Backyard Wilderness Blog
July 2012 - page 1
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The unusual purple flowers in the photo to the right are the blossoms of Heal-all or Self-heal, (Prunella vulgaris.) Common throughout most of the U.S., it grows in millions of lawns. (Note how the lower leaves in the photo have been trimmed by my reel mower!)
Few people today know that this remarkable little plant was once considered a panacea, believed capable of healing most wounds and ailments, and proclaimed an holy herb sent by God. It is practically a pharmacy in itself!
Both edible and medicinal, Prunella is best collected while flowering in mid summer. With a pleasantly clean flavor, all above-ground parts can be eaten raw in salads or boiled as a pot herb. Dried, the leaves and flowers can be used to make a number of medicinal preparations.
Sometimes, I am astounded by the variety of wild edible and medicinal plants nature places literally at our feet, almost as if some intelligence within the plant kingdom senses human needs and provides for them! The average suburban lawn, if left untreated with herbicides, synthetic chemical fertilizers, and dangerous insecticides, can become a living pantry and medicine chest of both nutritious and healthful plants and herbs. With a small undisturbed woodlot on the property, a few edible and medicinal mushrooms can be added to this home kitchen and pharmacy. Plants once considered "weeds" are gaining new esteem as modern science confirms and broadens the claims of herbalists of the past. Published in 1931 by Mrs. Margaret Grieve, founder of Whins Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm in Buckinghamshire England, "A Modern Herbal," contains a mixture of centuries old, tried and true herbal prescriptions, as well as folklore. Regarded as an herbalist's Bible, this comprehensive work, containing information on more than eight hundred plants, grew out of Mrs. Grieve's study of how to best utilize medicinal herbs to assist British troops during World War I. In light of studies currently underway at Johns Hopkins University and some commercial pharmaceutical companies, it is gaining even greater prestige today.
Dandelion, plantain, curly dock, sheep sorrel, burdock, goldenrod, chicory, Queen Anne's lace, agrimony and others are just a few commonly recognized "weeds" contained in A Modern Herbal, but the two shown below receive special accolades...
While studying Ajuga, I found this quote in A Modern Herbal; "Culpeper, (Nicholas Culpeper, 1616-1654, author of The Complete Herbal,) had a great opinion of the value of the Bugle and says, 'if the virtues of it make you fall in love with it (as they will if you be wise) keep a syrup of it to take inwardly, and an ointment and plaster of it to use outwardly, always by you. The decoction of the leaves and flowers in wine dissolveth the congealed blood in those that are bruised inwardly by a fall or otherwise and is very effectual for any inward wounds, thrusts or stabs in the body or bowels; and is an especial help in wound drinks and for those that are liver-grown, as they call it. It is wonderful in curing all ulcers and sores, gangrenes and fistulas, if the leaves, bruised and applied or their juice be used to wash and bathe the place and the same made into lotion and some honey and gum added, cureth the worse sores. Being also taken inwardly or outwardly applied, it helpeth those that have broken any bone or have any member out of joint. An ointment made with the leaves of Bugle, Scabious, (Scabiosa succisa,) and Sanicle, (Sanicula europaea,) bruised and boiled in hog's lard until the herbs be dry and then strained into a pot for such occasions as shall require, it is so efficacious for all sorts of hurts in the body that none should be without it.' "
********************************************************************************************************* Many years ago, we brought home a new plant from our local garden center. It was sold to us as an effective ground cover for a shady, bare spot in our front yard. The photo below shows this plant, Ajuga reptans, known by most as just Ajuga, but also called Common Bugle. Soon, it effectively covered not only our bare spot, but most of our front yard. It is highly invasive! Professional gardeners and landscapers call it a "thug," because it quickly and easily spreads to any open shaded area, even outcompeting turf grasses! Within a few years, Ajuga was growing in our front lawn, both side yards, backyard and gardens. Despite my best efforts to mow it down, dig it up, or bury it, there was no stopping it, so we gave up, but now I'm glad!
Click here to see "Drying Plants and Herbs."