There is a lot of Yin and Yang in nature, especially it seems where plants are concerned. One plant gives you a belly ache if you eat it, the other helps sooth your belly ache. One mushroom can kill you; another can heal you. One plant gives you skin irritation, another soothes and cures it. Nature can be cruel, but also very, very kind. Finding and working with this balance is a worthy endeavor that we seemed to have lost. Sadly, we now almost solely rely on pills for our ills. The good news is we can change that! In the next series of blogs, I will cover some commonly found plants and talk about how we can use them for what ails us. We will start with something that most folks experience plenty in the good Ol’ summertime…bug bites, stings and skin rashes. At the end of the blog is the recipe for my ‘Itch Re-Leaf Tincture’.
Skin irritation can come in many forms including, spider bites, chigger bites, bee stings, poison ivy, embedded prickers and even scratches from that last blackberry picking forage. The first step with all of these things is PREVENTION.
If you know what to look for, and how to react, you can avoid many of these irritants. If you know you are going to be foraging through dark places, like wood piles, or heavy overgrowth where bugs, spiders and poison ivy may be lurking…
We are going to concentrate on three different ‘weeds’ that are pretty easy to find in most areas. Curly Dock, Plantain and Jewel Weed. Let’s start with Curly Dock. Curly Dock has large leaves with a slight wave or curl on the edges of the leaves. The leaves are pretty big with a heavy feel that reminds me of collard greens. The large leaves fan out close to the ground.
When it flowers it sends a tall spike up through the center, with flowers and seeds dangling off the top. These grow like mad in our pastures and in my garden. Their roots are fairly deep with several good sized spikes that go both straight down and off to the side making it a challenge to uproot.
Curly Dock has anti-fungal properties and helps sooth the pain from bee stings and bug bites. You can make a poultice to place over the sting or irritated skin. A poultice made from the leaves will help neutralize fire aunt stings. (Poultice = mushed up or chewed up leaves or roots). The more you crush the more you will extract the oils and the more effective your poultice will be. Leave the poultice on the irritation for about 30 minutes, applying with a band-aid, or piece of cotton wrap to hold it in place. Replace the poultice with fresh as needed.
Using the roots to make a poultice – The Native Americans used curly dock for a number of medicinal purposes. A poultice of mashed roots was applied to cuts, sores, and used to alleviate itching and rheumatism. You can also make the tincture recipe near the bottom of this page, using both the roots and leaves, so you always have some on hand or in your doc kit.
While our main discussion today is on skin irritants, it is interesting to know that curly dock has been used for other medicinal purposes since BC. A poultice from the roots has been used for iron-deficiency anemia, blood purifying and liver decongestant. A tea from the roots remedies constipation, upset stomachs and abdominal cramps. The seeds of curly dock were once roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Curly Dock is editable and is a great source of vitamin A and fiber. The leaves, stalk, and the seeds are all edible. The leaves can be eaten raw in salads (wash well first, as the young leaves sport a chemical that may numb your tongue). Also, great sautéed or used in a soup.
This plant likes to grow in open areas, especially near water. We have a patch of it that grows in one of our pastures near a little stream. It has come back there every year for as long as I can recall (Jewel weed is an annual). They sometimes refer to this weed as “touch-me-not” because when you touch the seed pods, they ‘explode’ spreading the seeds all about. The stems have a slimy gel like substance in them that is used medicinally as an antifungal and antimicrobial healing aid for poison ivy, bug bits (including chiggers), fire aunt bites, dermatitis, bee stings and can even help heal minor burns, joint pain, inflammation from bruises, and even athlete’s foot.
One should always test a small area before applying this gel on the skin, as some folks respond with a slight burning sensation. A sure way to identify Jewel weed if it is not flowering yet is to take a leaf and dip it under water. The tiny hairs on the leaf collect air bubbles making the leaf appear as if you put silver foil on it. Also, parts of the stems have a ruby color to them. To prepare Jewel Weed for use, you can make a simple poultice for immediate use by crushing the stems and leaves, or you can add it to my Itch ‘Re-leaf’ Tincture (recipe below). Some folks make a salve out of it, but there are arguments as to whether you lose the potency due to the heat required to make a salve. I use the tincture and always have dried or powdered leaves on hand to make a restock of the tincture anytime needed.
You can also use the leaves as a bath soak if you really got yourself into a patch of poison ivy, or sumac. I like to use dried leaves for this and let them rehydrate as I soak in the tub with them. You can also use my ‘Itch Re-Leaf Tincture’ as a bug bite preventative. Its not pretty going on, but it works. Jewel weed is also editable. You can eat all parts of the plant above ground (not roots). It is recommended that you boil the leaves before eating as they contain a compound that may not sit well with you. Boiling the leaves or stems first, removes this compound.
Last but not least, we have Plantain. Plantain can grow just about anywhere. It likes full sun to partial shade and will grow in sidewalk cracks, gravel driveways and even in hard, well tread ground. You usually don’t have to look far before you find a patch of Plantain. The Native Americans referred to this weed as ‘white man’s footprint’ because the seeds would spread when stuck to their shoes, wagon wheels or horse hooves as the settlers headed west.
