Have you been spending a lot of money on store-bought supplements lately? Do you automatically think of exotic, imported herbs from far-off lands when you think of herbal medicine? Does natural medicine seem out of your reach and price range? You might be surprised to learn that there is an amazing range of local plants with remarkable medicinal qualities, many of them ‘pesky weeds’ that you have fought to keep out of your lawns and gardens! What is even more amazing is that they can be quite easily transformed into potent yet gentle medicines, using techniques so simple almost anybody can do it. Herbalism really is meant to be the people’s medicine, to be passed on through oral tradition and the collective sharing of knowledge and wisdom.
Though there is a plethora of medicines available to us in Boulder, let’s look at three local weeds that are abundant, safe, and easy to use: Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Plantain (Plantago spp.), and Catnip (Nepeta cataria).
Motherwort is a lovely, soothing herb from the mint family that can be found near the banks of Boulder Creek in March and April. It is very useful for women with painful menstrual cramps, especially when menstruation is late due to stress or illness. It is also useful after childbirth to encourage uterine drainage and to help prevent infection.
Motherwort is known to have a mild tonic effect on the heart, helping to steady the heartbeat. In addition to its practical uses as a uterine and cardiac tonic, it has been long reputed as a remedy for sadness or melancholy. Those interested in working with Motherwort can simply take a few leaves and either dry them for tea, or cover with vodka to make a tincture. The flavor is bitter, but this also provides the benefit of increasing digestive secretions.
Plantain is an incredibly common weed that might be the bane of many a gardener, but it’s also a spectacular wound healer that is easy to use. It can be found almost anywhere as long as it can get some moisture. Plantain has phytochemicals that are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, astringent, moistening, and wound-healing. It is a favorite among moms whose children are suddenly stung by insects, or who have painful scrapes or other minor injuries. Crush a leaf and put it directly on the painful spot. It will often stop children’s tears in moments. In addition to being useful “on the spot,” it can also be dried and made into a tea to soothe the digestive tract. Its healing constituents are just as accessible internally as they are topically.
Another venerable member of the mint family, Catnip is an herb that many are amused to learn is medicinal. A beautifully gentle, calming herb, it both soothes the digestion and quiets the mind. Its gentleness makes it an ideal remedy for colic, colds, flu and fever in small children and adults alike. It strongly promotes sweating, so it is of great use in cooling a fever. (Chevallier, 238-9)
- Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York: Dorling Kindersley, November 2000.
- Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press. 1979.
- Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford, New Jersey. July 2009.