After the last posting on Plants with Medicinal Properties (or Plants that Heal), comments came in that we missed many, and we are only scratching the surface. Indeed, there are a plethora of plants beneficial to our health.

Our intent is to select plants common to our gardens and typically planted for their beauty yet also have medicinal qualities, unbeknownst to some gardeners. Since the focus of most flower and garden plant development has been on the aesthetic features, some of the medicinal aspects of the plant may no longer be concentrated in newer, domesticated (or cultivated) varieties as they once were in the original species. That is understood as most gardeners do not plant St John’s wort (Hypericum) for example, to extract active ingredients to treat depression, as the tedious process alone could bring despair. With the interest this topic brings, we will continue to add more plants with medicinal qualities to our blog.

As stated in the last post, best to issue a disclaimer on this topic as we wouldn’t want prompt self-medication with plants discussed. Before ingesting, snorting, smoking and whatever method used to consume a plant that promises health benefits, always consult your doctor first.

A refresher of the plants we discussed previously is Aloe, Catnip, Lavender, St John’s wort, Sunflower, and Valerian. 

Now we add to our list of Plants with Medicinal Properties:

Yarrow (Achillea)

Yarrow (Achillea)– is a full sun, perennial hardy from Zone 3 – 9. The fern-like foliage is aromatic and Yarrow’s tall stems are topped with white or yellow-gold blooms. Yarrow oils are taken orally to counter stomach issues, cleanse wounds and promote healing. We also find yarrow in cosmetic cleansers and beauty products.  The botanical name Achillea refers to Achilles in Greek mythology. In the Trojan Wars, he used the plant to stop bleeding and heal his soldier’s wounds. (Evidently, he didn’t have Yarrow on hand when he got shot in the heel.)

Medicinal Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel – a small native tree thriving throughout much of the eastern US. It is usually found growing in shade or the edge of forests. The small spider-like yellow flowers are a surprise find in late fall coming after all leaves have fallen. The blooms are a welcome contrast to a brown and gray forest or landscape. There is another Witch Hazel from Asia, the Vernal Witch Hazel is similar to our US native but instead blooms in early spring before any other buds in the landscape have opened. The strap-like petals close in the evening and open during the day. I have seen Witch Hazel flowers bloom through snow-laden branches. An astringent is derived from the leaves, bark, and twigs. It is used dermally to counter itching, abrasions and skin irritations. I vividly recall from my childhood, a jar in our medicine cabinet we used to treat all of the above. It was an effective practice we followed because my grandmother spoke of using in her youth as well. Witch hazel extracts contain tannin which is used to reduce swelling and fight bacteria.

Medicinal Rosemary

Rosemary – native to the Mediterranean countries (hardy in Zone 8-10), considered one of the oldest herbs used in history. Rosemary is an evergreen shrub with fragrant foliage. Popular in potpourri, toiletries, sachets, culinary dishes it is also a good source for calcium and iron. The oil extracts are used to cleanse bacteria and fungi in the body as well on household surfaces. Additional health benefits include digestion, concentration, and brain aging. Studies are underway to explore how rosemary might help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

For those who appreciate the botanical connection to Shakespeare:  Ophelia’s words in Hamlet “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance,” refers to the plant’s ability to strengthen memory by improving blood circulation in the brain. Since ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ (also Hamlet, by Polonius, act 2) it is best to bring this posting to a close.

-Rob McCartney, Horticulturist

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