- Scientific Name: Glechoma hederacea
- Plant Family: Lamiaceae
- Parts Used: Leaves, stems, and flowers
- Actions: Expectorant, Astringent, Diuretic, Tonic, a gentle Stimulant, Anti-catarrhal, Vulnerary
Ground Ivy is an aromatic, perennial, evergreen creeper of the mint family. This little plant grows on waste ground and in hedgerows everywhere, the leaves are dark and kidney shaped and the flowers bright dark blue. The Romanies made a tea from Ground Ivy flowers and wood sage as a cure for fevers and colds. The herb is used by herbalists in the treatment of blood and kidney disorders.
The leaves are downy, dark green and kidney-shaped, with glands that contain an aromatic, bitter oil. The tiny deep-throated flowers are purple or blue.
Some people consider Ground Ivy to be an attractive garden plant, and it is grown in pots and occasionally as a groundcover. Easily cultivated, it grows well in shaded places. A variegated variety is commercially available; in many areas this is the dominant form which has escaped cultivation and become established as an aggressive, adventitious groundcover.
Ground Ivy is sometimes confused with common mallow (Malva neglecta), which also has round, lobed leaves; but mallow leaves are attached to the stem at the back of a rounded leaf, where Ground Ivy has square stems and leaves which are attached in the center of the leaf, more prominent rounded lobes on their edges, attach to the stems in an opposite arrangement, and have a hairy upper surface.
In addition, mallow and other creeping plants sometimes confused with Ground Ivy do not spread from nodes on stems. In addition, Ground Ivy emits a distinctive odor when damaged, being a member of the mint family.
Ground Ivy has been used in the traditional medicine of Europe going back thousands of years: Galen recommends the plant to treat inflammation of the eyes. John Gerard, an English herbalist, recommended it to treat tinnitus, as well as a “diuretic, astringent, tonic and gentle stimulant. Useful in kidney diseases and for indigestion.” It has also been used as a “lung herb.”
Its presence as an invasive weed in North America is the result of the value placed on it by European settlers as a medicinal herb and ale preservative; the species was imported and widely cultivated in herb and kitchen gardens.
Other traditional uses include as an expectorant, astringent, and to treat bronchitis. In the traditional Austrian medicine the herb has been prescribed for internal application as salad or tea for the treatment of a variety of different conditions including disorders associated with the liver and bile, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, kidneys and urinary tract, fever, and flu.
An ancient ale herb, bitter Ground Ivy was used to clear and flavor ale before the introduction of hops.
- Scientific name: Tussilago Farfara
- Family: in the groundsel tribe of the daisy family Asteraceae
- Recommended variety: Tussilago farfara ‘Wien’
- Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, root.
- Medicinal Actions: Demulcent, expectorant, tonic, antitussive, anticatarrhal, diuretic, emollient, pectoral.
- Constituents: All parts of the plant abound in mucilage, and contain inulin, zinc, a little tannin and a trace of a bitter amorphous glucoside. The flowers contain also a phytosterol and a dihydride alcohol, Faradial, and carotene
Coltsfoot root contains tumorigenic pyrrolizidine alkaloids and it suspected that there may be small quantities in the leaves. There are documented cases of coltsfoot tea causing severe liver problems in an infant, and in another case, an infant developed liver disease and died because the mother drank tea containing coltsfoot during her pregnancy. In response the German government banned the sale of coltsfoot. Clonal plants of colstfoot free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids were then developed in Austria and Germany. This has resulted in the development of the registered variety Tussilago farfara ‘Wien’ which has no detectable levels of these alkaloids.
The coltsfoot is another wonderful remedy for coughs and colds, whooping cough and shortness of breath. It has a little yellow flower that smells of honey and blooms in February, long before the leaves which grow to enormous size.
Coltsfoot grows nearly everywhere, on rubble heaps, by the side of newly-made roads, on railway banks and on coal mine tips. In fact there is a very old gypsy saying that wherever coltsfoot grows freely, coal will be found. Once it was so revered in France that coltsfoot flowers were painted as a sign on the doorpost of apothecarie’s shops to let people know that the art of healing was practiced there.
