by Mike Burns, Product Placement Manager
The world of medicinal herbs is an enormous magical one full of discovery. Once you realize that your best medicine cabinet is all around you, it’s hard to ignore the prevalence of healing plants right at your very feet. Even in your own yard, you are sure to find some of the most potent healing plants that society has unfortunately labeled “pesky weeds,” such as dandelions, plantain, chickweed, yarrow and so many others.
The sheer amount and diversity of healing plants is overwhelming. Many medicinal plants have probably not even been discovered yet! Others have been utilized for centuries and shared across cultures only to be overshadowed by modern pharmaceuticals, some of which found their beginnings in plant medicine. There are a handful of plants that have been shown in studies to be more successful and far less dangerous than many drugs on the market. Although the pharmacological industry most certainly saves lives and has its place in modern society, it is important to balance our attempts at wellness and take a holistic approach to our health.
I’d like to share a small handful of my favorite herbs found throughout Wisconsin that have gained national popularity lately, although they have been in use for most of human history. My hope is that this short list will pique your interest and spur you on to dig deeper into the world of medicinal herbs. As always, check with your health practitioner first.
Elder has gained a lot of attention this past flu season. This is due largely to the release of studies stating elderberry is as effective, if not more so, than major antiviral cold and flu medications but without the side effects. Word got out quickly and elderberry products became pretty hard to come by during this past flu season. Ironically, this is not new news to herbalists and the vast majority of Europe. Elderberry is actually prescribed in most European countries as the go-to flu remedy.
Both the flowers and the berries are used to make potent healing syrups, juices, teas and tinctures. The Co-op carries the brand River Hills Harvest which utilizes elderberries grown in the central United States to produce a wide range of elder products. I highly recommend the cough syrup when needed.
Stinging nettle is a forgotten crop that was once a farming staple and now limited mostly to wild patches. The ancient Greeks and Romans grew and cultivated more nettle than any other crops. It’s list of uses outweigh even that of hemp and was once judged as a superior fabric to that of cotton or linen. Not only was it cooked, eaten, brewed as beer and drunk as tea, but the many medicinal uses puts it high on the herbal plant list. Remedies include use for gout, rheumatism, anemia, exhaustion, menstrual difficulties, skin problems, hay fever and the list goes on.
We don’t currently offer fresh nettle at the Co-op but we do have a number of products utilizing dried nettle. Typically this is a much easier way to handle nettle since the fresh variety packs a mean sting. Cooking or drying are two effective ways to remove its stinging defense. If you attempt to harvest wild nettle on your own, as with any plant, please do so responsibly by harvesting no more than 10%, respecting property lines and leaving no trace. My personal favorite nettle product the Co-op carries is Four Elements peppermint, nettle and raspberry leaf tea. Delicious and oh so nourishing!
An aggressive and tenacious invasive plant, most gardeners and farmers are working hard to rid themselves of burdock. Burdock is an opportunist and grows just about anywhere, and with its Velcro-like seed pods, spreading is an easy feat. No need to plant this herb; there is plenty to go around.
Burdock root has many health promoting claims from blood cleanser to a means to address skin and liver problems. There are studies being conducted to identify burdock’s anti-cancer potential. It has historically been used to clear up lymphatic stagnation and is part of the very well-known Native American anti-cancer formula Essiac tea.
Overall burdock is an extremely safe herb to use and is, in fact, consumed regularly in many parts of the world. The Co-op offers fresh burdock most of the year in our Produce department which is grown in a controlled farm environment preventing the invasive from further impacting the local environment. We also have burdock in other forms in our Wellness department including tinctures, dried bulk herbs, and encapsulated supplements.
These three herbs are just the tip of the herbal iceberg, and I hope you will explore more plant medicines. The reality is that we need medicinal plants’ help now more than ever, and the time to share their powerful wisdom is today. I urge you to rethink the botanical landscape around you and start utilizing the knowledge of the ages and turn to your plant neighbors.