Plantain has an immediate cooling effect when applied to the skin. A fresh Plantain poultice applied to a burn, rash or sting helps pull out the heat as it also heals, giving an immediate feeling of relief. Plantain has been known to even counteract the venom of spider bites. It has the ability to ‘draw’ things out, making it perfect for treating splinters and boils. It is also antimicrobial, helping to prevent infections in wounds.
Plantain, like the other two weeds we discussed is not only editable but great for many things that may ail you. The leaves can be dried and made into a tea, that not only can be used to sooth a hacking cough, it can also be used to heal the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Helping to heal and sooth inflammatory bowel diseases, leaky gut and even ulcers. The tea may also help with canker sores and acid reflux. The seeds of the plantain are high in fiber and can help keep you ‘regular’ as we like to say. It is also said that if you eat a few seeds every day, it helps keep the mosquitoes away. I have not tried this one yet.
Some great ways to be sure you found Plantain and not something else. Take one of the leaves (they have thick veins that spread out from the stem, very visible on the bottom side of the leaves). If you pull apart the leaf from the stem you should see strings sticking out. These strands are very sturdy and if you pull with a steady pressure, you can pull it out like a tread. The plantain’s leaves are low growing, and the flowers and seeds grow up straight out of the center reaching about a foot in height at maturity. If you are harvesting for food, pick the younger leaves, but use the brown, more dried seeds. You can use any part of the leaves to make a successful poultice or tincture. If you get bit by something, look around for this plant, grab a handful of leaves and chew them up to make a quick ‘spit poultice’ for immediate relief!
ITCH RE-LEAF TINCTURE
~8 leaves from a Plantain plant
~4 leaves from a Curly Dock plant
~1 root from a Curly Dock plant (washed and cut up into small pieces)
~1 full plant, including leaves, stem and flowers (not roots) from a Jewel Weed plant
~1 Cup of Witch Hazel (more as needed)
Ok, I know, it looks just like alpaca spit!
Directions: You can pre chop the leaves and stems if you like first, but if you add enough witch hazel it tends to pulverize without much prep work. Load your chopper with leaves and coat with witch hazel and pulse until you have a puree. Do this in batches, until you have it all pureed. Place the mix in a tall canning jar, add the remaining witch hazel and let the mixture soak overnight. You may need to add more witch hazel if it looks to dry. Strain the mixture the next morning. You can save the dry bits to use as a pre-made poultice (keeps for about a week in the fridge). The liquid can be saved in a jar and sponged on with cotton swab as needed. I usually make a fresh batch once a month during the summer. I always have some dehydrated leaves and root powder on hand to make more anytime of year. Spiders can sneak up on you anytime!
One last note on things that can be irritating. The more I have learned about the natural medicinal options that seem so readily available to us (much of which is right in our own back yards), the more discouraged I have become by our government endorsed healthcare, as they seem to do everything they can to discourage and hide these remedies from us. I started to take a deeper dive into why that is, and when it all changed, and I will admit I was not prepared for what I found while going down this rabbit hole. As you may suspect, the bad and good changes or discoveries made in modern medicine are all made with one driving force in mind and it has nothing to do with your good health. ALL of the decisions made by our modern medical associations, pharmacies, and government agencies are made with one objective…. TO MAKE MONEY! If you want a better understanding of how this happened after Rockefeller started the American Medical Association, read on. Rockefeller teamed up with Andrew Carnegie and started funding medical schools all over America on the strict condition that they only taught allopathic medicine. Through the power of their huge “grants”, this powerful team systematically dismantled the previous curricula of these medical schools, removing any mention of the healing power of herbs or natural treatments. Teachings on diet and other natural (non-drug) treatments were also completely removed from medical programs. With this in place, they could push for man-made, patented drugs and make a huge profit. For further reading about this, click here.
After you read the information on this link, and you have a better understanding of how we got to the point in modern medicine, where every other commercial on TV is a drug ad and how, when you go visit a doctor all they do is try to suppress your symptoms with drugs, rather than find a cure. It’s not because they hate you or they are bad doctors, it’s because that is what they are being taught in medical school. If they step out of the box put in place by the AMA, FDA, the big hospital admin, then they can lose their jobs and even sometimes their medical license. I guess the big take away from this is to QUESTION everything. Trust your gut, and always do a little of your own research. There are so many wonderful things to discover about our world that got lost in the scramble for bigger and better. One little step and one discovery at a time, can make a big difference.
Next blog… more fun medicinal, editable and DYEABLE plants we can find in our back yard or are easy to grow in a small garden.
RESOURCES (I do not receive any monetary gifts from the people of business referenced below or above. I just want to give credit where credit is due and share with you the books and links that I enjoy and appreciate). Please shop locally when you can and always support small businesses over big box stores!
Secrets of the Forest, Volume 1, The Magic and Mystery of Plants and The Lore of Survival by Mark Warren.
Wild Remedies, How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine by Rosalee De La Foret and Emily Han
Southeast Foraging by Chris Bennet
The Forager’s Harvest by Samual Thayer