Friday, May 13, 2011

YOU can make your own medicines!

For thousands of years, people kept themselves healthy with herbal medicines, and today these simple remedies are perhaps as important as they ever have been. In general, using herbs for healing is a gentler way to treat disease than drugs. And now that many people are having reactions and unpleasant side effects to drugs, lots of folks are turning to a more natural alternative. As someone who has been fascinated with healing plants most of my life, I have found that growing and using all kinds of plants for healing is an adventure and a pleasure!

Many medicinal plants are already up outside. Above, you see a dandelion. Rosemary Gladstar (perhaps the best known herbalist in this country) calls the dandelion one of the great tonic herbs of all time. It is rejuvenating, it's great for the digestion, a wonderful herb to promote healthy liver and kidneys, it's extremely high in vitamins and minerals, and it grows everywhere. You can eat the leaves in salads or stir-fry, and the root can be tinctured for a stronger, long-lasting remedy.

The herb pictured above is another plant that grows wild in Iowa. It's called Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), and it's one of my favorites because of its effect on the cardiovascular system. Most of the women in my mother's family have a heart issue: sometimes between one heartbeat and the next, the heart will start beating at two or three times the normal rate, and this can go on for quite awhile. You can do nothing but lie down and wait it out when this happens. But then I discovered motherwort. I make a tincture with it and carry it with me wherever I go. And when my heart starts pounding (which only happens a couple times a year), a few drops of motherwort tincture under the tongue returns my heart to its regular rhythm within seconds. It's truly amazing! The herb is a popular one for women, good for the side effects of menopause, strengthening the heart, and some folks use it for a calming remedy. Like dandelions, it grows everywhere!
Here's another plant that grows everywhere. The Native Americans reputedly called it "White Man's Footsteps" because it grew wherever white men walked. It's call plantain (not the banana), and you'll find it especially in well-trod lawns and paths. It loves compacted soil. This lowly plant has leaves that are a miracle healer for skin ailments, from stings to cuts, rashes to dry skin. And the seeds that come later in the summer in a spike up through the middle of the leaves is actually psyllium seed (the stuff that promotes "regularity"). You'll see (above) a dandelion in the foreground, and the plantain leaves just behind it. Look for it the next time you go walking. And if you get stung, just pick a leaf, chew it up a bit, and plaster it on the sting.
This last picture is of Lady's Mantle, with some Catmint growing around the side. These are growing just outside my door, and they serve as decorative low ground covers as well as a medicinal plants. As with so many plants, both these herbs have a variety of uses, and I am learning more every day. One woman came to me at the farmers market, hoping to get lady's mantle because it was the only thing that cured her skin condition. It was the first time I'd heard of that use!

If this has whetted your interest in medicinal herbs, let me announce that I am giving a Tincture Workshop at Wapsinonoc Gardens in June. It will be Sunday, June 12th, from 1:00-5:00 p.m.  We'll spend some time at the beginning talking about tinctures and about the plants growing outside in the gardens and what they are good for. Then we'll go out and harvest the ones you choose, clean them, cut or grind them up, and prepare bottles of tinctured herb that you'll take home with you. Tinctures last for years, and are a great addition to your personal first aid basket. The workshop is $50, which includes the plants, vodka for the tinctures, large bottles, small tincture bottles, and a snack. Register early since space is limited. If interested, call 319-643-3342, send an email to, or reply to this blog post.


  1. Hmm, I think Justine and I may want to come... It could be fun.

  2. That's great, Judy! I think Justine's on board. As an intern, she'll be a helper and can come free.