Elecampane is an interesting herb that popped up in an old abandoned flower bed in my yard. I had wondered for years what it was. It grew so tall, about 5-6′ with lovely yellow flowers, reminiscent of a sunflower with dainty, skinny petals. The leaves were so interesting too because they were really big and hugged or cupped the stem where they attached.
So fast forward a few years, and I have sewn some elecampane seeds and planted them in my garden. As they come into their second year, I begin to recognize who they are, and that I already had their sister in my yard for years! Since then, another specimen, the grandest of them all, has seeded itself right in the crack between my house and my lawn. It easily grows 6-7′ tall with leaves 1.5′ long! Elegant and beautiful, elecampane has gently entered itself into my garden and into my life.
The part of the plant that is used medicinally is the rhizome/root. It is gentle and effective for chronic coughs and all matter of respiratory issues. It is an expectorant and brings up stuck mucus. It has demulcent properties which make it soothing to the digestive lining and mucus membranes. It stimulates the appetite and has traditionally been used as a stomach tonic. It is warming, mildly bitter, and anti-microbial.
According to JJ Pursell in “The Herbal Apothecary”, the flower essence of elecampane helps one move through and move on, and overcome deeply ingrained fears or grief.
Steep 15-30 minutes for an infusion (tea), or simmer 15-30 minutes for a decoction. Parts used are the rhizome or roots.
For this month’s herb of the month, I thought I would relate a story of how I have been using my herbs to make a poultice. My husband has recently injured himself. He has overworked the muscles on the left side of his rib cage, strained them with a lingering cough, and then followed up with some real damage by ‘pushing through’ a weight lifting work out. So, along with some tender love and care, I created a poultice for him and have been applying it twice a day with positive results.
Using fresh herbs from my garden, I selected chamomile for the pain, yarrow for mending, and comfrey for its soothing abilities. Taking a handful of each, bruising them and cutting them up a bit, I put them in a pot and added about 1/2-1 cup of hot water from my kettle. I covered it and let it sit about 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile I cut open an aloe vera leaf and spread its juices over the injured area on my husbands torso and let that sink in. Then I place a muslin cloth over the injured muscles, removed the herbs from the pot and squeezed out most of the water (the water temperature was hot enough that I could handle it, but not so hot as to burn myself or him). I place the herbs on top of the muslin cloth and then covered them with one of my father’s large, old handkerchiefs folded over, and gently pressed the whole mass against his injured rib muscles.
Then I had him gently hold it in place while he relaxed for the next 10-15 minutes. After which time, I removed the cloth, herbs and handkerchief. We did this twice a day until it all healed. He said he felt better after each application. I think the heat and the herbs were relaxing and restorative for him, and I also believe that taking out intentional time to directly focus on healing made a huge difference as well.
Red Raspberry Leaf – Rubus idaeus, Rubus strigosus
Red Raspberry is a plant that most of use are very familiar with. It grows wild amongst the other brambles and weeds in wild fields and forgotten pastures and orchards. Its fruit is a lovely and delicious berry that is great in salads, or just as it is off of the cane. The berry also makes a lovely infused vinegar – combine with apple cider vinegar and let steep for 2 or more weeks.
The leaves of the red raspberry plant are high in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium which feeds the nervous system. For medicinal purposes, they are mildly astringent, and build and improve over all tone of the intestinal and urinary tracts.
An ally to the reproductive system, red raspberry leaves tone the uterus and reproductive system. They are womb strengthening, tonic during pregnancy, help prepare the uterus for labor, and prepare the body for breastfeeding by enriching breast milk and helping the uterus return to normal size after birth. The leaves are most often taken in the form of a tea.
For emotional support (according to JJ Pursell’s Herbal Apothecary) red raspberry leaf assists those whose feelings are easily hurt or who have a touchy nature.
Cloves, Caryophyllus aromaticus
Cloves are aromatic flower buds that grow on clove trees in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India among other countries. The flower buds are harvested and laid out on mats to dry in the sun for about 3 days. Then they are sorted and sifted and brought to market. Cloves are a popular cooking spice used by people all around the world. Do you have cloves in your kitchen cupboard?
Medicinally they are antiseptic, aromatic, carminative (aides in digestion), and aphrodisiac! They are used to help with fevers, flatulence, and as a bronchial expectorant. They are stimulating, warming, and improve digestion and circulation (so they are good for those of us with cold hands and feet).
You can chew a clove bud to combat bad breath. Use cloves to flavor sauces, curry’s, and other foods. Steep a tea using a bud or two to help with digestion.
Cloves are analgesic, which means they help with pain. Take a whole clove and place it in your mouth next to a sore tooth to help ease discomfort.
During the holidays you can make a Pomander Ball, a pretty center piece and natural air freshener. All you need is an orange or two or three, and some cloves. Poke the cloves into the orange in a nice spiral or circular design (or what ever design you like). You can use a toothpick to pre-make the wholes if you find the cloves too prickly. Use a ribbon to hang them in a window, or place them in a bowl with pine cones and nuts for a festive center piece.
Catnip – Nepeta cataria
Catnip is a hardy perennial. It can grow from 3 to 5 feet tall! It likes full sun, and can tolerate dry conditions. Left to flower and set seed, it will seed itself all around the garden, and beyond it as well. It is a member of the mint family and has the square stem characteristic of that family. Its blooms are clustered at the top of the stems and are a soft white color. It is a really great plant for attracting bees, and is a must-have for the pollinators in your garden.
Use aerial parts (leaves, stems, and flowers), either fresh or dried. Harvest by cutting back the whole stalk (leaving a few terminal buds at the base of the stalk to regrow). Dry in bunches with stems tied together, or pick off fresh leaves a few at a time to use as needed.
While catnip is a known stimulant for cats, who roll in it, eat it, and otherwise enjoy it, in humans it has the opposite effect. It is calming and soothes nervousness. A good sleepy-time tea, it is a gentle relaxant and digestive aid. Sip it to help settle nerves and anxiety. It is also used in cold and flu remedies, and for feverish conditions.
Catnip tea is gentle enough to use for infants and children, for such ailments as measles, chicken pox, colic, fevers, indigestion, nervousness, headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and hyper activity.
A nice blend for nervousness in both adults and children, mix it with chamomile and lemonbalm, and steep for 5-7 minutes.