Herbal Medicine Found in Nature
While the practice of herbal medicine requires years of study, there are also many herbs – known as “the simples” – which can be safely used by all of us, provided that you can correctly identify the plant. This is extremely important, as some plants are poisonous.
Plants with volatile oils, like the mint family, help to open pores and relax tissue. Peppermint helps to relax an upset stomach. Sage helps to encourage perspiration if taken hot, but relieves sweats and hot flashes if taken cold. Salicylic acid, which plants emit when injured, warns other plants of danger. It has served as a pain reliever and fever reducer in humans for thousands of years, and is a fundamental component of aspirin. Willow bark, birch bark, poplar bark and meadowsweet leaves all contain salicylic acid.
Plants also have their own hormones that help to regulate ours. Red clover is high in phytoestrogens, which are analogs to human female oestrogen. Thus, red clover can be used to help balance women’s estrogen levels. Similarly, pine pollen acts as an androgen to help boost male testosterone.
Some of these are the humblest of weeds: nettle gently detoxifies, mitigates allergies, and lifts the mind by acting on the neurotransmitters in your brain. Cleavers tone the lymphatic system and move lymph in your body. The plantain herb draws out impurities from infection in the lungs or sinuses, and can be used as an anti-inflammatory treatment on the skin. Plantain also, like yarrow and woundworts, has hemostatic properties and will quickly stop bleeding and close wounds if you cut yourself. Even the tiny daisy offers us green medicine: it can be made into a tea to soothe a dry cough and help to relieve gout. As an ointment it works on bruises in the same way that arnica does. Smaller still is eyebright, often found beneath your feet on a dry and dusty path. It does exactly as its name indicates: it relieves common swelling and infections that affect the eye. Even the most unassuming plants surprise us with their gifts.
Edible berries are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants too. Those such as the antiviral elder also boost the immune system, whilst their flowers, along with chamomile and calendula, calm inflamed sinuses and itchy skin. Fruit extracts and syrups form the basis of winter medicines, often heated with spices and grated chaga to make hot toddies.