chemical in bogbean leaf, menyanthine, is a glycoside
with a bitter principle that stimulates the release of gastrin
in the digestive system; this in turn stimulates the secretion
of bile and other digestive chemicals.
A tea of the dried leaf taken before meals will greatly assist
sluggish or impaired digestion. Do not take the leaf as a
tincture or capsule for this effect because the all important
bitterness has to be available to your taste buds.
Other chemical constituents have anti-inflammatory
qualities which reduce swollen joints even in the big toe
that lead to gout.
Bogbean is a "cooling"
successfully for the flare up
of arthritis, rheumatism
and gout when you have
hot aching joints. It best
utilized by taking the dried
powdered leaves in capsule
form for this purpose.
Inflammation of the joints
(arthritis), bowel (colitis)
and kidneys (nephritis) are
reduced by the herb alone
or in combination with such herbs as stinging nettle, celery
seed and willow bark.
Palmate Coltsfoot
Petasites palmatus
Quick ID
General: perennial herb, flower precedes the
emergence of the leaf.
Flower: dense white terminal cluster, rounded hood at
the top
Leaf: 7-9 lobes, green above white with hairs below
Flower stalk: covered with green-purple clasping
Root: creeping rhizome
Habitat: Moist to wet areas at low to mid elevations
Early in spring the fragrant coltsfoot flower emerges on a
thick stem well before the basal leaves appear. The moment
my nose detects this flowers scent I am stilled and reminded
of the deep shared pulse of all on the planet.
Part used: leaf
Physiologic effect: antispasmodic, demulcent, expectorant,
Chemical constituents:
sesquiterpene, petasin, isopetasin ,
saponins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA)
Coltsfoot leaves do contain very small amounts (less than
0.015%) of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) which are known to
damage certain organs, especially the liver. According to
Michael Tierra, a well-known naturopath, this small
concentration does not pose any threat to health. In
addition he suggests that there are additional counteracting
substances contained in the leaf that make coltsfoot even
less likely to be harmful.
Dr. James Duke relates that a chemical found in the leaf acts
as an anti-spasmodic or "phyto-tranquilizer". The chemical
called petasin, suppresses a protein in the blood that
triggers bronchial spasms and isopetasin appears to impact
prostaglandins in the body, which are important mediators
in the inflammatory response.
Studies have also shown the petasin has
an affinity for acting on blood vessels of
the brain, which may explain coltsfoot’s
effectiveness in relieving migraines.
The leaf is the medicinal part of
coltsfoot. It combines a soothing
expectorant effect with an antispasmodic action, designating it for use
in most respiratory conditions, including
acute or chronic bronchitis and
emphysema. It also decreases the time
for bronchial cilia to recover after damage from smoking.
Coltsfoot is a valuable ingredient for smoke mixes and
smudges. For smokers who are already tolerant to inhaling
smoke using smoke as a carrier for herbs is a valid way to
clean the lungs, it also assists a smoker to withdraw from
smoking cigarette tobacco.
You can make your own
tincture from one part herb to
two parts (1:2) alcohol (25%
solution, alcohol to water). It
should be taken in a dosage of
30-60 drops in a little water,
up to five times a day. This will
act as an anti-spasmodic and
relieve scratchy throats and
that achy chest.
To wildcraft coltsfoot leaves
gather them early in the day and early in the year, cutting
them off 1” above the ground and tying them in bundles to
dry upside down in a shaded well-ventilated area. Make
sure that they are crispy dry then store them in an airtight
Cow Parsnip
Heracleum lanatum
The base of each flower stem is
clasped by the off-white, balloonlike sheath tapering to a tuft of
green leaves. Cow-parsnip’s size
allows close examination of this
protective device.
Quick ID
General: perennial
Flower: small white
in large flat umbels
Leaf: 3-parted, large
hairy underneath
Stem: ridged, thick
at the base, hollow
Root: fleshy tap root
Seed: egg shaped,
flat, ridged with
black lines
Habitat: moist
areas, forest
openings, meadows
Cow parsnip is a member of the umbellifera family. Some of
the plants in this family carry the trait of carrying the phototoxic chemical (furanocoumarin) in their leaf and stem as a
natural defence or protection against invasion of insects and
fungi. Be aware that cow-parsnip, by virtue of its own
chemical defences may inadvertently cause a rash or
blistering in some humans, particularly
those with sensitive skin.
Both cow parsnip and water hemlock (aka
poison hemlock) look alike from afar – so it
is important that you make sure to identify
the plant correctly. Cow parsnip leaves are
oversized like rhubarb and poison hemlock has smaller
deeply cut leaves and carries red blotches on its stem.
Interestingly, in the 1940’s Professor Abdel Monem El Mofty
of the Cairo University Medical School developed
photochemotherapy using furanocuomarin to treat psoriasis
with great success. This light-sensitive chemical is now being
investigated as a way to treat certain types of cancer.
Today clinical herbalists do not prescribe cow parsnip,
however its use through the centuries is well entrenched in
folk medicine. The root was used as a pain reliever and
digestive aid.
references refer to the
use of the root only, I
feel that the seed is
equally useful and
makes a fine medicine.
To assist digestion chew
a seed or two and you
will find that griping, flatulence and bloating will subside.
To relieve toothache a
placed on the area will
applies a gentle local
anesthetic and will help
to reduce inflammation
until a dentist can be
To utilize the seed for future use make a tincture by
gathering a cup of seeds while they are plump and in the
milky stage. Place them in a glass jar, cover with vodka or
apple cider vinegar and leave somewhere close at hand for
fourteen days. When the mixture is ready, strain out the
seeds and save the clear tincture in a dropper bottle that is
clearly labelled with herb name, part used and date.
particularly gum boils,
cankers put a few
drops on a cotton ball
and apply to the area.
For children use a
transfer the tincture.
Note: H. mantegazzianum known as giant cow-parsnip is an
introduced species, growing to 10’ in height and is massive.
The blooms appear in 3rd to 5th year on this nuisance alien.
This plant grows from broadcasting its own seed; therefore
it may be controlled by deadheading the flower before the
seed develop.
Devil’s Club
Oplopanax horridus
Devil’s Club is a member of the
famous ginseng family; its genus
name is derived from two words;
the Greek hoplon, for weapon and
panax, for armed ginseng.
Horridus means bristly or wild.
Quick ID
General: thorny
deciduous shrub
Flower: greenishyellow flowers in
pyramid-like cluster
Leaf: large, maplelike leaves, sharp
spines on veins
Stem: woody with
sharp spines
Fruit: bright red in
pyramidal clusterpoisonous
Root: large, gnarly
Habitat: poorly
drained areas, moist
woods, cedar
The range of this plant is from
Alaska south along the coast
through British Columbia. It
extends east to the Rockies and
includes parts of northern
Alberta. Interestingly there is a
small enclave of devil’s club
growing on an island in Lake
Spines are found on leaf veins,
stems and petioles, and are
devastatingly painful if you happen
to encounter them. They are flat
and penetrate like micro daggers
through human epidermis and
lodge there causing inflammation and pain.
An interesting
botanical feature of
devil’s club is the small
buds found along the
stem from which new
shoots grow.
Part used: inner bark of stem
Devil’s club is known as a warrior plant to First Nations
people of the west coast and they made their medicine
from the bark of root and stem harvested in the fall.
Traditional medicine has a myriad of uses for this plant
many are not only medical but psycho-spiritual in nature.
Recent research has confirmed the use of devil’s club for
respiratory problems including tuberculosis. More research
is underway that will no doubt validate the many uses in
Tradition medicine.
Pharmaceutical drugs commonly used to
treat various strains of Mycobacterium (M.
tuberculosis and M. avium) are no long
effective as these strains have developed a
resistence to them. This has stimulated
research into such plants as devil’s club
among others growing in coastal British
The acetylenes found in the bark are effective against Staphylococcus aureus,
Bacillus subtilis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, and Candida
albicans, Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium avium.
Physiological effects: antibacterial,
antifungal, antimicrobial,
antipyretic, antirheumatic,
Chemical constituents:
acetylenes, oplopandiol
equinopanacol, spatulenol
polyenes, sterols
Devil’s Club is deeply
traditional medicine of
coastal aboriginal groups. As such aboriginal intellectual
property rights prevail. It is one thing to gather a few stems
for personal use, but there has to be agreement and
compensation when devil’s club is harvested commercially
and herbal products sold. To further understand this
contemporary problem, I offer you the following:
The following is an excerpt from ‘Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus):An
Ethnobotanical Review’ that appeared in HerbalGram, 2004, #62 – American
Botanical Council written by Trevor C. Lantz, Kristina Swerhun, and Nancy J.
