Category Archives: Medicinal Plants

Medicinal Weeds: Common St. John’s-wort

Photo of Common St. John's-wort flower

A native of Europe, Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a spreading perennial who grows throughout New England, especially where soil has been recently disturbed. This plant is a joy to observe close up. Notice the black dots that mark the edges of the flower petals and the tiny holes that allow light to pass through the leaves. May the photos in this post encourage you to get outside and find a patch to observe first-hand.

Preparations of this plant have been used as medicine to treat various conditions, from skin ailments to depression. Oils infused with flower buds or newly opened flowers take on a surprising red color. For more on the medicinal uses of Common St. John's-wort, I recommend reading pages 197-202 in Rosemary Gladstar's Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide (2012). (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Medicinal Weeds: Common Yarrow

Photo of Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

When I see Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), I'm often reminded of the time this plant's medicine came to my aid. I'd managed to cut my tongue -- not too deeply, but enough that blood was flowing. Letting wounds bleed some is typically a good thing, but after a while, I decided to test out some wild medicine.

Months prior, I'd prepared a tincture* of Common Yarrow tops, which I'd read when applied to a wound can promote clotting. So, I put a dropper-full of tincture on a piece of cotton gauze, pressed it to my tongue, and, in under a minute, the bleeding stopped. During the green season, chewing up a leaf and applying it as a poultice would have a similar effect. Maine herbalist Deb Soule (of Avena Botanicals in Rockport, ME) shares many medicinal applications for Common Yarrow in this short video.

Medicine aside, Common Yarrow is a great plant with whom to engage your senses. Look closely at flowering plants to observe the tiny disc flowers, in addition to the more noticeable ray flowers. Feel the finely divided leaves and the fuzzy stem. Smell a patch of plants (crush up a leaf, if needed). If you like, brew and enjoy a cup of Common Yarrow tea. Whatever you do, I encourage you to appreciate this widespread medicinal plant. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*Made by stuffing a glass jar with freshly chopped plant material, filling it with 80 proof vodka, shaking the capped jar daily for at least a moon/month, straining out the plant material, and storing the resulting liquid in a cool, dark place.

Note: Before making medicine with any wild plants, please make sure you’ve identified the plants positively and considered my other foraging guidelines.

Winter Tree ID: American Linden

Photo of American Linden trunk

American Linden (Tilia americana), also known as Basswood, grows in river floodplains throughout most of New England, and is a common street tree in some towns. This species has many notable features including edible young leaves, fragrant flowers that can be used for tea and medicine, strong inner bark that can be made into cordage or rope, and light-weight wood that is easy to carve and suitable as the hearth board and drill of a bow-drill fire set.

Photo of American Linden fruit

In late fall, clusters of tan nutlets reveal the presence of mature trees. Some clusters can be found littering the ground, perhaps landing atop freshly fallen snow, while others remain clinging to branches, where they dangle beneath a leaf-like bract that serves as a wind-glider. Despite the built-in glider, in my experience, clusters don't sail far from the parent tree. Where crops are heavy, look for the feeding sign of small mammals and birds.

Photo of American Linden winter buds

Twigs feature rounded, red buds, from which tender, tasty greens will emerge next spring. If you've never met American Linden, now might be a good time to visit a river floodplain and get acquainted.

Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry

Photo of Red Bearberry

Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen subshrub of mountaintops, rocky outcrops, grasslands, and sandy sites and grows wild in northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The shrub's leaves are thick and shiny, about 1" long, and widest near the tip. The sprawling stems are noticeably fuzzy, and, with the use of a hand lens or loupe, fine hairs are also visible on the margins of young leaves. Continue reading Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry