As we’ve seen in Part 1, many ordinary plants have healing properties. You may not have given these “weeds” a second thought. But they could save you money on over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and even some prescription medications. People have used plants for medicine as well as food since the beginning of time. Let’s take another look at a few of the amazing plants you may have right in your own back yard.
Suburbanites have tried for years to rid their lawns of anything that wasn’t grass, resorting to chemical herbicides and fertilizers that pollute the local water supply. Lately some are getting wise and planting clover. Both white and red clover provide attractive ground cover as well as nourishing the soil. Clover attracts helpful bees to your lawn and garden. And it never needs mowing!
Clover is a legume like beans. Children eat it raw, and you can too. Use the stems, leaves and blossoms. Eat them in salad or use in any recipe that calls for greens. Look for clover recipes on line.
Both types of clover have vitamins, trace minerals and lecithin. Probably the most important nutrient in clover is genistein, an isoflavone with antioxidant properties. Doctors are researching the use of genistein in cancer treatment.
In Native American traditional medicine red clover is given to people with lung trouble. Europeans know clover as a pain reliever. Clover flower tea is very relaxing. Try drinking a cup or two as a natural sleep aid. For acne, soak a washcloth in hot clover tea and put it over your face for a few minutes. Try a dilute solution as an eyewash or douche.
Peppermint is another back yard herb you can find on the tea shelf. It’s used in everything from toothpaste to massage oils. Altoid breath mints are made with pure peppermint extract as is Bronner peppermint soap. It’s an ingredient in desserts and coffees and is especially popular at Christmas.
Peppermint is widely used to treat nausea, headaches and muscle spasms and as a digestive aid. Drink peppermint tea freely during a cold to soothe sore throat and break up mucus. Doctors are experimenting with peppermint capsules to relieve irritable bowel syndrome. Another study shows peppermint extract added to barium sulphate might relieve discomfort during a barium enema. Some doctors think it may have antibiotic and antiviral properties.
People with gallstones, acid reflux or GERD should not take peppermint internally. Never give peppermint oil to babies. They can have mild catnip tea instead.
The peppermint plant attracts ladybugs, which eat some harmful insects and repel others with a pheromone. If you have a garden be sure to plant a big mint bed.
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
You are probably aware of the popular claim that echinacea cures the common cold. It doesn’t really, but it relieves symptoms and boosts the immune system. It tells the body to produce more white blood cells and interferon, two important elements that fight infection. Doctors are studying the antibiotic and antiviral properties of different types of echinacea.
Echinacea is purple coneflower, a pretty daisy-like perennial that grows everywhere. It’s a hardy plant that winters over well and attracts songbirds, bees and butterflies.
There are nine varieties of this native North American plant. The leaves, flowers and roots are used traditionally to treat colds, flu and allergies, and as a pain reliever. A decoction of echinacea applied externally relieves infections, insect stings and snake bite. Studies on its free radical scavenging properties are ongoing.
You can take some echinacea every day for its immune system effects. To use echinacea for colds or flu, start taking it at the very first signs of illness. Stay on it for ten to fourteen days, then skip a few days. Take increased doses of echinacea in high stress situations or when traveling. Echinacea should not be taken by people with autoimmune diseases.
You can buy clover and peppermint seed and echinacea seedlings at any nursery.
Next time — bee balm, honeysuckle and calendula!