1992, signatories to the United Nations Convention on
Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention) formally
recognized the intellectual property rights of the Earth’s
indigenous and traditional peoples in Articles 1 and 8j by
calling for fair and equitable sharing of any benefits
resulting from the sustainable use of biodiversity and
traditional and local knowledge.
Since Canada is a signatory to the Biodiversity Convention, it
is legally and morally bound to uphold all 40 articles.
However, despite the obvious conflict between the
commercialization of devil’s club in the absence of
compensation, and Articles 1 and 8j of the Biodiversity
Convention, there are no effective legal means to ensure
that the compensation called for in the Convention is
provided or negotiated.”
Grindelia integrifolia
The folk or common names for
gumweed, such as sticky heads,
tarweed, gumplant and rosinweed,
refer to the sticky resin that is
exuded primarily from the buds,
some from the leaf and stem.
Quick ID
General: variable
species, perennial
Stem: reddish, stiff,
erect, branched
Leaf: lower large
Flowers: bright
yellow ray flowers
Bracts: sticky,
green, reflexed
Root: tap root
Habitat: dry
beaches, coastal
bluffs, waste places
and roadsides
On a sunny day you
can see the resin
glistening on the buds
and leaf surface.
Touch the flower, if it
is sticky to the touch
gumweed. It also
carries an acrid but
not unpleasant odour.
(1776-1836), a professor
pharmacy. Squarrosa is
Latin meaning having stiff
spreading bracts.
The sticky resin contains
compounds and various
flavonoids that make these herbs a remarkable medicine.
They have been used in European folk
medicine for centuries as a treatment for
bronchitis and asthma.
Part used: sticky buds before
flowering; leaf in early summer
Physiological effect: analgesic, antispasmodic, expectorant,
hypotensive, immune stimulant, sedative
Chemical constituents: essential oil
borneol, flavonoids, grindelic acid,
luteolol, resin
There are two actions that make gumweed effective as a
respiratory remedy. Gumweed helps to loosen the mucous
in the lungs and the respiratory tract providing an
expectorant action and the anti-spasmodic action relieves
coughing attacks.
Not only does gumweed
effectively work on the
respiratory system but is
also a relaxing tonic for the
heart. Gumweed has the
capacity to relax the
smooth muscles thereby
lowering pulse rate and
When either taking heart medication or having heart
problems, it is advisable to obtain your doctor's approval
before taking gumweed.
The action on the smooth muscles also helps to explain
gumweed's effectiveness in the treatment of asthmatic and
bronchial conditions, especially where these are associated
with a rapid heart beat and nervous response.
To make a cough syrup I recommend using glycerine as your
solvent, not only is it a gentle solvent for use in children’s
medicine but alone it will ease
coughing spasms and soothe a
raw throat. Adding gumweed to
glycerine can only improve its
medicinal effect.
Use 3 parts water to 1 part
glycerine, pour this mixture over
the buds making sure that all
are covered. Leave for about 10
days, shaking the mixture
whenever you have the
inclination. Once the buds are
strained out of the solution, you
have an effective cough medicine.
Licorice Fern
Polypodium glycyrrhiza
Licorice fern is a fascinating plant
that suddenly emerges in the fall
after a heavy rain on apparently
barren rocks, fallen or live tree
trunks and old buildings - it’s like a
treasure hunt with the reward a
the sweet tasting root.
Quick ID
General: evergreen,
spore bearing fern
Blade: lance shaped,
compound, smooth,
vibrant green
Rhizome: slender,
creeping, branching,
Leaflets: linear, 10
to 20, with serrated
margins, spore (sori)
on the underside
Spori: round,
discrete, yellow to
brown at maturity
Habitat: wherever
there is enough
humidity for the
fronds to extract the
nutrients they need
from the air, this
fern will find a place
to grow.
This fern belongs to a
family of 10,000 to
12,000 species of nonflowering plants –
they do have true roots, stems and complex leaves but they
reproduce by spores found on the underside of the leaf.
Licorice fern commonly grows epiphytically (on trees) or as
a lithophyte (on rocks) in coastal forests. As epiphytes they
do no damage to the tree and do not depend on them for
nutrition they only need a harbouring spot and a safe place
to moor as they obtain their nutrients from the air.
They grow easily on their host wherever there is a dense
enough layer of moss for the roots to attach. The fronds
sprout individually along the slender creeping rhizome that
lies deep in the mosses.
Licorice fern is a traditional
medicine of First Nations
being utilized for its sweet
taste and for the treatment
of cold symptoms.
The rhizomes contain a
ostadin, which is 3000 times sweeter than sucrose. The
name Polypodium means ‘many feet’ alluding to its
branched rhizomes; glycyrrhiza translates as ‘sweet root’.
Sea Milkwort
Glaux maritima
Sea milkwort is a halophyte – a plant that needs salt – and
loves the salt spray of the Pacific Ocean.
The diminutive sea milkwort is my
favourite of the halophytes; it is a lowgrowing, fleshy-leaved plant which is
usually found in mats along the tide line
and upper parts of the beach. It also
appears inland in saline areas.
It is said that First Nations used this
plant to increase lactation. But,
beyond that in European herbal
medicine we find that the root of this
plant was revered as a sedative or
nervine that aided sleep and quieted
agitated nerves.
Red Samphire
Salicornia maritima
Quick ID:
General: annual, halophyte
Flower: three tiny flowers at stem joints
Leaf: minute, scale-like
Stem: jointed at nodes
Habitat: shallow, salty, alkaline areas
The glassworts or samphires are often found in intertidal
areas with muddy or fine-grained substrates. The whole
plant is green to reddish and sometimes appears
translucent in the fall. At first glance the stems and leaves
are hardly distinguishable.
The stems and branches are filled with fresh water as a
reserve to sustain it amidst abundant salt water
The opposite leaves are reduced to tiny scales visible along
the stems. And believe it or not these plants have flowers!
You have to look very carefully to see the flower’s minute
anthers, the pollen-bearing structures protruding from the
The genus name Salicornia is derived from two Latin words,
sal for salt and cornu for horn, alluding to its salty habitat
and the horn-like branches. At times they are a brilliant red
and in early spring the plant is pale-green gradually turning
red as it matures due to the formation of the glucoside
betanin. The depth of colour varies according to the amount
of this chemical in the plant’s tissues.
No ordinary plant, samphire has a rich history of use in glass
making. In the glass making process it was first reduced to
ash to provide carbonate of soda, the alkali required for
producing glass.
The European plant known as samphire was pickled and
sold for decades. Early pioneers soon discovered the native
species, using it as a substitute and eventually incorporated
it into their vegetable gardens.
American Skunk Cabbage
Lysichiton americanus
Quick ID
General: perennial, semiaquatic
Flowers: green yellow in
a fleshy cylindrical spike,
surrounded by a large
yellow spathe
Leaf: 2 to 3 foot long
Fruit: green to red in axis
of spadix, large seeds
Habitat: wet areas,
springs, swamps
American skunk cabbage unfolds in late winter or early
spring bringing the first life, movement, heat, and odour to
its slumbering habitat.
I have seen it pushing through melting snow with ease and
marvelled at the flowing warmth which heats up, not only
the cold ground in which it grows, but also heating its own
volatile oil emitting the odiferous
scent inviting pollinators to visit,
feast and enjoy its warmth.
The flower chamber is attractive to
insects not only because of the feast
of pollen and the inviting aroma but
the area is kept at 20 degrees F,
making it an attractive find for an
overnight stay.
For the most part the
adult beetle named
testaceum use the
inflorescence as a
snack bar and mating
site, carrying the
uneaten pollen to the
next plant.
Part used: rhizome,
Skunk cabbage has a short large root but it can be very
difficult to dig in the oozy soil. The rootstock sits a few
inches under the soil and gives rise to the leafstalks above
and pencil thick roots that go in every direction below. The
rootlets grow deep into the oozing soil.
Truthfully, I have only dug one of these roots in my life and
luckily I chose a plant that was compliant, on other attempts
it was impossible and also unnecessary to dig.
The leaves were reported to be used by First Nations as a
type of ‘wax paper’ to keep foods and such. I urge you not
to try this as the leaf although beautiful and inviting
contains ‘calcium oxalate crystals’ which cause an
unpleasant burning sensation.
Skunk Cabbage may be used as an antispasmodic for the
respiratory system; it relaxes and eases irritable coughs
making it a good choice for asthma, bronchitis and
whooping cough. As a diaphoretic it aids the body during
Physiological effects: antispasmodic, diaphoretic,
expectorant, narcotic, pectoral, stimulant
I have found that the large
seeds make a fine medicine
and are much easier to
gather than the root, they
are more potent and stable
to say nothing of being
easier to gather. They have
an acrid taste and emit the
same fetid odour of the
plant when bruised.