Coltsfoot combines a soothing expectorant effect with an antispasmodic action. There are useful levels of zinc in the leaves. This mineral has been shown to have marked anti-inflammatory effects. Coltsfoot may be used in chronic or acute bronchitis, irritating coughs, whooping coughs and asthma. Its soothing expectorant action gives coltsfoot a role in most respiratory conditions, including the chronic state of emphysema.
The Romanies praise this herb very highly. It also has been a part of Chinese folk medicine for centuries.
A decoction of the leaves of the herb coltsfoot to a pint of boiling water (strain before drinking) is very good for colds, coughs and asthma. If you haven`t time to make a decoction when a cough is bad, use an infusion of coltsfoot and take in teacupful dose. It can be sweetened to taste with honey.
As a mild diuretic it has been used in cystitis.
An infusion or juice from fresh leaves can be used as an antiseptic wash for wounds and skin blemishes. The fresh bruised leaves can be applied to boils, abscesses and suppurating ulcers as a poultice, (enclosed in fine muslin to prevent skin irritation)..
Coltsfoot is a low-growing perennial with fleshy, woolly leaves. A member of the daisy family, coltsfoot produces a single golden-yellow flower head that blooms in spring. As the stem dies, the leaves appear. It has long-stalked, hoof-shaped leaves, about 4 inches across, with angular teeth on the margins. The top of the leaf surface is smooth and almost waxy in appearance, while the underside is covered with white, wool-like hairs. Both surfaces of the leaves are covered, when young, with loose, white, felted woolly hairs, but those on the upper surface fall off as the leaf expands.
The bright yellow flowers appear early in the spring, prior to the emergence of any leaves. In Southern Ontario, coltsfoot flowers in April, often before the last of the snow melts. Flower heads have even been known to push through snow. Some people confuse these flowers with dandelion flowers.
The specific name of the plant is derived from Farfarus, an ancient name of the White Poplar, the leaves of which present some resemblance in form and color to those of this plant. There is a closer resemblance, however, to the leaves of the Butterbur, which must not be collected in error; they may be distinguished by their more rounded outline, larger size and less sinuate margin.
An old name for Coltsfoot was Filius ante patrem (the son before the father), because the star-like, golden flowers appear and wither before the broad, sea-green leaves are produced.
The root is spreading, small and white, and has also been used medicinally. The underground stems preserve their vitality for a long period when buried deeply, so that in places where the plant has not been observed before, it will often spring up in profusion after the ground has been disturbed. In gardens and pastures it is a troublesome weed, very difficult to get rid of.
The plant is so dissimilar in appearance at different periods that both Gerard and Parkinson give two illustrations: one entitled ‘Tussilago florens, Coltsfoot in floure,‘ and the other ‘Tussilago herba sine flore.’
‘Coltsfoot hath many white and long creeping roots, from which rise up naked stalkes about a spanne long, bearing at the top yellow floures; when the stalke and seede is perished there appeare springing out of the earth many broad leaves, green above, and next the ground of a white, hoarie, or grayish colour. Seldom, or never, shall you find leaves and floures at once, but the floures are past before the leaves come out of the ground, as may appear by the first picture, which setteth forth the naked stalkes and floures, and by the second, which porttraiteth the leaves only.’
Pliny and many of the older botanists thought that the Coltsfoot was without leaves, an error that is scarcely excusable, for, notwithstanding the fact that the flowers appear in a general way before the leaves, small leaves often begin to make their appearance before the flowering season is over.
Habitat and Cultivation
Coltsfoot, for all its beauty, tends to like rough places to hang out. Seek it in waste ground, building sites, roadsides, the edge of woods, remembering that it has a preference for heavy clay.
