An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘upper respiratory infections’

Plantain: a valuable medicinal, edible plant

Plantain grows in any kind of soil, from gravel and sidewalk cracks, to rich garden soil. This native British plant has bright-green, round leaves growing in a basal rosette. It bears a green-brown, cylindrical flowering spike with teeny lilac and yellow stamens. Depending on the soil, plantain’s size will range from 5 inches to a foot in height. The herb plantain is no relation to the tropical fruit plantain, of which the banana is a subspecies.

When Europeans came to North America, they inadvertently brought many things with them. Besides small pox, they brought with them the seeds of plantain (Plantago major and P. lanceolata). Botanists speculate that the seeds traveled with the Europeans in the clods of mud-impacted horses’ hooves. American Indians observed that wherever the White man went, this plant would soon appear; thereby, gaining the common name White-man’s foot.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha” might have been the first written reference to plantain as White-man’s foot: “Wheresoe’er they tread, beneath them/ Springs a flower unknown among us,/ Springs the White-man’s Foot in blossom.”

Plantain grows in any kind of soil, from gravel and sidewalk cracks, to rich garden soil. This British native has bright-green, round leaves growing in a basal rosette. It bears a green-brown, cylindrical flowering spike with teeny lilac and yellow stamens. Depending on the soil, plantain’s size will range from five inches to a foot in height. The herb plantain is no relation to the tropical fruit plantain, of which the banana is a subspecies.

Plantain grows everywhere Europeans have settled, and is despised in many countries for its link to a colonial past. Worse plants could follow a population around. The edible and medicinal properties of plantain make it a top plant for the survival of a settling community. Its early spring leaves are edible either raw in salads or boiled as a pot herb, and high in many vitamins and minerals.

Long ago, plantain was highly respected in its homeland. It was considered one of the nine sacred herbs of the ancient Saxon’s, and called the “mother of herbs” in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Once established in North America, plantain’s value was quickly recognized by American Indians. One tribe gave it a name which translates as “life medicine,” a kind of panacea, or cure-all.

Internally, Colonial Americans used plantain to reduce prolonged fevers, to prevent tuberculosis when early symptoms were presenting, and also to treat cholera. Plantain “purifies” the blood and tones the lungs when there has been a debilitating illness.

Recent clinical studies show plantain’s efficacy in chronic bronchitis, and for symptoms of the common cold. In combination with other herbs, plantain has shown analgesic activity when treating pain due to chronic gastroduodenitis.

Topically, plantain is a marvel when applied to bites or stings. When applying plantain to an insect bite, simply pick a leaf, chew it for 10 seconds until the mucilage is released (rubbing it in the fingers a bit is also an acceptable method if one would rather not chew the leaf), and place the wad of juicy plantain leaf directly on the sting site. Leave it in place for five minutes. The itch and inflammation will completely disappear. As a salve, plantain soothes irritated or ulcerated skin and wounds.

With great irony we tread over a seemingly insignificant plant, unaware of its value, though named after the path of the colonizers who trod over lands often unaware of the value of the land’s diversity, and the culture of its inhabitants.

The above article appeared in the Urban Forager of the Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, August 29, 2010.

Prevent colds with goldenrod

Golden rod (Solidago canadensis or Solidago altissima) indicating the transition from summer to fall. Goldenrod is a pleasant-tasting tea for upper respiratory infections and sinus infections, and can prevent colds and flu.

From late August through September, fields and roadsides turn golden yellow, which marks a kind of fifth season between the end of summer and the beginning of fall. It’s the season of goldenrod. A way to celebrate this fifth season is by preparing a cup of relaxing, goldenrod tea, which also is a great preparation for the cold and flu season.

Readers might get anxious at the thought of celebrating goldenrod season, since it’s mistaken as a common allergen. The culprit of hayfever is ragweed, which has inconspicuous green flowers and grows near goldenrod. Making a goldenrod tea can actually help soothe the inflammation of allergic rhinitis, itchy eyes and respiratory congestion associated with hayfever.

Although many species of goldenrod are native to North America, the most common goldenrod species in the Southeast are Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis, or S. altissima) and anise-scented goldenrod (S. odora). Canada goldenrod has triangular-shaped plumes of inflorescense, and sometimes the flowers stand upright along the arching stems. Anise-scented goldenrod blooms only on one side of the stem, and smells like anise or licorice when you crush the leaves.

Botanists confess that identifying goldenrod species is a challenge. Thankfully, all Solidago species can be used safely; however, S. canadensis and S. odora are more medicinal than others. Before they bloom, they look like nondescript weeds with many lance-shaped leaves traveling up the entire stem, which grow between 1 and 5 feet tall. Sometimes in the top third of the stems a growth forms, looking like a snake that’s swallowed an egg. Called a gall, it’s created by insects laying their eggs in goldenrod.

Native Americans used goldenrod for multiple ailments. The leaves commonly were crushed in a mortar and pestle and applied to burns, boils or skin ulcers. After the flowers dried, the seeds were collected for food.

For political, economic or accessibility reasons, European-Americans have historically turned to goldenrod as a substitute for English-imported black teas (Camilla senensis). After the Boston Tea Party, English tea was boycotted, and goldenrod was one of the American plants substituted; hence, a common name for goldenrod is Liberty Tea. Or, it could have been Liber-Tea.

The anise-scented goldenrod had a run in popularity in the Eastern U.S. during the 19th century. At the time it was called Blue Mountain Tea, and was even exported to China.

At other times, goldenrod was substituted when English teas were difficult to obtain, such as during the Civil War.

The substitution wasn’t a sacrifice. Goldenrod makes a pleasant-tasting tea with mild sedative properties, and serves as a tonic for the respiratory system and urinary tract. Its antibacterial actions help to prevent or address sore throats, upper respiratory or urinary tract infections. Also, goldenrod is a wonderful tonic for people prone to kidney stones. One may use goldenrod as a preventative or to dissolve existing stones, most appreciated by those with experience.

Celebrate goldenrod season with a lovely tonic tea.

Goldenrod tea directions:

Cut the goldenrod stem just above any browning leaves. For fresh leaf tea, turn the stem upside down and strip the leaves and flowers into a bowl. Compost the stems. Chop the leaves and flowers, and steep, covered, two tablespoons of fresh goldenrod in a cup of boiling water for 20-30 minutes. To dry goldenrod for later, bundle 3 stems and hang in a dry, ventilated area. Once dry, strip the leaves into brown paper bags and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Steep one tablespoon of dry goldenrod in a cup of boiling water for the same amount of time. Drink 3 cups a day as an upper respiratory preventative, or in an acute infection drink as often as every 3 hours.

The above article originally appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald on August 22, 2010.

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