In medicinal doses the
expectorant, antispasmodic and faintly narcotic. As a
nervine it has a positive action upon the nervous system
that relieves irritation and normalizes the CNS.
Chemical constituents: volatile oil, 5hydroxytryptamine, resins, fixed oil, salts of lime, silica,
iron, manganese, wax
A tincture made from the seeds may be used in asthma
attacks, whooping-cough, nervous irritability and for
pulmonary and bronchial affections. During acute stage take
up to 10 drops 3 x a day.
Note: In large doses skunk cabbage will cause vomiting,
headache, dizziness, and impaired vision. Taking the
tincture at the dose advised will offer the proper medicinal
Note: There are so many other herbs with leaves that
perform the same function as skunk cabbage, that it seems
unnecessary to use this medicine, however, to sit quietly
among the skunk cabbage plants in the early spring brings
us closer to understanding this amazing plant’s true nature
and maybe get a glimmering of our own.
Wild Ginger
Asarum cardatum
Quick ID
General: perennial
herb, growing low to
the ground
Flower: solitary,
purple to brown
Leaf: large, heartshaped
Fruit: leathery
Root: rhizome
Habitat: moist,
shady woodlands
Wild ginger lives deep in leaf mulch, quite happy to remain
undetected, rooting here and there forming large mats that
creep along the forest floor.
Since the leaves are very similar in shape and colour to
those of some violets and wintergreens, mistaken
identification often occurs. However, the
gingery aroma and maroon flowers with
three flaring sepal’s bell shaped and
hairy will soon set you straight.
The roots are quite shallow in the loose
soil and can be easily damaged so take
care when visiting this little gem.
New leaves grow from the roaming rhizome in early spring
each pair are soft, hairy and emerge a light green and
wrinkly, wrapped tightly around hairy leaf stalks. Later these
tight little bundles unfold and darken to medium green and
can grow up to 7” across by the fall of the year.
Like the western trillium, the seed of wild ginger has an
appendage that is rich in oil and useful to ants that live in
the same habitat. It makes a good food for their young
when gathered and taken back to the maze of underground
passages. After the oil is ingested the seed is cast aside
where it germinates and flourishes.
The rhizome of wild ginger was used historically much as
cultivated ginger is today. It has a spicy taste and contains a
stimulating agent that acts as an expectorant and a
Medical researchers have identified two antibiotic
compounds in the plant and in the past when wild ginger
was more abundant, herbalists felt free to utilize it. Today it
is widely cultivated as a ground cover in woodland gardens.
**Be aware that scientists have determined that the plants may
contain poisonous compounds and consumption of the plant is
highly discouraged.
Yellow Pond Lily
Nuphar lutea
Yellow pond-lily covers the surface of my favourite pond.
The bright waxy flower on its single stem stands upright
above the large flat leaf that covers and cools the surface of
the blue green water. I muse about the distinct possibility
that under the cool water, roots deep in the mud, each of
these lilies is from one mother — a metaphor for the
connection of humanity to one source nourishing and
maintaining our life force.
Part used: root
Quick ID
General: aquatic perennial
Flower: solitary, cup shaped
with small stamen-like petals,
and large yellow sepals
Leaf: heart-shaped on long
Fruit: purplish brown oval,
Root: large, thick rhizome
Habitat: sheltered, slow
moving water
The flesh-coloured root,
technically a rhizome, is
of impressive size — often more than six inches in diameter.
Uniform, dark leaf scars cover the upper surface while the
underside has many white rootlets that anchor it in the
mud. This rhizome perennial continues to flourish year after
year — even broken segments re-root.
On close examination, the flower is not what it seems. The
many petals reduce to mere wedges that merge to form an
extraordinary golden umbrella-shaped stigma at the centre
of the flower with clearly indented ‘spokes’. Substantial
bright yellow sepals surround and cup this ‘knob-like’
Long round stalks firmly hold the leaves that float on and
under the water. The masses of leaves help to keep the
water cool and provide docking facilities for small frogs,
dragonflies, and even the odd water nymph. Beneath the
cool green leaves, opportunistic fish feast on the small
aquatic life gathered in its shadow.
Physiological effects: anodyne, antispasmodic, astringent,
cardiotonic, demulcent, hypotensive, sedative
Chemical constituents: steroids, alkaloids,
nymphaeine, nupharine, mucilage, glycosides,
Yellow pond lily’s astringency makes it a candidate for
treating diarrhea particularly due to irritable bowel
syndrome. The root parts can be used fresh or dried as a
decoction taken in acute stages. The root is calming and
sedative to the nervous system making it useful for
insomnia and anxiety and other disorders where nervous
agitation is a factor.
Sweet Scented Bedstraw
Galium triflorum
Quick ID
General: Perennial herb
Stem: prostrate to ascending or climbing, several,
branched, square
Flower: small green-white
Leaf: whorls of 4 – 8, narrow, bristly, long stalks in leaf
axils, pointed tip
Root: creeping rhizome
Fruit: hooked bristles
Habitat: moist areas, damp woods
Settlers to coastal British Columbia, particularly those from
the British Isles, made good use of the bedstraws.
As the name suggests pillows and
mattresses were filled with the dried,
springy, fragrant foliage of the bedstraw
plants. I have had occasion to see a
mattress filled with the bedstraw plant
that still had a faint sweet odour and springiness after 80
The plants often show themselves as green masses of
foliage in the moist woodlands, their star-like flowers
twinkling in the sunlight. Most members of
this family grow on decumbent or trailing
stems with bristles that love to clutch at
your clothing as you pass by, the seeds are
great hitch-hikers too.
For centuries, European herbalists have
used leaf, stem and flower of bedstraw; it has proven to be
a reliable soothing herb.
Physiological effects: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory,
antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, lymphagogue
Chemical constituents: anthraquinones, citric acid,
coumarins, iridoids asperuloside, nicotinic acid, tannin
Sweet scented bedstraw is a valuable tonic for the urinary
system and is especially good for clearing engorged lymph
nodes. Herbal lymphagogues such as bedstraw clear
substances that cannot be effectively filtered out by the
vascular system (veins and arteries). I have seen swollen
lymph nodes dramatically reduced by applying the
expressed juice from this plant externally and at the same
time having the person take the tincture internally to
remove the toxins through the urine.
Note: Bedstraw contains coumarins - anyone taking pharmaceutical blood
thinners including aspirin should avoid this plant.
Arctium minus
Quick ID
General: naturalized biennial, leaf rosette in 1st year
Flower: purple bracts with bristles
Leaf: broad-ovate, rhubarb-like
Stem: hollow, celery-like
Fruit: seed casing, burred
Root: deep tap root
Habitat: waste places, rocky ground
I could fill a volume with the virtues of
burdock. All parts have medicinal
value, none are wasted and it grows in
great abundance.
Part used: leaf, root, fruit (seed)
Physiological effects: alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic,
antitumorigenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral,
cholagogue, expectorant, hypoglycemic
Chemical Constituents: alamine, arctiol, arginine,
ascorbic acid, acetic acid, arctiin, arctiopicrin,
arctigenin, inulin , mucilage, tannin, flavonoids,
taraxasterol, bitter, lappin, volatile oils
This plant, in its entirety, has been used in herbal medicine
for centuries and for a wide variety of disorders. Hildegard
of Bingen, well known medieval mystic and herbalist,
recorded the use of burdock for treatment of cancerous
tumours. Today, scientific research has shown that
arctigenin, a chemical in burdock, does in fact slow tumour
growth and there is more research underway.
Burdock’s large tap root used for food (known as gobo in
Japan) and medicine is very long and luscious. You can dig it
in the fall of the first year, or in early spring of the second
year of growth. It is not advisable to use the root after the
second year stalk has sprouted.
This plant is a slow-acting alterative herb that strengthens
the system, especially liver. It gently moves the body to a
state of integration and health by influencing the skin,
kidneys, mucous and serous fluid and removing
accumulated waste products. Taken internally it relieves
rheumatic conditions resulting from toxins as well as acute
irritable and inflammatory conditions.
By decreasing blood sugar levels and increasing
carbohydrate tolerance, the root has pronounced and long
lasting effect as a hypoglycemic.
Extracts of the leaves, seed and roots have all been shown
to possess antibacterial activity and are active against both
gram negative and gram positive
The large leaves gathered early in
the second year can be used to
make a potent salve for use
conditions including acne, eczema,
psoriasis and dry itchy skin (ichthyosis).
Epilobium angustifolium
Quick ID
General: perennial
herb, 1 – 6 feet high,
large colonies
Flower: 4 petals,
magenta to white
depending on
Leaf: alternate,
lance-shaped with
prominent mid-vein
Stem: sturdy,
sometimes woody
Fruit: erect, thin
linear pods, split
into 4 sections
Seed: hundreds of
parachute seeds
Root: widespread
rhizome-like root
Habitat: burned
over sites, waste
perennial that dominates many
plant communities undergoing succession, quickly
reclaiming disturbed ground such as cut or burned forest,
thus explaining its common name fireweed.