Coltsfoot grows abundantly throughout England, especially along the sides of railway banks and in waste places, on poor stiff soils, growing as well in wet ground as in dry situations. The plant is native to Europe, but also grows widely throughout the United States and Canada.
Coltsfoot is found in open, disturbed areas. It often grows in ditches, along roadsides, on forest edges and on steep slopes prone to landslides. It tolerates wet, poorly drained areas and riverbanks susceptible to spring flooding.
Coltsfoot is collected widely from wild plants in the Balkans, Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, the former Yugoslavia), and Italy.
After the leaves have died down, the shoot rests and produces in the following February a flowering stem, consisting of a single peduncle with numerous reddish bracts and whitish hairs and a terminal, composite yellow flower, whilst other shoots develop leaves, which appear only much later, after the flower stems in their turn have died down.
These two parts of the plant, both of which are used medicinally, are, therefore, collected separately and usually sold separately.
The flowers should be gathered before they have fully bloomed (end of late winter to mid-spring) and dried carefully in the shade. The leaves are best collected between late spring and early summer. They should be chopped up before they are dried and stored. The fresh leaves can be used until Fall.
Demulcent, expectorant and tonic. One of the most popular of cough remedies. The botanical name, Tussilago, signifies ‘cough dispeller,’ and Coltsfoot has justly been termed ‘nature’s best herb for the lungs and her most eminent thoracic.’
As part of its Latin name Tussilago implies, coltsfoot is reputed as an antitussive. The buds, flowers, and leaves of coltsfoot have been long used in traditional medicine for dry cough and throat irritation. The plant has found particular use in Chinese herbal medicine for the treatment of respiratory diseases, including cough, asthma, and acute and chronic bronchitis. Continue reading
- Scientific Name: Sambucus Nigra
- Plant Family: Caprifoliaceae
- Parts Used: Bark, Flowers, Berries, Leaves
- Actions: Vary based on what part of the plant is used
- Bark: Purgative, emetic, diuretic
- Leaves: Externally emollient and vulnerary, Internally as purgative, expectorant, diuretic and diaphoretic
- Flowers: Diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, pectoral
- Berries: Diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative
The elder tree grows in Britain and from Scandinavia to the coast of Africa, a twisted, shrubby tree, seldom more than 30 ft high and common in hedgerows and waste places. The strong smelling leaves are divided into broad leaflets, creamy flowers grow in sweetly scented clusters in midsummer and in the late summer black juicy berries ripen and fall.
Note: Do not confuse European Elder (Sambucus Nigra) with American Elder, Elderflower, or Dwarf Elder. There are other, similar elder species in Europe and North America but these have different properties. For a definitive list of the various elder species, and to verify that you are using Sambucus nigra (European or Black Elder) visit this link via wikipedia: Sambucus
Elder has a very long history of household use as a medicinal herb and is also much used by herbalists. The plant has been called “the medicine chest of country people.”
The bark and leaves of the elder have a violent purgative action when taken internally and are not safe. However, used externally, the juice of the leaves is cooling, soothing and healing and thus has been a common and efficient domestic remedy for several thousand years.
The inner bark is collected from young trees in the autumn and is best sun-dried. It is diuretic, a strong purgative and in large doses emetic. It is used in the treatment of constipation and arthritic conditions. An emollient ointment is made from the green inner bark. The pith of young stems is used in treating burns and scalds. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh inner bark of young branches. It relieves asthmatic symptoms and spurious croup in children.
The leaves are used primarily for bruises, sprains, wounds and chilblains. The leaves can be used both fresh or dry. The leaves are purgative, but are more nauseous than the bark. They are also diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant and haemostatic. The juice is said to be a good treatment for inflamed eyes. An ointment made from the leaves is emollient and is used in the treatment of bruises, sprains, chilblains, wounds etc. It has been reported that Elder Leaves may be useful in an ointment for tumors.
