Category Archives: Wild Medicine

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.)

Medicinal Mushrooms: Turkey Tail

Photo of <em>Trametes versicolor</em> (Turkey Tail)

Trametes versicolor is a wood-eating shelf fungus who can be found year-round in much of North America. It's common to find large logs covered with hundreds of these hairy, leathery fruiting bodies. (Michael Kuo's article covers how to separate this species from similar fungi.) The top colors vary widely but often include blues, browns, and creams; the outer margin is usually white. On the underside of these multi-colored shelves is a white or nearly white pore surface with thousands of tiny openings. This species is commonly known as Turkey Tail.

Greg Marley writes at length on the medicinal properties of T. versicolor (or extracts thereof) in his book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal secrets of northeastern fungi (2009) and reports that, "Turkey Tail is the best-researched and most clinically tested of the medicinal mushrooms, at least by allopathic medicine standards" (p. 82). A formulation of Turkey Tail known as PSK is a leading anticancer medicine in Japan, often prescribed in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. (Read Marley's chapter for more details.)

Turkey Tail is too leathery to be consumed in whole form, but fungi foragers can prepare hot water decoctions (broths) and/or double-extraction tinctures of this mushroom. Just be sure to gather only actively growing mushrooms, with white growing edges and fresh pore surfaces. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

New Moon Challenge: Mushroom Moon Recap

Photo of <em>Fomes fomentarius</em> (Tinder Conk)

Today marks the end of my Mushroom Moon Challenge which began on September 14th. I observed well over 30 species of fungi including many species I've previously profiled:

Craterellus cornucopioides (Black Trumpet)
Fomes fomentarius (Tinder Conk)
Ganoderma applanatum (Artist's Conk, pictured above)
Ganoderma tsugae (Hemlock Reishi)
Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog Mushroom)
Inonotus obliquus (Chaga)
Piptoporus betulinus (Birch Polypore)
Suillus americanus (White Pine Bolete)

I got to know a dozen or so new-to-me ground-dwelling species and took a closer look at many familiar-to-me wood-eating species. Below is a gallery of some of the fruiting bodies I observed during my moon-long challenge. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Medicinal Mushrooms: Chaga

Photo of Chaga

If you've been studying medicinal mushrooms much in recent years, you've likely heard about Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Chaga is peculiar among medicinal mushrooms in that the part that is gathered for medicine isn't technically a mushroom (i.e., not a spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus) but rather a sclerotial mass. For years, I hadn't thought much about this distinction, that is until I came upon the above tree late last month.

Photo of Chaga fruiting body

I immediately recognized the char-like growths on this dead-standing Birch (Betula sp.) tree, but was puzzled by the unfamiliar sight beneath the bark. Could this be a Chaga fruiting body? A little research turned up an article by Maine mushroom forager and author Greg Marley called Chaga; The Elusive Fruiting Body of Inonotus obliquus (Chaga) which confirmed my hunch. In the article (which includes photographs), Marley describes discovering a tree with a similar fruiting body during a November 2014 foray with the Maine Mycological Association.

Photo of Pore tubes of Chaga fruiting body

I should mention that, photographs aside, I didn't gather medicine from this tree. It's my understanding that Chaga sclerotium is best gathered for medicine while the host tree is still alive. I've included photos below in hopes that they'll serve as search images for you, in case you've yet to meet this fungus in the flesh. Don't expect to find chunks of Chaga lined up on a log or sitting on a shelf of Birch Polypore, as shown in the last photos; I arranged those scenes for your enjoyment.

For more search images and info on Inonotus obliquus, see David Spahr's article. For a discussion on Chaga conservation, see the two videos by Arthur Haines. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)