Discovering Nature's Pharmacy
Yarrow is best IDed during Summer flowering
Humility Mountain is filled with lessons and many that apply not just to the soul's improvement, but to the body's as well. Since our departure from the city our family experienced new approaches to solve problems. Pharmacies and markets are not opened 24/7 in the country and stocking up on medicines was impractical. Among other medicines many topical antibiotics loose their potency after a short time and working in a farm where so many cuts, scrapes and insect bites occur a topical antibiotic should be prominent in the first aid kit at all times.
What, at first glance, seemed like a wooded, God-forsaken lot to us when we bought the place in 2002 was actually a God-sent paradise which housed a plethora of natural medicines. We have been discovering each wild plant and its effects on different medical conditions with good results. In antibiotics alone we have discovered four including the common Yarrow, once used by the ancient Greeks. It tops our list of favorites. So, I now share some lessons to consider in the discovery of natural medicine hoping many will benefit from it.
Northeast Pennsylvania is not the only place to find horticultural treasures and anyone who wants to spend a little extra time researching their natural surroundings can find medical supplements even in their own back yard. The following is a list of considerations while researching your yard's flora.
Identification. First, all natural medicine research depends on the correct identification of plants. To survive many plants have adapted to look like others that are stronger and lethal to predators, but in reality are harmless. Mushroom varieties are a good example of the importance in knowing which is which since many look harmless, but in reality are poisonous. Another example which we have in our farm is the pretty Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot. Its root can be eaten as vegetable or its flower steeped as a tea. This plant, however, looks very similar to Hemlock. The wrong identification could be lethal. A book on edible wild plants is a great source to have handy.
Nomenclature. Never identify a plant by its common name only. Many people can call different plants by the same name and cause irreparable damage once decisions are made with the wrong plant. The common name is a good place to start, but always get the correct scientific name. An example of this is Goatweed. Some people know this as St. John's Wort and use it to treat depression. Goat's Rue, which helps support therapy to lower blood sugar levels, can be confused with Goatweed's name. A misnomer here could create a great health hazard. It is best to use Hypericum perforatum for St. John's Wort and Galega officinalis for Goat's Rue when researching, even if they're a little hard to pronounce.
Observation. Don't take plants from fields that have been treated with pesticides. Even some fertilizers may change the plant's chemistry and the desired result from teas or tinctures made from the plant will not be achieved.
Gathering. Consider where you are gathering your flora from. You may have what you need now, but when you come back later there will not be a stock boy to help you out when you cannot find your favorite herb. A field filled with puffball mushrooms, a delicious mushroom when sauteed in butter, can yield more mushrooms next season, but cultivate too many and come the third year you'll be longing for those soccer balls without a goal. It's imperative to be prudent, then, when collecting specimens.
You may want to start your own herb garden, but should you gather seeds for transplant remember that all conditions which allowed proliferation where you originally collected the seed are nearly impossible to reproduce. Tolerance and observation are required.
Read. Another consideration in herbal medicine: get a book. Get more than one book! Use the internet, but never rely on the first source your Google search posts. Always counter check information from various sources. Opinions abound and you need to weed out the erroneous ones from the factual ones. Too much information is never enough.
One of the
best reference books I've found on natural medicine is the Natural
Medicine Comprehensive Database. Many physicians have adopted these
types of data-banks to improve and complement their patients'
treatments. These are now available to the public.
Talk. Consider snapping pictures of all plants and sending them to forums. It's a great place to learn from and get feedback for identification. Talk to neighbors who have lived in your area for many years. Locals have been passing down solutions from generation to generation. You may not only gain valuable information, but its a great way to start friendships.
Care. The preparation of herbs, plants and roots goes beyond drying a bunch of flowers. Mold can easily take root on humid, poorly dried plants and create a completely different effect on the medicine than the one planned on.
M.D. Lastly, if you are treating a medical condition approach your doctor cautiously with your information. Many of these herbs are as potent or more than over-the-counter pills and can reduce or even null effects of medicines already taken.
It seems a simple enough step to take, but with new protocols in medicine, many doctors' hands are tied as to what they are allowed to use as treatment. And remember, no one likes to be told they don't know enough, so do approach your doctor with all tactfulness.