If you look closely at the flowering plant you’ll notice that it
has buds, flowers and fruit on show at the same time. The
genus name Epilobium means ‘on a capsule’ (epi means on,
lobon means capsule) because the new flowers form on top
of the seed or put another way the flowers start to open
from the bottom.
Fireweed has been around for some time
helping the Earth and humans rejuvenate;
now modern research is finding that it also
possesses chemical compounds that make
safe and effective alternative remedies.
Part used: flower, leaf
Physiological effects: antifungal,
anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, emollient, laxative, tonic
Chemical constituents: flavonoids,
mucilage, phenolic compounds, tannins,
vitamin C, oenothein B
The anti-inflammatory effect of fireweed is gentle and
effective for the upper respiratory areas (mouth, throat) as
well as the digestive system solving intestinal inflammation
when taken as a warm tea.
The flower and leaf make a very fine emollient when made
into a salve. I make a little pot of this every year, picking just
a few flowers and steeping them in grape seed oil and then
thickening with beeswax. It soothes and softens the
Gather leaves and flowers from plants on the periphery of
the colony for the least impact on the whole area. If the
colony is just establishing itself it best to leave them to do
their regenerating work and look for others. Cut the stalk
just above ground level, when the plant is in bloom, for the
highest medicinal content, when cutting use a sharp knife so
as not to disturb the root and surrounding eco-system.
Store the plant parts whole, in this way they will keep their
medicinal quality longer.
Canada Goldenrod
Solidago canadensis
Quick ID
General: prolific
perennial, late
Flowers: yellow,
dense pyramid
Stem: erect
Leaf: simple,
In all Canadian
provinces, at least
one of the 125 plus species of goldenrod is always present.
Canada goldenrod grows prolifically on the Pacific
Northwest coast and can be found blooming late into the
The genus Solidago is derived from ‘solidate’ meaning ‘one
that makes whole’ and that it does.
Goldenrod has been inappropriately blamed as the chief
cause of hay fever, because it blooms at the same time as
the real perpetrator, ragweed (Ambrosia sp.).
The big give away is the fact that innocent goldenrod is
pollinated by insects and is not an airborne pollen. In fact,
not only does goldenrod’s pollen not cruise on the breeze,
the plant itself is a curative for hay fever and other upper
respiratory maladies rather than their cause.
Part used: leaf, flower bud
It is important to gather the flower
bud and not the full bloomed flower
because during the drying process
the flower turns to seed.
I have had occasion to gather a
flower head (see photo left) only to
find that the top flowers had gone to
seed but luckily, the buds below
were still viable.
Physiological effects: anticatarrhal, antihistamine, antiinflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, urinary
antiseptic/sedative, carminative, diuretic, demulcent,
Goldenrod contains chemical compounds called saponins
that act in a mysterious way, the exact mechanism is not
known, but it appears that irritation in the gut causes a
reflex action in the kidneys and lungs, resulting in a tissue
response to flush away the offending substance.
This provides goldenrod with an interesting paradoxical
effect, on the one hand it is astringent and anti-catarrhal
and on the other it increases the production of mucous
helping its passage from the respiratory area.
Chemical constituents: volatile oil, pinene,
limonene, flavonoids, kaempferol, rhamnetin,
quercetin, quercitrin, astragalin, saponins,
cinnamic acid, tannins
Goldenrod is an important botanical medicine that
counteracts the toxicity of herbicides and pesticides free
floating in the air we breathe. A tea or tincture made from
the flower and leaf of goldenrod will help to keep the lungs
clear, particularly during the active farming season.
Equisetum arvense
Photo: Michael McCreary
Quick ID:
General: two growth stages – sterile and fertile
Leaf: small, scale-like in whorls
Stem: jointed
Branches: from leaf axils, 3 – 5 sided, whorled
Seeds: spores (viable for 48 hours)
Root: black rhizome
Habitat: low wet seepage areas, meadows, damp sandy
soils, gravelly areas
The horsetails are the most primitive of plants, having been
on the Earth long before man, some estimate as long as
three hundred million years!
The fossil record shows that
members of the Equisetum
genus formed a striking part
of the coal forest swamps
their jointed stems were two
feet or more in thickness
rising to heights of 50 to 100
feet. Imagine that when you
see the delicate, diminutive
plant known as horsetail
During the Carboniferous
period horsetails formed coal
seams that today we depend
on for fuel.
Equisetum stands alone with
no close relatives, the closest being the ferns because they
are both spore bearing plants.
Horsetail has two generations; in early
spring pale pink, fleshy stems appear in
damp meadows, each terminating in a
small egg-shaped cone which bears the
spores. Later, after dropping their spores,
these fertile stems wither to the ground
and are replaced by the sterile stems that
develop into a bright green plant
reminiscent of a bottle brush or little
Christmas tree.
Today this group is represented by 29 species of small,
herbaceous plants that are very wide spread throughout the
The genus name is derived from the Latin equus, for ‘horse’,
and setum, ‘bristle’. Arvense refers to field or land.
Fresh horsetail contains the enzyme thiaminase, which can
break down thiamine. Drying, alcohol extraction, and
stomach acids all denature thiaminase, however there is no
evidence that in the form and amounts normally used it has
a physiological effect on humans.
WARNING: As the green
sterile stage matures, the
silica tends to move to the
exterior layers of the stem
and branches. The silica is
insoluble at this later stage
of growth. In my opinion,
the silica can be quite
dangerous to the body
because it cannot be easily
eliminated. After mid-June, you can feel the silica grit on the
stems. The photograph above shows the skeleton (silica) of
horsetail in the spring – even the winter snows and rain did
not dissolve it.
Part used: above ground portion gathered early in
the growing season when the leaves point upward
Physiological effects: analgesic, antifungal,
antiosteoporotic, antioxidant, diuretic, emollient,
hypotensive, urinary tonic
Chemical constituents: ascorbic acid, campesterol,
chromium, dihydroquercetin, esquisetonin, ferulic
acid, niacin, silicon, tannic acid, zinc
The use of horsetail dates back to ancient Roman and Greek
medicine where it was used for its mild diuretic action.
The diuretic effects are tempered by
the presence of significant quantities
of astringent tannic acids which
provide a tonic and strengthening
effect upon the walls of the bladder. It
is this toning effect that is sought in
urinary incontinence, rather than the
diuretic effect.
All the horsetail species, arvense in particular, are known for
their high content of organic silica, a substance that
rejuvenates connective tissues and strengthens bones. Silica
also increases elasticity in the arterial walls, essential to
movement of blood and keeping blood pressure low.
Silicon, present in the sterile horsetail plant, may be
beneficial for bone strengthening and is beneficial as a
treatment for osteoporosis. People with osteoporosis
should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before
utilizing this herbal therapy.
I may be hesitant to use wildcrafted horsetail internally,
relying more on the standardized products available in
health food stores but I do find various external washes, oils
and salves made from horsetail to be very helpful for the
skin in a variety of ways.
Horsetail’s chemicals such as ferulic-acid, campesterol, and
silicon exhibit antioxidant, analgesic, antifungal and
emollient properties making this plant a good candidate for
a top rate salve.
As a bath herb horsetail is mineral rich, healing the skin,
leaving it soft and clean. You will find that it increases your
circulation which is helpful for those suffering from varicose
Verbascum thapsus
Quick IDGeneral: naturalized
Biennial: 1st year –
rosette of fuzzy
2nd year – stout
stem with many
leaves, up to 8 feet
Leaf: large, hairy;
clasping the stem
Flower: yellow, 5petals, saucershaped in compact
Fruit: ovoid capsules
with 100s of seeds
Habitat: waste
places, particularly
gravelly soil
Mullein is a fascinating biennial;
herb with innumerable soft hairs
that protect it from insects by
making it very difficult to crawl
along the surface as well as irritating the mouths of
browsing animals.
These same hairs manage to capture and retain small
droplets of moisture that see this drought tolerant plant
through the driest of seasons.
The leaves ascend the central stalk in an alternating
manner, not allowing any rain to escape. The strong midrib
of each leaf tightly clasps the stem maintaining an erect
profile while creating a channel for water to flow inwards,
descending leaf-to-leaf like a waterfall.
In B.C. mullein is
categorized as a
noxious weed but in
the right hands with
the right attitude it is
a storehouse of
medicinal benefits.
