Medicinal Plants, Pacific Northwest
Natural medicine is no longer a back to nature fad but a real down to earth philosophy. A need for more natural healing is like something new to us but in reality, we have always relied on plants for medicine. From time immemorial, man has used plants to treat illness and relieve pain. Over half of the medicines doctors prescribe today are derived from members of the plant kingdom.
Over the ages many magical and mystical powers were ascribed to plants as medicine. Sometimes there abilities to heal were thought to be magical and their healing qualities were feared by some groups like the church. Many people were put to death for their understanding of these healing abilities.
But today we understand the chemical and physical qualities that account for the healing properties of these plants. Yet plants still process a magical quality, just look at the beauty and vast variety of their form. There are many great medicinal plants in the Pacific Northwest.
First Nation People held them in very high esteem, due to the fact that the blossom end of each blueberry forms a five points star. It was believed the “Great Spirit” sent these star berries to relieve the hunger of children during a famine.
They also used them for medicinal purposes and made a strong aromatic tea from the root. It was used as a relaxant during childbirth. Early medical books show this same tea was used by wives of settlers during labor. The juice was used for “old coughs” and tea made from the leaves was believed to be a good tonic to help purify the blood.
Native Americans encouraged its growth by periodically burning the fields, which would quickly grow again with new plants. The first European settlers found them to be similar to types of berries that grew in their homeland.
They have received much attention in recent years due to their health attributes. The fruit is rich in antioxidant compounds that fight free radicals that are associated with cancer, heart disease and premature aging.
Its maple shaped leaves resemble thimble berry leaves but up close the spines make identification simple. It is found all over the Pacific Northwest and quite often forms dense thickets with stems over 3 meters tall. It spreads mostly by the stems falling to the ground and taking root. In the spring it has a white flower cluster that matures into a lovely red berry cluster.Devils Club grows all over the BC coastal region, It grows best in wet shaded areas and the coast has plenty of wet shaded areas.
The berries are poisonous but first peoples have been using them for generations to kill lice by mashing them up and applying the paste to the hair. This also treats dandruff and makes the hair soft and shiny, but avoid getting the mashed berries in your mouth or you could experience some acute vomiting. Do not get into your eyes as well, it will burn.
Native Americans have used it to treat acute & chronic disorders, as well as a protective charm, I remember my dad would always place a piece above our front door to keep bad spirits out.The stems and roots are the primary medicinal part and both can be used but the roots are more concentrated and easier to use, since the roots don’t have the spines and are easier to peel. The best medicine is the dried inner bark which can be brewed into a tea or made into a tincture. It also works as a great spring tonic. The active constituents may be saponins and substances with insulin like activity but research is still ongoing to identify these medicinal components. It has been called one of the most valuable medicinal plant native to the Pacific Northwest.
For rheumatism the tea was drunk and also applied to the painful joints. A poultice of the root bark was applied to a nursing mother’s breasts to stop excessive flow after weaning. An eyewash of the tea was used to treat cataracts.
It has also been used in herbal steam baths for treating general body pain. The burnt stems mixed with oil make a salve for swellings. The root bark boiled in oil and used to treat psoriasis worked better than hydro cortisone in studies. My dad would tell me to harvest this plant during the time of the full moon, he said to gather last years portion of growth, peel off the outer bark and scrape the inner bark off, dry it and mix with petroleum jelly, it will cure most skin ailments including athletes foot, psoriasis and acne.
Externally, it is effective on any kind of skin disorder when the leaves are bruised and simply rubbed on the skin. Alternatively it can be made into an oil or ointment and stored for convenient external use. Just dry, crush and mix with rubbing alcohol, Vaseline or other cream.
Plantain cream and oils are great for the treatment of skin problems, including rashes, wounds, ulceration’s, swelling, bruises, burns, eczema, cracked lips, mosquito bites, diaper rash, hemorrhoids or blisters.
It is also effective as an agent that draws out the poison for bee stings, snake bites, and spider bites. Drunk as a tea made from the leaves, Plantain is effective as a detoxifier for the body and is a remedy for colds, flu, coughs, congestion, bronchitis, hoarseness, fevers, sinusitis, ulcers, irritable bowel, diarrhea, intestinal complaints, kidney stones, hay fever, asthma, emphysema and as a blood sugar stabilizer for diabetics. The seeds can be dried and infused in water for a soothing eye lotion, as a laxative and to treat intestinal worms in children.
You can find Plantain almost everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Just look in your own yard. Women can use it to treat PMS and it will regulate menstrual flow.