When walking around a neighborhood, it’s easy to spot the trees and plants, but hidden in the plants are countless medicines and compounds with healing properties. From trees to small “weeds” that ruin a beautiful lawn, many plants in walking distance of your front door provide tools for hygiene, preventative care, and treating ailments.
If using plants as medicine sounds primitive, remember that most modern medicines were discovered in plants first and only synthetically made so they could be mass produced. For example, according to the Center of Disease Control, indigenous tribes in Peru first discovered quinine, an alkaloid used to prevent malaria, in the bark of Cinchona trees.
If you are interested in replacing some of your western medicines with plant remedies like this, here are a few easy options:
A mowed lawn or field provides many medicinal plants. The common dandelion's roots can be dried, ground up, and steeped into a tea and used to cleanse the liver and kidney to prevent certain diseases. The leaves of the common plantain can be made into a small mass by slightly chewing or crushing the leaves and directly applying it to the skin which can treat an itch (especially from bug bites), inflammation and prevent infection. To treat sunburn, wild strawberry leaves can be steeped in water and used as a wash, topically applying the cooled tea to the affected area with a cloth.
Looking at the tress, the bark of young black cherry twigs can be stripped and made into a decoction by severely boiling it in water for about a half hour and drinking to suppress a cough. Small, new twigs on yellow birch trees can be harvested and chewed on as a substitute for teeth brushing. The fibers of the twigs will act like a brush while the wintergreen oils that are produced act as a breath freshener. Steeping white pine needles will create a tea rich in vitamin C that can be used to prevent and treat colds or respiratory infections.
While gathering these plants, it’s important to ensure that their population is not being harmed so that they can stay around for other people to use. In order to protect these plants, it’s important to follow the honorable harvest, a code which many indigenous cultures follow. “Never pick the first plant; it might be the last,” Dr. Robin Kimmerer, a botanist at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry said during a TED talk, one of many ongoing presentations about a wide variety of “ideas worth spreading”. It’s also critical to make sure that only what is needed is picked; these plants do not belong to anyone, and it’s important to always remember to leave some for others.
When collecting plants for any use, it’s important to make sure that the identification is correct and a poisonous look-a-like isn’t accidently picked instead. However, in the plants mentioned above, there are no harmful look-a-likes, and a simple online search is all that’s needed to retrieve these plants successfully.