Part used: leaf,
Physiological effect: anodyne, anti-inflammatory,
antispasmodic, antiviral,
astringent, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, sedative,
Chemical constituents: ascorbic acid, betacarotene, crocetin, hesperidin, iridoid
glucosides lateroside aucubin, selenium, silica,
oleic acid, saponins, verbascoside, zinc
Mullein leaf is a good respiratory
remedy; it tones the mucous
membranes of the respiratory
system, reducing inflammation
and facilitates expectoration from
the lungs. It is considered a
specific in bronchitis where there
is a hard cough with soreness. It
antispasmodic action whether you
make a tea, tincture, salve or steam.
Externally an extract of the flower in
olive oil makes a soothing, healing balm
for any inflamed surface. It is a specific
effectively to lessen the pain and aiding
Like many other herbs, mullein is not
entirely benign. Some people find the
plant’s hairs irritating to skin and
mucous membranes. It’s a good idea to
see how you react to a small amount of
mullein before consuming it or smearing
it on your body. And always strain the
tea through fine-weave cloth or a coffee filter to remove
any stray hairs.
Although it has been
used medicinally since
popularity of common
increasing for the past
few years. Today, the
dried leaves and flowers
capsules, alcohol and glycerine extracts and medicinal oils
that are available in health food stores.
Dried mullein leaf is the main ingredient in most herbal
smoke recipes to which other respiratory herbs are added.
Herbal smoke can be made into rolled cigarettes, used in a
pipe or burned as a smudge. It relieves irritation of the
respiratory mucus membranes, tones and clears the lungs
and if you are a smoker it will help cessation of smoking and
clean the lungs.
Self Heal
Prunella vulgaris
Quick ID
General: perennial
Flowers: 2-lipped,
lips longer than
tube, the upper lip
squared-off, purple
on terminal spike
Leaves: lanceshaped, opposite
Stem: square
Habitat: roadsides,
fields at low
Self-heal is a member
of the mint family and
as such has the telltale
square stem associated with mints. Like most mints it grows
easily from a rhizome that spreads horizontally sending up
shoots giving bloom to new plants in an extensive colony.
This diminutive mint has
been part of folk medicine
for centuries. The older
Culpepper and Gerard
record self-heal’s (also
known as heal-all) use as a
tonic restoring health to
the body and staunching uncontrolled bleeding both
internally and externally.
New research has found that
self-heal acts as an antibacterial
and antibiotic having chemical
constituents that are antibiotic
specifically for the respiratory
Part used: leaf, flower, root
Physiological effect: alterative,
antibacterial, antibiotic,
antipyretic, antiseptic,
astringent, tonic, vulnerary
Chemical constituents:
betulinic acid, camphor,
A cold water infusion of
oleanolic acid, rosemarinicthe freshly chopped, or
dried and powdered, acid, rutin, tannin, ursolic-acid,
leaves is a very tasty
Self-heal is taken internally as a medicinal tea in the
treatment of fevers, diarrhea, sore mouth and throat,
internal bleeding, and weaknesses of the liver and heart.
Clinical analysis shows that self-heal’s antibacterial
constituents and resultant action inhibits the growth of
Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi, which
supports its age old use as an external and internal
Canadian researchers have discovered that heal-all blocks
cell-to-cell transmission of the HIV virus and also interferes
with the virus' ability to bind with T cells, the immune cells
that are destroyed by HIV infection. At the University of
California at Davis, scientists have identified a complex
sugar in the herb that accounts for its actions against HIV.
Marsh Skullcap
Scutellaria galericulata (formerly S. epilobiifolia)
Quick ID
General: member of
the mint family
Flower: tubular, in
pairs in leaf axil
Leaf: opposite, oval
Stem: square, weak
Root: very fragile
Habitat: wet
meadows, marshes
scutellaria translates
to ‘little dish’ referring
to the hollow pouch
formed by the top lid
that develops over the
At mid-summer the
vivid blue-helmeted flower pokes out of the upper leaf axil
while the fragile stem buffered by long grasses growing
around and supporting it reaches up to the warmth and
sunlight. This moisture loving plant lives along rivers and
lakes, in moist meadows and marshes where you must tread
carefully fear of crushing it.
Old herbal references from the early 1800s use the folk
name ‘mad-dog skullcap’ and record that it was used for the
bite of rabid dogs. Two centuries later Russian researchers
found that a specific flavonoid found in the aerial portion
called sculletaria is indeed an effective sedative and have
deemed that it is indeed an effective CNS antispasmodic.
Part used: aerial portion
Skullcap contains a bitter chemical, or principle, that works
as a tonic on the liver and the digestive system. Like so
many of nature's medicines, the chemical components
affect more than one body system – in this case, both the
nervous system and the digestive system.
Physiological effect: antibacterial, anticonvulsant,
antispasmodic, sedative nervine
Chemical constituents: flavonoids, apigenin,
luteolin, scutellarin, Iridoids, catapol
You can purchase skullcap remedies in your health food
store, or you can prepare them from plants gathered in the
wild. Either way, I advise that you take skullcap for no
longer than five days at a stretch because it is a very potent
herb. After five days, take a couple of days off and then if
needed take it again for five days. It is advisable not to take
this herb for longer than three months including the two
day break. Within this time period skullcap is powerful
enough to effect the change you desire.
Make a leaf tea for use as a bitter to help with digestion—
but don't sweeten it or you will lose its valuable bitter
To help with nervous disorders, including sleeping
problems, make an infusion — yes, you can sweeten it.
Other ways of preparing this herb to avoid the bitterness
would to make a fresh tincture out of the leaf or drying the
herb, powdering it and then encapsulating it.
I have found skullcap to be especially useful for those
withdrawing from nicotine, drugs or alcohol and for mental
or physical exhaustion when there is an inability to control
the voluntary muscles.
Skullcap produces a quiet and soothing effect, controlling
nervous agitation, and inducing a sensation of calmness and
strength when it is needed.
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum
Look closely at the flower of St.
John’s Wort for the dark-coloured
glands along the petal margin;
crush a petal and red oil exudes.
The leaves also carry these dots
but the oil is colourless.
Quick ID
General: alien,
shrub-like perennial
Leaves: yellow,
lanceolate, with
glandular dots and
black marginal dots
Flower: yellow 5
Stems: erect,
Habitat: rocky
ground, waste
Make medicinal oil from the freshly picked blossom and it
will turn a brilliant red, holding stable for over a year, the
herbal oil is used as a specific for sciatica when applied
Many herbalists say the translucent ‘perforations’, the black
spots, contain the most active medicinal qualities.
Physiological effects: antidepressant, antispasmodic,
antitumorigenic, antiviral, nervine
Chemical constituents: anthraquinone,
hyperforin, hypericin, flavonoids, quercetin,
volatile oil, tannin
For centuries St. John’s wort has been used as a sleeping
aid. Now research has validated its use to relieve anxiety,
nervous tension, insomnia, seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
and depression. It is also prescribed for menopausal
disturbances, premenstrual syndrome, shingles, bladder
control problems, and for pain and inflammation caused by
nerve damage.
Recently, St John’s wort has also been found
to be a potent antiviral agent and there is
more to come I am sure.
This oil stimulates cellular metabolism and
also acts as a powerful anti-depressant
when taken internally. Used externally it will
help too heal burns, subdue sciatica and
reduce the irritation of scar tissue.
This is a noxious weed in many provinces
due to its invasion of rangeland and
photosensitization of livestock; so it may have been sprayed
with chemicals poisonous to we humans. Be careful where
you wildcraft your medicine.
Stinging Nettle
Urtica dioica
Quick ID
General: tall, graceful,
stalk, stems and leaves all
carry stinging hairs
Flower: green, small in
hanging clusters
Leaf: deeply toothed,
dark green, heart shaped
at base, tapered to the
Stem: square
Habitat: moist fertile
areas; usually indicating
nitrogen rich soils.
Stinging nettle takes its name
from an old Anglo-Saxon
word noedl meaning needle.
Urtica is from the Latin urere,
to burn. This name is in
reference to the stinging
hairs that cover the stem, stalk
and leaf. These cellular
stinging hairs function like
contain a combination of acid
and antigenic protein. Under
pressure the hair penetrates
the skin, the tip is broken and
the irritating juice is injected
and a rash erupts.
In most instances the rash
clears within minutes. If you
wear gloves and long sleeves
while gathering the plant, not much harm can come to you.
This highly nutritive herb makes a
spring tonic that has no equal and
the irritating hairs are neutralized
when cooked or dried. The dried
leaf gathered before the flowers
appear, remain viable and potent
through to the next growing season.
second year.
Leaves are harvested before the
flowers develop. To harvest cut the
whole stem leaving two inches or so
above soil line, being careful not to
disturb the shallow root system. The
roots are harvested in the fall of the
Part used: leaf, root
Physiological effects: alterative, diuretic, lymphagogue,
nutritive, tonic
Chemical constituents: organic iron, chlorophyll,
potassium, calcium, magnesium, silicic, folic and
panthothenic acids, vitamins A B (1 &2) C K,
secretin, lectins, sterols, fatty acids, scopoletin.
