A couple of weeks back I composed for The PossibleCanine blog, my top ten herbs for dogs (I think I actually wrote on thirteen, math was never my strong suit). At the same time I am writing up for my course at NAIMH, ten herbs I use most often for people (that’d be me, my partner Alex, and various friends who call or email for ideas about common ailments and complaints.)
Now that took a little evaluation. Some herbalists I know, myself included, get a little – not exactly weary of the standards, we do love them all – but excited about new finds might be a better way to put it. I certainly love researching and testing out local wild plants, for example my write up on trout lily – recent obsession with (true and false) Solomon’s Seal, Balmony ( turtlehead) and Birthroot (how beautiful a name is that?) and as much as I focus mostly on local plants I am not about to give up my cupboard of spices, my turmeric chai, my Shatavari and astragalus. But really – when it comes to everyday medicine – what DO I actually, daily, week in and week out, use most? I finally got it narrowed to ten for Paul’s course – I include them here – and, an honorary five extra for those I just could not do without either.
My beautiful friends, you are the core of my learning, and without you, I’d be starting all over.
1. Marshallow (Althea officinalis) and related mallows (Malva neglecta, sylvestra, and alcea) – used all the time here for reflux and other tummy upsets (cold infusion of the dried root) also leaf and root for bladder infections (human and feline,mostly) as part of a formula for coughs and sore throats, in honey, salves and infusions.Most tender and beautiful of flowers, I adore her soft silvery green leaves and gentle pink and white flowers. There’ll be a lot more on the mallows in this blog in the days ahead.
2) Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – in almost every salve I make, also use the tea and tincture for lymphatic clearance with chronic or acute infection, steeped in vinegar with other herbs for skin toner and coat conditioner, fresh flower in salads, dried, oil, infusion – so many ways. Easy to grow and beautiful in every way.
3) Hawthorn (Craetagus spp) Fresh flower and leaf dried in tea, dried berries in brandy -this is one of my daily tonics for cardiovascular support. I take it daily as does my senior dog Jasmine. Delicious, heart-healing and lovely in every way.
4) Yarrow (Alchillea millefolium) SO many uses it’s hard to list them all, but the dried whole plant gets used as infusion, hot, for helping sweat out a fever, the cooled infusion for all manner of skin ailments and wounds or bruising; I make oil, tincture and add to vinegars for topical use. A compress applied about 5 times over a 24 hour period just took a very nasty shin bruise from major to barely noticable. I love yarrow.
5) White pine and related species (Pinus strobus et al) I don’t call this my Ally for nothing. The rubs I make with mixed evergreen resin are so gorgeous I apply them to my wrists just to breathe in the beauty. Making an infused balm a la Kiva Rose (with Juniper berries) right now,it’s been steeping a month in almond oil and the scent is indescribable.Pine needle vinegar is a must around here; I also just made my first elixir. Salve for splinters and sore aching joints, in a rub for chest complaints, all Pine medicine is like taking the forest into my heart. I mix with elderberries and local honey for a crack- of- dawn tea that starts my day with a prayer to the earth in my belly.
6) Elder (Sambucus nigra, canadensis) Sometimes I feel like everything that can be said about elder has been; I use the flowers and berries in a wide variety of ways, from hot infusion for fever and colds to daily cup of the berries in tea as an alterative and hepatoprotective, to vinegars, salves and ointments, the ubiquitous elixir and syrup, and in plain old tincture. Elder has vastly more healing action than if popularly realized. I give it to my arthritic dog, my allergic cats and anyone nearby who has a cold, flu or is just feeling rundown. Few things are as exciting to me as finding a pristine stream running out of one of our countless small lakes, and the banks are lined with gorgeously blooming elder trees. Well worth getting to know, if you don’t already, or think of her powers as just a cold remedy. This one has endless tales to tell.
7) Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – what’s not to love? Right now is dandelion harvest time, and as usual I’m making tincture and vinegar from the leaves and roots, eating them in salads and fritters, drying root for use later on in stews and soups. A classic bitter tonic, dandelion supports the liver, acts as a diuretic, is a powerhouse of nutrient and the flowers are loaded with a variety of antioxidants. My whole lawn in covered in the most beautiful blooms! As soon as I’m done here I’m going to gather.
8) Self heal (Prunella vulgaris) – this little unassuming beauty is useful and healing in so many ways, I have a full monograph planned. How something so familiar and supposedly ordinary can have so many levels of generosity and healing always amazes me.
9) Trembling aspen/balsam poplar (Populus spp) oh how I love this tree – the scented buds bringing resin for tincture and oil, pain relief, and urinary tract tonic, healing and beautiful to smell and behold – and most of all I think I love the song – nothing quite as rejuvenating to me as a long summer afternoon with just the rustling of the aspen, a hawk circling overhead, and the scent of the garden close by.
10) Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) everyone loves the flower oil for dog’s ears, and most use the dried leaf in respiratory formulas, but I’ve discovered a whole world of use for mullein, some of it from Matthew Wood. As with all of these I’ll share what I’ve found in upcoming entries. Good thing there’s so much of it wild around here – and this one in a pot in my back yard as well.
The next five I use a lot, and couldn’t do without;
1) Chamomile – always on hand for tummy upset, nervous pups and skin ailments. I’ve even learned to love the tea. 🙂
2) Wild Rose – rose vinegar and elixir have become summer essentials here – but there’s so much more. Entry – or entries – to follow.
3) Skullcap (Scutalleria lateriflora) always on hand for thunderphobic dogs, tension headaches and sleepless nights with too much on my mind.
4) Burdock (Arctium lappa) – another medicine chest plant, I use with many liver and skin issues, in tinctures, vinegars and poultices…
5) Vervain (Verbena hastata) – this is the plant that single-handedly relieved my gnawing nerve pain from the way I sit at my desk. I owe her greatly.
Followed closely by milk thistle, stinging nettle,St. John’s wort, evening primrose, comfrey, monarda, mugwort, motherwort, catnip, sage and goldenrod.
Down the road but still well represented here – Cleaver’s, gravel root, boneset, juniper, birch and milky oats.
I think I probably better stop now. 🙂
As I go deeper into Plant Medicine, I learn to make the fullest use of each ally – the ones that -daily, weekly – ease bruises and inflammation, clear stuffy noses, calm frazzled nerves, settle upset tummies and literally lift nasty splinters out of bare feet and tender fingertips, keep gums healthy and bones strong and headaches at bay. How to grow, care for, harvest, and use the Allies – make everything imaginable from them, learn their Actions and Constituents and Energetics and how to pair them for optimal or more expansive benefit. I work more deeply than every with these familiar healers – all the while exploring riverbanks and open fields and woodland corners for such things as Herb Robert and Agrimony and Skunk cabbage and Wood Betony and Baptisia….Speedwell…the list goes on and on and on.