The flowers are the main part used in modern herbalism, Elder flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza. They are indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract such as hay fever and sinusitis. Catarrhal deafness responds well to Elder Flowers. The fresh flowers are used in the distillation of “Elder Flower Water”. The flowers can be preserved with salt to make them available for distillation later in the season. The water is mildly astringent and a gentle stimulant. It is mainly used as a vehicle for eye and skin lotions.
The dried flowers are diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, galactogogue and pectoral. An infusion is very effective in the treatment of chest complaints and is also used to bathe inflamed eyes. The infusion is also a very good spring tonic and blood cleanser. Externally, the flowers are used in poultices to ease pain and abate inflammation. Used as an ointment, it treats chilblains, burns, wounds, scalds etc.
Elder Berries have similar properties to the Flowers, with the addition of their usefulness in rheumatism. The fruit is depurative, weakly diaphoretic and gently laxative. A tea made from the dried berries is said to be a good remedy for colic and diarrhoea. The fruit is widely used for making wines, preserves etc., and these are said to retain the medicinal properties of the fruit.
The root is no longer used in herbal medicine but it formerly had a high reputation as an emetic and purgative that was very effective against dropsy.
Are Elderberries poisonous?
Most species of Sambucus berries are edible when picked ripe and then cooked. Both the skin and pulp can be eaten. However, it is important to note that most uncooked berries and other parts of plants from this genus are poisonous. Sambucus nigra is the variety of Elderberry that is most often used for health benefits as it is the only variety considered to be non-toxic even when not cooked, but it is still recommended to cook the berries at least a little to enhance their taste and digestibility. Continue reading
- Scientific Name: Althaea officinalis
- Plant Family: Malvaceae
- Parts Used: The whole plant – Leaves, root, flowers.
- Actions (root): Demulcent, Diuretic, Emollient, Vulnerary
- Actions (leaf): Demulcent, Expectorant, Diuretic, Emollient, Anti-Catarrhal, Pectoral
All mallows, including the garden hollyhock, contain quantities of mucilage and the marsh mallow is an especially soothing, healing herb, useful in treating bronchitis, internal inflammation and irritation, for stimulating the kidneys and as a gentle laxative. Tea made from the leaves makes a soothing eye bath.
The high mucilage content of Marsh Mallow makes it an excellent demulcent (relieves inflammation). The root is used primarily for digestive problems, inflammations of the digestive tract and on the skin. The leaf is used for the lungs and the urinary system. For bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs consider Marsh Mallow leaf. It is very soothing in urethritis and urinary gravel. Externally, the root is indicated in varicose veins and ulcers as well as abscesses and boils.
There are many species of mallow growing around the world, often used as food or medicine and possessing similar properties. The young leaves of all the European mallows can be eaten in salads, the older leaves in soups, the roots boiled or fried and the seeds, known as cheeses, chewed fresh. They are all wholesome and their flavor faint and delicate. Continue reading
- Scientific Name: Achillea millefolium
- Plant Family: Compositae
- Parts Used: The whole plant – stems, leaves, flowers, collected in the wild state, in August, when in flower.
- Actions: Diaphoretic, Hypotensive, Astringent, Diuretic, Antiseptic, Anticatarrhal, Emmenagogue, Hepatic, Stimulant, Tonic, Mild Aromatic
Yarrow is a wound herb, astringent and healing, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Bind bruised fresh leaves to cuts, or make an ointment by pounding the flowers and mixing with coconut oil, or bathe wounds with yarrow tea. The tea is also a good tonic drink, it restores lost appetite and promotes perspiration during colds and fevers. Chew fresh leaves to soothe toothache.
Yarrow also lowers blood pressure due to a dilation of the peripheral vessels. It stimulates the digestion and tones the blood vessels. As a urinary antiseptic it is indicated in infections such as cystitis. It is considered to be a specific in thrombotic conditions associated with high blood pressure.
The flowers are often steamed and inhaled to treat hay fever and asthma and in teas for respiratory problems, as a wash for eczema and other skin conditions; and in chest rubs for cold, flu, and inflamed joints. Continue reading