You really can’t take too much nettle. Not only are the
steamed greens tasty, but they contain secretin, a substance
that assists in the removal of heavy mucous build up.
This highly nutritive content is helpful in correcting anemia
as well as leg and uterine cramping. Your red blood cells and
liver are nourished by long term use of this herb. The
vitamin K content prevents postpartum hemorrhage and
Stinging nettle root has
become one of the major
phytomedicines used in
the management of
number of clinical studies
support this claim. One
chemical constituent of
the root either affects
the amount of free
circulating in the blood,
or may inhibit one of the
key enzymes, aromatase,
testosterone synthesis. These active principles are water
soluble so the root may be easily ingested as a boiled tea or
Every vegetable garden deserves a healthy patch of nettles.
Rudolph Steiner, scientist and mystic, advocated
biodynamic sprays made from nettle to increase vegetative
growth, particularly in dry weather (it also makes an
excellent aphid spray). Biodynamic gardening uses
companion planting of nettles to increase the volatile oils in
such plants as valerian, mint, sage and rosemary. You will
find the potency of many plants increases measurably when
planted near nettles.
According to Robert Rogers, botanist and long time
herbalist, freeze-dried nettle leaf contains large quantities
of histamine and formic acid that are valuable in treating
allergic rhinitis. Interestingly, it somehow binds up
immunoglobulin G, but only in the freeze-dried form.
Achillea millefolium
Quick ID
General: aromatic,
stem 2 – 3 feet
Flower: small white
florets with yellow
centres in flattopped clusters
Leaf: fern-like
Root: branched
Habitat: disturbed
areas, roadsides,
Yarrow’s genus name Achillea developed from a legend
about Achilles who reportedly used the lush foliage and
sweet flower to staunch his warrior’s wounds. The species
name millefolium meaning thousand leaves refers to the
delicate finely divided leaves that adorn the sturdy stem.
This native of the Northern Hemisphere is familiar to
Canadians from coast-to-coast having been used as an
herbal medicine for centuries.
From spring to fall yarrow blooms vigorously serving a dual
role in insect and plant interdependency. The deep
pungency of this plant’s aromatic oil will repel its insect
enemies but this same pungency attracts the much needed
pollinators. This dual function provides a balance of biodiversity that is beneficial both to the
plant and its neighbours.
The ‘squirrel tail’ leaf that pokes through
the detritus is used as a spring tonic to
increase circulation and open pores to
release toxins accumulated through the winter.
The flower head, a slightly rounded umbel, includes white
ray and yellow disc flowers that possess the most potent
medicine. Gathered at this stage, dried and carefully stored
in air tight containers out of the sun they will last until the
next season of bloom and serve your well over the cool
Part used: aerial portion
Physiological effect: stimulating diaphoretic, antiinflammatory, astringent, tonic, vulnerary, antimicrobial
Chemical constituents: azulene, achilletin,
achilleine, salicylic acid, cineol, quercetin,
rutin, tannins, terpeniol, camphor,
menthol, eugenol, chamazulene
Like many herbs, yarrow is more water
soluble and better tasting after it is dried.
Gather a few stalks, bundle and hang
upside down to dry in a well ventilated
area out of the sun. You will find that the
flowers dry quickly helping the keep the
integrity of the precious volatile oils
present in all parts.
The leaves are ‘bitter', assisting
digestion and liver function and
hepatic clearance of estrogen
from the body.
The dried flower made into a tea
and served warm is a stimulating
diaphoretic that opens the pores
of the skin and promotes
sweating, by this action it will
bring down a fever, equalise
detoxification of the body.
The flowers have a balancing
effect on the menstrual cycle, regulating length of the cycle
and duration of bleeding. This physiological action is due to
volatile oils which encourage blood flow to the pelvic area,
aiding decongestion by encouraging leukocytes and oxygen
into the area, thereby acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Two volatile oils `azulene' and `dineol' are antiinflammatory and cooling in action and are valuable in the
treatment of arthritis and rheumatism. These oils also have
a specific affinity for connective tissue, especially the
venous system. These same oils used externally act locally
to decrease inflammation and to promote tissue healing.
Yarrow is considered a troublesome weed by some, this is
unfortunate because it is not really as competitive as it is
prolific, and generally does not compromise neighbouring
However, when wildcrafting this plant exercise caution and
choose an area where it has not been sprayed with
herbicides to control it.
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Infusions or tisanes (teas) are used when preparing the more fragile parts of the
plant: leaves and flowers with a high concentration of volatile oils. Here are
three methods of preparation.
Place herbs in container with tight fitting lid and pour boiling water
over them. Cover the container before steam is lost. Steep for 10 - 20 minutes,
this steeping time varies with the herb used as well as the particular
constituents of the plant that are being extracted.
for a stronger medicinal infusion place herbs in cold water in pot with
tight lid. Slowly bring water to a boil. Watch it carefully and take it off the heat
just before it boils.
For a very strong infusion use either of the above methods and let the
water evaporate by steeping for an extended period.
SOLAR: Place herbs in jar with tight fitting lid. Put it in a hot, sunny spot for
several hours. This method will extract the same amount of constituents from
the herbs as if you had cooked them, it’s wonderful to come home after work
and find a nice hot jar full of tea that has been infusing all day ready for you to
relax with.
COLD INFUSIONS: Certain herbs high in volatile oils, tannins or mucilaginous
chemicals have to be prepared by soaking for 8 hours or more in cold water,
then strain and heat the cold tea to a satisfactory temperature.
DECOCTIONS: are used to release the more tenacious plant material and are
generally used for brewing roots, barks, nuts, and non-aromatic seeds. However,
roots high in volatile oils should be infused.
The plant chemicals are very concentrated and tenacious in root and bark. It is
advised when decocting these plant parts to brew the same batch several times.
Each subsequent time, the brew becomes a little milder. If you wish, you may
add a little fresh mixture to each batch to maintain the strength. I generally
brew my root mixtures three to four times before discarding.
There are times when it is necessary to prepare medicinal formulas from both
the roots and leafy parts of the herb. Therefore it is best to decoct the roots,
turn off heat, add leaves and cover tightly and infuse for as long as desired.
For chronic health problems make a quart of the medicinal tea each
day and drink 3 - 4 cups daily for one to four months. Allow one or two days rest
each week from the program.
For acute health problems drink medicinal tea in small frequent doses.
Medicinal oils: It is highly recommended when making medicinal oils to use
olive oil which is a high quality, nutritious and medicinal substance in its own
right. I also use canola oil or any good vegetable oil found in health food stores.
Cosmetic Oils: For body, bath and massage oils, use sweet-scented, light oils;
the most preferable being Apricot and Almond. Avocado oil is exceptional oil for
the skin but should be diluted with Apricot or Almond because of its thickness
and odour. At the moment I am using Grape Seed Oil with great success because
the oil is very easily absorbed into the skin, unlike some of the others.
With any of these methods, I tend to just take a handful of herbs and cover
them with oil; two inches to spare as a general rule.
Always strain the oils once extraction is complete (I use cheesecloth) and store
in dark coloured glass jars. Get used to labelling your product, date, name of
herb, (folk name and botanical), type of preparation etc.
Solar Infused oils: Place 2 or 3 oz of the herb (dry or fresh) in a quart jar. Fill jar
with desired oil blend. Cover tightly. Place jar in a warm, sunny spot. Some
people place them in a bed of sand or straw. Let stand in the sunlight one to two
weeks shaking jars daily and strain.
You may wish to add fresh herb to the oil and allow it to sit another week or
two. After you strain the herbs keep oil in a cool/shaded place just as you would
store other oils. Although it takes longer than other methods, I prefer this type
of preparation. I like to spend time making herbal products and to use the
natural power of the sun (or the moon).
Oven extracted oils: Add 2 -3 oz of herb to a quart pan of oil with tight fitting lid.
Turn oven on lowest temperature (approx. 200° F) and steep for 3 hrs. Check
frequently to be certain you are not deep frying your herbs. Strain and re-bottle.
Double boiler: Place herb in a double boiler. Cover with a quart of oil. Cook over
boiling water (low simmer) 20-45 minutes, strain and bottle for use.
Crock-Pot: I must say, after the solar method this is my favourite, because I can
rely on the temperature. Place herbs and oil on lowest setting for one or two
One step beyond making your herbal oils is the fine healing salves you can make.
A salve is a soft, semi-solid preparation used for its protective and emollient
properties. Salve/ointment bases are usually comprised of wax, herbs, and
vegetable oils.
