Category Archives: Medicinal Plants

Medicinal Weeds: Gill-over-the-ground

Photo of Gill-over-the-ground flowers

Familiar to many people as a spreading plant of lawns and fields, Glechoma hederacea is another so-called weed worth having a relationship with. Commonly known as Ground-ivy or Gill-over-the-ground, this adaptive perennial has all the features we've come to expect from a member of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family:

  • irregular flowers (that are bilaterally symmetrical)
  • opposite, simple leaves
  • and square (4-sided) stems

Like many Mints, Gill-over-the-ground is strongly aromatic due to the presence of a volatile oil. According to David Hoffman, an infusion or tincture of the dried flowering stems of Glechoma hederacea "may be used to treat catarrhal conditions whether in the sinus region or in the chest."¹ Jenny brewed me several cups of Gill-over-the-ground tea this spring, as she thought it would help with some ear congestion I was having. It did seem to help unclog my ears, but even when my symptoms faded, I still requested the drink because I enjoyed the flavor. Though Hoffman specifies using dried plant material, we used freshly picked tops.

Though not native to North America, Gill-over-the-ground is now widely established, absent only from a few states in the southwest.² To view the following images in full-size, click here.

¹Holistic Herbal (1990), p. 205 [plant listed as Ground-ivy (Nepeta hederacea)]

²USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=GLHE2, 23 June 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA

Medicinal Plants: Three-leaved Goldthread

Photo of Three-leaved Goldthread

Three-leaved Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) is a low-growing perennial plant who lives in forests and swampy areas throughout New England. The plant's evergreen, three-parted leaves emerge from a thin, yellow-orange rhizome found just below the soil surface.

In spring, kneeling down for a close look at the solitary flowers reveals white petal-like sepals, small yellow petals with cup-shaped tips, numerous white stamens, and, in the center, green pistils. Though more difficult to notice after the white sepals drop, the progression from flower to fruit gradually unfolds. By summer and often holding into fall, only a whorl of green, beaked pods remains.

The roots of Three-leaved Goldthread contain berberine, a medicinally active compound also found in the roots of Japanese Barberry. You can read about some medicinal uses of Coptis trifolia at the Partridge, Pine, and Peavey blog. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Foraging Wild Flowers: Black Elderberry

Photo of Black Elderberry flower cluster

Here in southern Maine, Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is blooming, which makes now a great time to notice this widespread shrub. Black Elderberry typically grows in moist soils, so look for the bright white flower clusters lighting roadside gullies and the edges of small streams. Many of these clusters will produce forage-able purple/black fruits by September, but the flowers themselves can also be tinctured or dried for tea.

In Holistic Herbal (1990), David Hoffman writes that preparations of Black Elderberry flowers are "ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza" (p. 197). Consult his book or another trusted herbal reference for more details on making medicine with this plant.

Field marks for Black Elderberry include large, flat-topped flower clusters with hundreds of tiny 5-petaled flowers*, pinnately-compound leaves arranged oppositely along stems, toothed leaflets, and young stems and older bark with obvious freckles (technically lenticels). These features are shown in the following images. (To view them in full-size, click here.)

*Warning: Do not confuse Black Elderberry flowers with those of Spotted Water-hemlock.

Note: See the comments section for a discussion on Elderberry toxicity and the edibility of Red Elderberry flowers and fruits.

Medicinal Weeds: Rayless Chamomile

Photo of Rayless Chamomile flowers

Rayless Chamomile (Matricaria discoidea) is a short plant of roadsides, unpaved driveways, and similarly disturbed habitats. The button-like flower heads are comprised of tiny yellow disc flowers, surrounded by the slightest suggestion of white ray flower petals (effectively rayless). In the top photo, notice how hundreds of flowers are open, while others have yet to bloom. This plant is also called Pineapple Weed, and indeed the leaves and flowers smell decidedly like the sweet, familiar Pineapple fruit.

The fresh or dried plant tops can be brewed as tea and used for various medicinal purposes. In his book Ancenstral Plants (2010), Arthur Haines says infusions of Rayless Chamomile can help with stress, anxiety, inflammation and various skin conditions. He also notes that, "Drinking the tea or making a stronger infusion and using it as a gargle is beneficial for oral hygiene." Read his full species account (p. 145-146) for more details.

Due to this plant's habit of growing close to roads*, I've not yet consumed Rayless Chamomile, though the fragrance of a crushed leaf or flower never fails to improve my mood. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*If you know of a patch growing in a safer location (preferably near Kennebunkport, ME), do tell.

Butterflies: Long Dash

Photo of Long Dash

Earlier this month, I noticed this tiny butterfly nectaring on a small patch of Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms. My butterfly ID skills are limited, but I did know that this was a type of Skipper. After consulting some books and asking a fellow butterfly observer, I've settled on calling this a Long Dash* (Polites mystic). The name refers to the pattern on the wing upper-sides which are not visible in these two photos. Visit the BugGuide for additional photos and info.

Photo of Long Dash

*If you think otherwise, please send me a message, or comment below.