Someone was asking me for a list of the herbs I have in my medicine chest .. ho boy.
Seeing as how I've been obsessively collecting and messing about with just about anything that grows in our area for a couple of decades now, there's a lot of stuff in my 'medicine chest'. I've filled the shelves and cupboards of an oversized china cabinet with various sized mason jars, jam jars and tincture bottles and another, the one that officially is supposed to hold the good china, is starting to see more than just my Grandmother's dishes.
The top kitchen shelves hold the really big jars of infused oils, there are ointments in the drawers in the bathroom .. come to think of it, I've got spruce and pine gums in a kitchen drawer along with the rolling pins, ha! .. Oh heck, there's stuff everywhere in this house. The pockets of my coats are full of seeds, too, collected on walks and mixed together into a delightful mystery garden waiting to be planted.
Plant medicines are the monkey on my back, I can never have enough, never learn enough to satisfy my curiousity. And since I've barely scratched the surface of what's at my fingertips here, this is a lifelong project. What a nice thought.
But if I was to list the ones we use at least semi-regularly, or keep around "just in case" I need to share them with someone in need? That list would look something like this, (in order of what pops into my head as I write it):
Chamomile, in tea bags - Chamomile is for babies. It's about the only herb safe for infants, and even then give only extremely diluted 1/4tsp amounts, for whiney, teething or colicky babies. Better yet, get the breast feeding mom to drink the tea and it will go through her milk.
But babies come in all shapes and sizes. If someone is whining, or sighing deeply in that "woe is me" way that's so irritating to the rest of the household, we give chamomile. The tea settles tummies, is helpful all kinds of bathroom problems, cures heartburn and promotes sleep. It does all those things for people who aren't whiney, too, but if you have a big baby on your hands, you can safely offer chamomile for just about anything they're complaining about.
Steep for 5 minutes, no more, for the tea. For a mouthwash for any kind of gum problems, make it STRONG, along with sage and salt and gargle with generous amounts. That's one of those miracle cures. But don't drink it that strong, it will make you barf.
Dandelion root tincture - or leaf and root, combined. Dandy root will cure a hangover (10 drops in water, once an hour until you feel better). It promotes good digestion in the stomach and supports the liver & gall bladder. It "engenders good appetite" as the old books would put it. It relieves depression, too, which is so often part and parcel of digestive issues, and the damn crankiness/irrational anger that seems to come out of nowhere but actually comes from a stressed out liver. The leafy parts of dandelion have more of an affinity for the kidneys, so if there's a fearful person in your life (fear is a kidney emotion), consider dandelion leaf in their salads. I quite like to have just the root tincture and the leaf/root tincture combo at hand so I can cover all the bases.
St John'swort tincture - There are a lot of ways that St. J. can save the day. It's a great anti-viral (why is that hardly ever mentioned?) so it's a nice preventative to ward off the
Calendula tincture - These sunny yellow or orange flowers have become a real favourite of mine in the garden. They're prolific, bloom til the snow flies and you can get decent seeds at the dollar store (yes, really!). I dry the flowers for some uses and make tinctures for others. Calendula (often called marigold but not to be confused with the awful, stinky tagetes kind, ugh) is an excellent wound healer. It's especially useful for nasty pimples that won't come to a head (take tea or tincture by mouth and dab it on, too) or for any kind of wound that's angry or becoming infected. Matt Wood says "It prevents the appearance of pus and inflammation, encouraging the body to heal the tissues at its own pace. However if pus has formed, it keeps the inflammation from spreading and moves the debris away through the adjacent lymphatics .. it has a special affinity for swollen, hot, pus filled tissue, especially where there is no vent .. it keeps wounds from hardening and forming scar tissue". The way it works via the lymphatics is key; it's also an excellent remedy for swollen glands of any kind. And last, but certainly not least, it's a damn fine remedy for anyone suffering from candida-type issues thanks to its selective anti-fungal action, way safer and more effective in the long term than Nystatin or those stupid essential oils some people recommend. I could write pages on calendula, and some day I will ..
Evening Primrose tinctures (flower and whole plant) - These are tinctures I made as an experiment long before I read about anyone else using the plant other than the seed oil. It's still rare to see anything written up about it. I first made the flower tincture just because they're so breathtakingly beautiful, glowing in the evening or at sunrise. How could they NOT be useful, I figured. Their fragrance is heady with almost touch of danger, reminding me of Datura flowers .. now I ain't fool enough to mess with Datura (any more, some day I'll tell you that story) but the similarity in the fragrance hinted that I might have a milder, safer source of Datura blossom's relaxant and pain relieving properties (without the possible fatal ones) in evening primrose, and I was right. In extremely small doses (3-5 drops) taken before bed, evening primrose flower tincture soothes, calms and lifts the spirits, relieves the kind of pain that's not worth taking a Tylenol for but is keeping you awake and tense. Tincture of the whole plant (leaves & root, I don't use the stem) is a great gassy tummy or bloat remedy. It was years before I saw Kiva Rose and Matt Wood writing of their uses of the plant; they of course have many more uses for it than I'd discovered on my own. Versatile plant, evening primrose. I've never seen it for sale, it's something you'd likely have to experiment with from your own back yard (always the best way to learn).
Okay, that's enough reading for you for now (and enough writing for me!). I'll come back to this in another post. My list (except for Chamomile) is based on experiences with what I make from my own plants or those I've collected from the wild, so if you're forced to buy yours, I can't promise they'd act the same way. Still, if any of these pique your curiousity, look them up. Remember - you want 3 independent sources, preferably NOT any that are trying to sell you something!