The principle constituents of herbs are extracted by the oil; the oil acts as a
carrier of the medicinal properties. The wax gives firmness to the salve.
Application: Salves are usually applied externally whenever a soothing emollient
is needed: for eczema, abrasions, cuts, diaper rashes, scratches, bed sores,
wounds, burns and open sores. Salves are also used for suppositories and
boluses (a vaginal suppository).
Gently apply salve directly on skin irritation. If the wound is severely painful,
apply salve onto cheesecloth and place cloth over area. Always be careful that
the wound has been cleansed with an antiseptic such as Tea Tree oil before
applying the healing salve.
Tinctures are one of the oldest forms of herbal preparation because they have
several excellent properties; easy to prepare (they keep indefinitely), easy to
administer and easy to store.
When you are ready to take the tincture, a couple of drops directly under the
tongue will suffice or mix either with a little warm water or in an herbal tea.
Alcohol Tinctures:
Take approximately four ounces ground dried herbs or eight ounces of finely
chopped fresh herbs. Cover with the solvent. Make sure that there is at least 2
inches of solvent over the top of your herbal mixture to allow for expansion of
herbs and evaporation. Tightly stopper this and shake the bottle vigorously at
least three times a day (or more) for ten days to two weeks.
As stated previously, use alcohols with a rating of 80 proof or more. Alcohol, one
of the most versatile solvents, will dissolve fats, waxes, resins and alkaloids
without the introduction of heat which may vaporize some of the more volatile
The medicinal properties of herbs, when dissolved in alcohol tinctures, are more
readily assimilated into the body than when administered in pills or capsule
The alcoholic solution is absorbed directly into the blood through the stomach
walls, thereby starting the healing action almost immediately.
Extract all liquids (squeezing the powder residue thoroughly) with a regular juice
press or wring out by hand through cheese cloth.
You may have to filter the solution if solid residue remains suspended. I find that
the ‘environmentally friendly’ coffee filters are ideal for this purpose. Place in
dark bottles and keep in a cool dark place. Take out enough for a small stopper
bottle for convenient use.
Apple Cider Vinegar Tinctures:
Apple cider vinegar may be used as a solvent for preparing tinctures instead of
alcohol. However there are some slight disadvantages to this method: The
efficacy of the principle constituents is not maintained as long as in alcohol,
tinctures; usually good for several months instead of years. Apple Cider Vinegar
is not as powerful a solvent therefore it may not completely dissolve the herbal
But, Apple Cider Vinegar does help maintain the acid/alkaline balance in the
body, regulates body metabolism, and is a tonic for the digestive tract. It can be
used whenever alcohol is undesirable.
Glycerine Tinctures
For making a glycerine tincture, soak four ounces of the ground herb in one pint
of water/glycerine solution (1 part glycerine to I parts water), macerate for ten
days, strain and bottle.
Glycerine tincture (vegetable glycerine is the best) provides an additional
healing action as the glycerine helps to eliminate bodily toxins. However,
glycerine will not dissolve resinous or oily extracts: alcohol tinctures are
preferred in such cases.
Determining dosages is always difficult because we all have individual
metabolisms, dietary habits, stress levels and other characteristics that may
influence the healing process.
With my own body (and truly, this is my best guide), I take a dropper full (1 cc)
every hour, when I am fighting off an acute infection, and usually the same
amount for chronic problems. The dose also depends on the potency of the
preparation; so many variables must be considered. If one is sensitive enough,
and carefully observes the patient’s responses to the treatment, the proper
dosage will become apparent. Although most herbals give dosage requirements,
these should only be considered as guidelines.
One thing that most herbals don’t do is give children’s dosages. In order to help
you with this there are several rules developed by various practitioners over the
Cowlings rule: Divide the age at the next birthday by 24. If the child is 6 on the
next birthday, then 6/24 or ¼ of the adult dosage would be administered.
Clark’s rule: Divide the age at the next birthday by 24. If the child is 6 on the
next birthday, then 6/24 or 1/4 of the adult dosage would be administered.
Young’s rule: Dosage is computed by dividing the child’s age by the age plus 12
(a child’s age of 4 years would be divided by 16: le. 4/16 or 1/4 of the adult
Syrup is a thick, sticky liquid preparation made by dissolving honey/sugar or
other sweetener into either pure water or other aqueous solution such as
decoctions and infusions. It is also used to suspend medicinal or flavouring
agents for easy administration. For making syrup with herbs, settle out the
heavier matter and pour off the clear liquid.
Then add, for every pint of herbal liquid, one and three quarter pounds of
sweetener, place into an appropriate pot and heat until the sweetener is melted
then cool and store.
Liniments are exactly the same as tinctures, but are used for external use only.
Often times, the terms liniment and tincture are used interchangeably but
incorrectly. A liniment is an external application used: (a) for drying, drawing
and disinfecting, or (b) for deep muscle pain.
This therapy is useful in preventing swelling and reducing fevers, often by
stimulating production of both white and red blood cells and by reducing pulse
First prepare a decoction or infusion. Once it is lukewarm place in the freezer to
get really cold. Soak a cloth in the cold tea and wring out so it is not dripping and
apply. When the cloth warms up, re-soak and re-apply. Repeat this procedure
three to five times, adding ice cubes if necessary, then dry the area thoroughly.
Wildcrafting IS ethical gathering of wild plant material for personal use by
knowledgeable people.
Wildcrafting IS NOT commercial gathering of large quantities of plant material
for money.
Before you start to wildcraft it is important to be able to properly identify plants
in the field. Get yourself a good field guide with photographs or sketches; visit
your local university herbarium and talk to the botanist on staff about
identification techniques. Join a native plant group, wild flower or naturalist
In the last twenty years, right across Canada, commercial harvesting has
accelerated at an alarming rate. Tonnes of plant material are being harvested
with no thought to sustainability or the destruction to habitat which leads to
over harvesting. Over harvesting is the collection of wild plants to the point
where it interrupts the balance of plant community, shrinking habitat and range.
Dramatic declines in wild plant populations, to a great extent, is the result of
commercial harvesting, particularly of root harvesting. The harvesting of the
entire root means that the whole plant is being destroyed. It is gone forever.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) is very near to extinction for this very reason and
there are many others joining the list of endangered species.
Any harvesting from nature should be managed and closely regulated, yet
scientific data is totally insufficient on plant populations. We need to know
regional abundance in order to form databases showing how many plants may
be taken annually so that sustainable yields are reached.
Until this is in place a moratorium on commercial harvesting should be
implemented. There must not be further damage to wild populations. If we
simply take from greed, without regard for the well-being of the planet we
damage the Earth and ourselves.
Harvesting, Drying and Storing Wildcrafted
Once you have observed the plants in their natural environment (preferably
throughout the four seasons) and feel confident in your identification, you are
ready to start gathering.
Choose areas that are free of herbicides and pesticides and have a prolific
growth of the plants you are interested in.
Plan to harvest your herbs in the early morning after the sun has evaporated the
dew but before it has dissipated the plant's natural oils.
Rain or dew soaked crops will have a much longer drying time and be more
susceptible to spoilage and discoloration.
Bring along a sizable hand basket to place your harvest in, herbage carelessly
tossed into bags or boxes will lose some of their volatile oils. Cut plants with a
sharp knife or pruning shears.
Make sure that the herbs are clean (no spoilage, insects, eggs or nests etc).
Remove all dead or decayed material before drying to reduce chance of
Green foliage should be allowed to wilt for a few hours before drying to reduce
the amount of moisture and hasten the drying process.
Drying Methods
The primary difference between 'natural' and 'artificial' drying techniques is that
the former only requires the heat contained in the atmosphere whereas the
latter uses supplemental heat. Although natural drying is better and cheaper, it
is always good to have alternate heat sources available in case you are faced
with a damp harvest season.
The drying room should be equipped with an exhaust fan to expel the humid air.
A fan with a heating element provides both heat and air circulation.
Good air circulation is extremely important with any drying method because the
moisture absorbed by the air must be carried away from the crop.
Hanging bunches; the hanging bunch method can be very efficient and cost
effective when drying foliage, flowers or seed heads. Small bunches of harvested
herbs are hung in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.
You can also place leaves or stem pieces on trays with bottoms made of cheese
cloth or nylon net. Place these trays into a rack for more efficient use of space
and better air circulation.
Oven; the kitchen oven functions very well as an artificial dryer for small batches
of leafy herbs. Set the oven below 115 degrees F(46 C) with the door should left
ajar to provide air flow and to allow the moisture to escape. The herbs should be
placed on open mesh trays, screens or racks that allow good air circulation. Care
should be taken to maintain low oven temperatures to avoid scorching.
Storage; after diligently working to obtain a fine dried product, be sure to take
equal care with your storage techniques.
