Three herbs you can harvest right now to stock your Herbal First Aid Kit

In my corner of the country, the soggy Pacific Northwest, we’re beginning to see the green little shoots of spring growth from some very exciting plants.

Yes, you read that right, exciting plants.

These plants just might blow your mind with their medicinal power that’s been hiding right underfoot in the forest!

In fact, I am going to be guiding a small herb walk this Saturday to introduce some folks to three fabulous plants which they can use as part of an all-natural first aid kit, so I decided I’d like to write about the plants so that you can learn alongside us.

It doesn’t take much investment, aside from your time, to learn about how to treat your family’s medical needs with herbal options.

GaultheriashallonproSVRDU
https://green.kingcounty.gov/gonative/Plant.aspx?Act=view&PlantID=33

Salal

Gaultheria Shallon

This perennial bush is native to the Pacific Northwest which has waxy-shiny green leaves that remain on the plant all year long. The berries of the plant are high in antioxidants and can be used to make jellies and jams. But beware, they’re a bit tart!

Of course, February is too early for the berries to be ready for the picking, that must wait till this summer, but we can still benefit from the wonderful leaves! The leaves have historically been used by many native peoples for coughs, colds, wounds, and digestive problems.

A tea can be made with the dehydrated leaves, which have drying properties, supporting health by removing congestion and mucus from the sinuses to through the respiratory system. When you gather the leaves, go in spring and summer and seek out the most vibrant, healthy-looking leaves.

stinging-nettle-image
http://www.ediblewildfood.com/stinging-nettle.aspx

Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

This plant is not only medicinal, it is also a food source of many vitamins and is highly nutritious. It is a leafy plant growing in stands connected by an underground network of rhizomes.

I’ve always loved the word rhizome, maybe I’ll name my first son Rhizome…

Anyways.

The plant is famous for the tiny stinging hairs on the underside of the leaves. I for one learned very quickly as a child exactly what it looked like and not to touch it!

It has been used for generations to treat conditions including painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. I also personally know herbalist friends who use nettle as part of their regimen in treating their seasonal allergies and hay fever.

When you collect stinging nettle it is important to cover your exposed skin by wearing gloves and long sleeves. The leaves can be dried to make a tea or to use in cooking.

800px-Lichen_3
http://www.methowvalleyherbs.com/2013/11/usnea-herb.html

Usnea

Usnea longissimus

Usnea is a lichen (another cool word!), which is a combination of an algae and a fungus growing together. It grows prolifically in areas which have heavy rainfall, such as the Pacific Northwest.

You can often find the lichen growing on old fallen branches or decaying trees. I’m sure you already realize from looking at the picture that it has been surrounding you on many hikes when you didn’t even know it!

It is a potent anti-microbial and anti-bacterial defender. It can be used for a great many effects on the human system, including for infections, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sore throat, fungal infections, vaginal infections, sinus infections, colds/flu, mastitis, and boils.

It is very important not to over-harvest usnea because it grows quite slowly, so when harvesting take only as much of it as you will need. It can be prepared as a tincture and a decoction.

I hope you enjoyed your brief education on early spring-time herbs, and that you will go out this week and look for these or other medicinal herbs in your area.

You’ll be amazed to see what you can find growing in your own backyard!

-M.

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Check out these websites for more great information on these plants:

Stinging Nettle on Edible Wild Food

Usnea on Methow Valley Herbs

Usnea on Susun Weed

Salal on Wild Foods and Medicines

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5 thoughts on “Three herbs you can harvest right now to stock your Herbal First Aid Kit

  1. So, I’m really curious about using nettle for my allergies this summer, and I know that I need to pick them now if I’m going to have them ready for when my allergies flare up real bad in a few months. But, I’m a little afraid that I won’t store them right and if I dry them for tea, that I’ll somehow sting my tongue or something when I drink the tea. This might sound silly, but for a newbie to all of this, do you have any advice on how to dry and store them so the stingers are gone by the time you use them? Thanks.

    1. Hi Jess,
      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m sure a lot of people wonder the same thing and I neglected to talk about preservation when I mentioned harvesting tips. Contact with the stinging hairs can definitely cause burning, so what you want to do is heat it out. If making tea with nettle is dry the leaves thoroughly in a dehydrator, (placing them in the dehydrator with gloves on of course) until the stems of the leaves are brittle enough to snap but nut so dry that they change to a black or brown color. At this point you can store them in an air-tight jar for several months. Or, if you’re cooking with them, once you heat the greens up for your stir-fry the needles can no longer sting you if they’re cooked thoroughly. I hope this answers your question, and good luck harvesting your nettles!
      -M.

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