Better Living Through Nature – or – the Backyard Medicine Cabinet



Poison Ivy flower buds and emerging leaves – itchy now?

Seems as though our bird-friendly, great-fall-color, native vine Poison Ivy is out in full effect this summer. If you haven’t had this rash yet this season count yourself as one of the lucky few.


The Flower of Jewelweed

This spring New Moon Nursery co-owner Kim Brown got into some poison ivy,as happens nearly every year. This year Kim’s friend gave her some jewelweed soap and lotion she thought might help. She had just been roaming around outside and realized she just saw a patch of jewel weed. So, it occurred to her to just try the jewel weed. She had always heard it works well, so she gave it a shot. She put the entire jewelweed in the food processor, gave it a while and just rubbed it all over the rash. Wow! Kim says jewelweed worked better than any product she ever bought. Stopped the itch, prevented blistering, in ten days it was all but cleared up! The leftovers she simply froze in ice cube trays for later use.


Research shows the fleshy leaves of Jewelweed ground up and applied to the skin where there was poison ivy contact are likely to give some relief.

There is research out there showing the Kim wasn’t just experiencing some luck or coincidence. It has been shown, through replicated studies, the application of macerated portions of the entire Jewelweed Plant applied to areas of skin affected by Poison Ivy offers some relief and may shorten healing time. Research does seem to agree that extracts and soaps are not as effective as the mash of the entire plant.

While we do not sell either jewelweed or poison ivy, we do offer a number of native plants with medical properties. Of course, we should say here that each person reacts differently to plants and their products, so please be sure to be careful when experimenting with plants from the back yard to help heal various aches, pains, rashes and the like.

There are quite a few other plants that are considered medicinal. In fact, many of the common weeds we encounter in our lawns and landscapes started out their journeys as medicinal plants on the ships of colonists. Old familiars such as broadleaf plantain and dandelion began their stints here in the US as helpful plants long before they became considered the scourge of many a suburban homeowner.

In addition to the many non-native lawn weed we encounter, many of our native plants have medicinal qualities as well. Here are just some of the many herbaceous natives rumored to have medicinal properties.

Achillea millefoliumYarrow, is mentioned in nearly every text as a medical plant. Its uses seem unending. In Uses and Abuses of plant-Derived Smoke Its Ethnobotany, Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense and Medicine (Pennacchio, Jefferson and Havens, 2010)the authors describe how native americans burned the flowers as a fever reducer and burned other parts of the plant as a mosquito repellent and as a toothache reliever. According to the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy Medicinal Plant Garden Plant list, Yarrow is also said to have anti-inflammatory characteristics.

Achillea millefolium

Achillea millefolium

In Uses and Abuses… Fronds of Northern Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum, are reported to have been dried, powdered and then smoked for heart problems and asthma attacks.

IMG_0666 2

It will come as no surprise to most of you that Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower, has a long list of medical uses. It is probably our most well-known medical native plant. It even has its own television commercials!  In addition to the pill, capsule and liquid forms of the plant we know today, according to Uses and Abuses… native americans also smoked pieced of Purple Coneflower to relieve headaches.


Echinacea purpurea, good for people and good for bees.

Monarda fistulosa, Wild Bergamot, is another native with many uses. According the the Herb Society of America, this plant has been used for everything from antiseptics, pain relievers and gas preventative.


Parthenium integrifolium contains quinine, a known malaria treatment, and when the US was not able to get quinine during World War I, this native perennial proved a suitable substitute.


Finally, of course, some plants were smoked just for pleasure and that is medicinal in its own right, right? The flowers and leaves of Field Pussytoes, Antennaria neglectawere smoked by various native american tribes for just this reason.

Field Pussy Toes

American Painted Lady Caterpillar on Field Pussy Toes

Want more? Check out our first impression plant description, scroll down to the trivia at the bottom of the description and quite frequently, we describe the medicinal properties of our natives. Plants such as Agastache, MonardaCeanothus, and Asclepias all are known medicinal plants.

Ceanothus americanus 1

Ceonothus americanus, New Jersey Tea

Wondering if native medicinal plants are something you should consider including in your landscape designs? Check out this article by Todd Lynch for the Ecological Landscape Alliance.  Here Mr. Lynch reviews some other medicinal herbs, some great resources for more information – like the United Plant Savers and describes how great design and medical herbs can coexist in a landscape.

If you are local to New Jersey and interested in the healing power of plants you may want to check out Jared Rosenbaum and Rachel Mackow of Wild Ridge Plants. They offer numerous regional plant walks and educational programs throughout the season.



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