First of all remember that partially dried plants can easily reabsorb moisture,
such is the case with mullein which is hydroscopic and reabsorb readily if the
dried product is left in moist air for even a short time.
Storage aims are to prevent exposure of the herb to temperature extremes,
moisture, dust, sunlight, and air. You can use either heavy 3-ply paper bags of
the type used for flour and grains or lidded glass jars. Keep in a dark place.
Bark; Collect from branches removed flush from the main tree trunk. Best to
collect in the spring before the leaf buds open, allowing the tree to grow callus
over the wound during the summer. When bark is removed in the fall after the
leaves colour, care should be exercised so that the smallest amount of inner
sapwood is exposed. You can also take a small section directly from the trunk, if
you are careful not to ring the tree.
Berries; Berries dry quicker and with less likelihood of mould developing if the
stems are removed. Try to pick when most berries are plump and full coloured.
It is easier to pick whole clumps of unripe and ripe berries and sort them later.
Flowers; to prevent bruises to the delicate blossoms, pick and spread for drying
only small quantities at a time. Handle flowers as little as possible until dry.
Some flowers, such as goldenrod and blazing star, when picked too late in the
season will form seed heads even after they have been gathered.
If you are using your flowers for making a vegetable oil-based ointment, place
the fresh flower directly into the oil and proceed with your medicine making.
This method is especially effective when making a salve with the sticky
gumweed flower buds. Use the same method for making an ear ointment from
mullein flowers.
Leaves; Picking a leaf here and there on a whole plant will not harm the life of
the plant. With most weedy plants even removing the top 2/3 of the plant, as
long as a node near the base is left, allows the plant to re-grow new stems.
Lichens; lichens are slow growing collect those that have been thrown to the
ground by the wind. This ecologically safe harvest can be considered a gift from
the forest. You can also harvest from the lower branches leaving the upper
branches to repopulate the area. You may think the lichen is dry when collected,
but it is usually still damp and will need further drying.
Roots; harvesting roots usually kills the plant be hesitant to take them. Collect
from only one of twenty plants. In general, collect in the spring and fall, when
the energy contained in them is greatest. As you replant the root crown, refill
any holes made in the ground.
When preparing roots for drying, break apart the clumps and brush the dirt from
the root. Do not wash except when absolutely necessary, and if so, do not soak
since valuable constituents may be lost. Cut into smaller pieces before drying.
one of a varied group of alkaline,
nitrogen-containing substances, usually plant-derived, reacts with acids to form
salts. Normally bitter, alkaloidal compounds are widely used in herbal therapy,
although they often have toxic properties (caffeine, morphine are good
plants that stimulate physiological
changes of a defensive or healing nature.
relieves pain
decreases nerve sensitivity to pain
relieves or soothes pain by lessening the
sensitivity of the brain or nervous system
perform a neutralization reaction, i.e.
they buffer gastric acid, raising the pH to reduce acidity in the stomach
reproduction of bacteria
destroying or suppressing growth or
occur as glycosides, are brown to yellow
pigments, anthraquinones pass through the digestive tract unaltered until they
get to the colon where they are progressively converted to dianthones then to
anthrone which has a laxative effect increasing peristaltic action and inhibiting
the absorption of water
ability to destroy or inhibit other living
reduces the viscosity of mucous
slows or prevents the formation of blood
used in the treatment of epileptic
substances that oppose depressions or
Anti fungal
treats fungal infections such as athlete's
foot, ringworm, candida (thrush), kills or inhibits fungi
induces the formation of defending
inhibits the release or action of
reduces inflammation.
prevents the formation of calculi
kills or inhibits microorganisms
treats osteoporosis
prevents oxidation
reduce body temperature, do not affect
the normal body temperature if one does not have a fever.
disease progression.
use in rheumatoid arthritis to slow down
reducing or preventing infection,
especially by the elimination or reduction of the growth of microorganisms that
cause disease or decay
relieves or prevents spasms, usually of
the smooth muscles of the intestinal tract, bronchi, or uterus
inhibit the formation or growth of
effective against cough
infectious viruses.
inhibits the proliferation and viability of
is diuretic and antibacterial’ it hydrolyses
to hydroquinone in urine and is good for urinary infections, urethritis, prostatitis
and cystitis.
plant compounds which, upon contact
with air, form gases which can be smelled
causes the constriction of tissues
Balsamic resins
acids and oils.
(soft and hard) composed of aromatic
readily converted in the digestive
system of the body to Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a very powerful anti-oxidant
that is needed to destroy free radicals (molecules that damage healthy cells
thereby accelerating the ageing process and increasing the possibility of
contracting many diseases).
anti-inflammatory sesquiterpene.
bitter-tasting substance used to increase
a deficient appetite, improve the acidity of stomach secretions
Cardiac Glycosides
stimulate systolic contraction of the heart
strengthens or regulates heart
metabolism without stimulation or depression
prevents formation of gas in the
gastrointestinal tract, or facilitates the expulsion of gas
discharge of bile from the system
medicinal agent which promotes the
disease or imbalance of long, slow
duration showing little overall change – opposite of acute
substance applied to the skin to produce
an irritating heating, or vasodilating effect in order to speed local healing by
increasing circulation of blood, radiating the heat inward to inflamed tissues
deep below the skin
urinary bladder
inflammation, often infectious of the
forms a soothing film over a mucous
membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation
increases perspiration
antimicrobial agents that are applied to
non-living objects to destroy microorganisms
substance that increases the flow of
urine, either by increasing permeability of kidney’s nephrons, increasing blood
supply into the nephrons, or increasing the blood into each kidney by renal
artery vasodilation
acids, bases, salts that contribute to the
maintenance of electric charges, membrane integrity, and acid-alkaline balance
in the blood and lymph
substances that soften and soothe the
the lungs and bronchial mucosa
stimulates the outflow of mucous from
white and yellow plant pigments found
almost as commonly as chlorophyll, in plants, it is essential for protecting,
strengthening, aiding capillary and blood vessel integrity, also called
Most glycosides remain inactive until
they are hydrolysed in the gastric tract by specialised bacteria which then
releases phenols, terpenes, steroids and quinones that have the active effect
internally or externally
substance that stops or slows bleeding
a flavanoid effective in reducing
permeability of blood vessels, used in the treatment of vascular disorders.
prevention, and treatment of
substance which has an effect on the
immune system. There are two types of effects - immunostimulation and
stimulates either innate or acquired
immunity. Increase native resistance and let it run its course
natural immune response
agent that acts to suppress the body’s
controls blood sugar in hypoglycemia,
immune system tonic and is a diuretic
Iridoid Glycosides
found in many plants, very bitter. These
bitter principles stimulate the release of gastrin in the digestive system, which in
turn stimulates the secretions of bile and other digestive chemicals, they are
often antimicrobial.
(also known as purgatives or aperients)
induce bowel movements or loosen the stool, most often taken to treat
an agent promoting the production of
long-chain polysaccharides that become
mucus like when mixed with water, they are present in almost every part of
every plant, often in significant quantities in specific plants to have therapeutic
Mucous membranes
the mucosa, forming a continuous layer
that protects the internal membranes from the outside
a substance that depresses central
nervous system function, bringing sleep and lessening pain
soothes and calms the nervous system.
affecting the respiratory system
alpha-pinene and beta-pinene, widely
distributed in pines and other plants. It is used as a liniment for rheumatism but
is best known as a tonic of the mucous membranes of the respiratory system.
aromatic compounds that play an
important role in the transport of electrons in all live tissue, metaquinone
(Vitamin K) is a powerful antioxidant and assists to protect the body from
harmful free radicals.
forming of connective tissue around the
new capillaries in tissues that have been burned or scraped
wax containing plant oils, often secreted
to fill in injured tissues, much like a blood clot, used to protect leaves from loss
of water
C13H1807: is a potent analgesic (pain
reliever) fever reducer and anti-inflammatory substance. Salicin and the closely
related Salicylic acid can have many serious side effects, the most noted are:
internal bleeding, diarrhoea, nausea and respiratory paralysis in large or
accumulated doses.
plant glycoside with soapy action,
wound healing, anti-scarring, they are poorly absorbed in the digestive system
care must be taken on dosage as saponins are mucous membrane irritants.
or excitement
induces sedation by reducing irritability
simple and complex, that are astringent
to the plant and is a protective substance found in the out and inner tissues.
They are resistant to digestion and fermentation. All tannins act as astringents,
shrinking tissues and contracting structural protein sin the skin and mucosa.
constituents in aromatic scented plants
substance taken to strengthen and
prevent disease, especially chronic disease
Uterine sedative
calms the contractions in the uterus
heals or treats wounds
The following are two invaluable sites used in preparation of this book and a
valuable resource for those interested
Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases
Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia