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Herb Articles

Our articles cover general information on herbal medicine, as well as Featured Herbs: updated essays with more detailed discussions of often-neglected or misunderstood herbs.

Herb Article: Choosing the Right Herb

I am often asked what may be the best herb to aid in a particular condition. Many herb books out there will list a condition, say arthritis, and list twenty different herbs for that "disease." It is difficult to approach herbs in this way, as each is a unique life force with many potential benefits for the body. In a more holistic approach to health, each person is unique as well, and naming a "disease" does not take into account each individual manifestation of a condition.

Featured Herb: Pleurisy Root

Now is the time to go rooting around. The roots of most medicinal plants are harvested in the fall, when the top of the plant has died back. Many roots are gathered at the wrong time of year, and are sometimes only 1/3 as potent as they should be. Pleurisy Root is also known as Butterfly Weed; with a bright orange, late summer milkweed-type flower (it is a milkweed, without the milky sap); the butterflies flock to its flower-clusters. It is an easy and beautiful plant to propagate; will grow in poor, well-drained soils and any piece of the root can propagate the plant.

Featured Herb: Yellow Dock

One of the traditional potherbs of the spring is the greens of the Dock plant, locally known as Curly Dock. Yellow Dock is the name given to the root of the most common species (Rumex crispus), and it is the root that is used medicinally. The greens, picked young, provide an interersting soury-tasting cooked green that is very nutritious. It is in the Buckwheat family and grows in waste places, old fields and barnyards and generally considered a "weed", whatever that means. The medicinal root is one that I value very highly.

Featured Herb: Wild Yam

Wild Yam is a good example of an herb that is widely known and yet undervalued; with a much wider range of action than its modern designation as a "hormonal" herb, and even in this respect there are misconceptions. The Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is the rhizome of a delicate vining plant that grows on the edges of woods and thickets in the eastern U.S. It is a cousin to many more tropical species, including those Mexican Yams from which hormones were synthesized, and only distantly related to edible yams. The tough, knobby root of our Wild Yam would hardly make a delectable meal.

Featured Herb: Vitex (Chaste Berry)

The ripe seeds of the Chaste Berry (Vitex agnus/castus) have become a mainstay in modern herbalism, used to address a wide-range of hormonally-related conditions. The beautiful shrub with lilac-like flowers is native to the Mediterranean countries, and its uses were first developed in ancient Greece and Rome. Its uses were only slowly developed after the fall of these empires. Most of its early uses were related to its spicy, warming nature in "dispelling wind", although there are early references to it as an herb to "quench the passions".

Featured Herb: Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a good example of an herb from folk and botanical medicine whose benefits to the heart and circulatory system have been confirmed by modern research. It's great advantage as a first line of defense against these conditions are due to it's very non-toxic, nutritional properties. 


Featured Herb: Valerian

Valerian is a European herb that we find grows very well here in the Ozarks. Its fragrant white flowers and glossy leaves make it a favorite in our herb gardens. Valerian is a perennial that requires a fairly rich soil, with at least moderate moisture. It appreciates partial shade, but will grow under less than ideal conditions. The root is the part most commonly used, though the flowers make a nice tea or tincture with milder effects, that with experimentation, may be found to be more suited to long-term use. The chemistry of the fresh and dried root are somewhat different. We like the effects of the fresh root as being less variable in its effects, and less strong-tasting (and smelling!).

Featured Herb: Red Clover

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is an herb gaining new prominence that has very solid roots in traditional herbalism. The part used are the blossoms that grow in profusion on the plant. The blossoms can generally be gathered from early to mid-summer and grow wild or have been planted in hayfields through much of the U.S., and as a legume, fix a good deal of nitrogen in the soil. The fresher the blossoms are, the better their effects. A fresh tincture is a very good way to preserve them.


Featured Herb: Violet

In looking to herbal aids for people I always look first to the herbs that are abundant in many locations, can be gathered fresh over a long period and are mild-acting (which doesn't mean ineffective) and nutritional. Along with an amazingly versatile herb like Plantain, I would place Violet herb. Violets grow in many garden, lawn and abandoned homestead locations in fertile soils. Violet has the potential to take over some of our herb beds, but it seems to behave when boundaries start to be set, and can make a good ground cover, spreading from its rhizomes.

Featured Herb: Dandelion

One of the earliest herbs to send out leaves and flower in the spring is the easily overlooked Dandelion. Many people, especially city dwellers, look down on the "lowly" Dandelion, yet it may be one of the most important herbs for our modern times. Larger roots will be found in looser soil. Harvesters should know whether the ground they are harvesting from has had poison applied or not.



Featured Herb: Astragalus

Featured Herb: Echinacea

Echinacea has become one of the world's most popular herbs. Echinacea is also the herb that introduced me to the healing energy of herbs. Back before it became popular I set out to learn about this beautiful wildflower that grows in unique glade environments in these Ozark hills. After I gained an appreciation for the plant, I acted on an old Ozark and Native American folk use and dug a root when I had a bad case of scratchy throat. I chewed on the fresh root and let the sweet/pungent juice trickle down my throat. It seemed that it immediately made me feel better.  Not only that, but I felt a surge of energy that seemed to dissolve my fatigue and "yucky" aches.Since then I've found that the first ingestion of a fresh plant can have amazing effects. It's as if the plant shows us what it is capable of.


Featured Herb: Maitake/Grifolia Mushroom

Maitake is the Japanese name for Grifolia Frondosa, a large mushroom that grows in the eastern U.S., Europe and Asia. In the Ozarks it is found growing as a usually large mass of overlapping, scalloped fruiting bodies around the base of old stumps. Sometimes one mushroom can weigh 10 pounds or more; and is found freshest in the spring/early summer and sometimes again later in the fall. Maitake is an edible mushroom that in the Orient is cooked in soups, and in the West is prepared in various ways.


Featured Herb: Plantain

When giving herb walks I’m often asked what I consider to be the most all-around valuable herb. I’ll point down at their feet to the humble plantain plant and I get incredulous looks, “well, that grows everywhere.” There seems to be a misconception that the most valuable herbs have to be rare, exotic and costly. In my mind, a truly valuable herb is one found in abundance right in our environment with a great versatility in usage. Plantain certainly fits the abundance bill. A native of the Old World, it rapidly spread through North America.



Maca: An Ancient Herb Finds New Popularity

While our focus has always been on the amazing diversity of herbs that can be found or grown here in the Ozarks, we have recently come across a very high quality source of this remarkable herb from the mountains of Peru. And the effects of this herb do seem to live up to its ancient reputation  as a general energy tonic and so much more.


Featured Herb: American Ginseng

American Ginseng is an herb that is quickly disappearing from the wild, due to over-harvesting over many years. Many of the wildcrafters now, unlike those in the past, take immature roots and don't plant back the seed. Ginseng takes seven years to mature from seed.


Featured Herb: Solomon's Seal

Solomon's Seal Root is an attractive perennial woodland plant in the Lily family found in moist woods of the northern and eastern U.S.  Related species have been used in herbal medicine in Europe and Asia. It is a plant whose uses would seem to relate very well to the ancient "Doctrine of Signatures", in which a plant's uses are suggsested by the appearance of the plant itself. In the case of the Solomon's Seal, the knobby roots are very suggestive of joints or vertebrae.  John Gerard, famous herbalist of the 16th century wrote: "The root stamped and applied in manner of a pultesse, and layd upon members that have been out of joint, and newly restored to their places.

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