In the Weeds: Plantain (nope, the other one)

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become better acquainted with one of our quiet but powerful neighbors.

We all know that plantains are the world’s best starch, but did you know that plantain (Plantago spp.) is just as wonderful?

plantainplantain

Plantain has been in North America since Europeans invaded in the 15th century. Now, thanks to its invasive and stubborn nature, it lives almost everywhere where humans do. Plantain’s tiny seeds – over 20,000 growing on each plant – hitched a ride across the continent on European’s boots, leading members of Algonquian nations to call it “White Mans Foot” or “English Man’s Foot.” Perhaps this – or the shape of the leaf – is what gave rise to the scientific name, Plantago.

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Making Tinctures and Liniments With the Weight to Volume Method

Tinctures or liniments are medicines made by extracting the constituents of plants in a liquid. While they’re made using the same process, they’re used differently. Tinctures are taken internally, liniments are applied externally. Extractions of some plants can be used as both tinctures and liniments. For example, yarrow is used as a tincture to reduce a fever and as a liniment to cleanse wounds and stop bleeding. Tinctures and liniments are particularly beneficial in the winter because they preserve plants’ medicinal properties long after the growing season is over.

If you’ve ever cooked with vanilla or had a cocktail with bitters, you’ve used a tincture. Some tinctures don’t taste so great. Motherwort tincture is almost unbearably bitter. However, this is precisely why we make these plants into tinctures. Can you imagine having to sip a cup of bitter tea?

Tinctures and liniments have two main components: the marc and the menstruum. The marc is the plant material and the menstruum is the liquid that dissolves the plant constituents.


The weight to volume method sounds a little finicky at first, but is easy to master. I like this method because it lets people know exactly what they’re getting, dosage-wise, and can be remade over and over again.

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Easy, Wheezy! Decongestant Salve

Even though it’s officially spring, both the weather and my lungs are holding on tight to winter. It’s all kinds of rainy and cold outside, and I can’t quite shake the stuffy nose I picked up last week.

Easy, Wheezy! Decongestant Salve - MamootDIY.com

I whipped up a little homemade VapoRub (Viva Peru!) to get me through the next few days of this cold, and – BONUS – to help me take on the spring allergies I know are coming as soon as everything starts blooming.

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Sore Muscle Salve

Last February — fed up with the stress and meanness of law school — I started playing capoeira as a way to work out all my negative energy.

Now, seven months later, I’m hooked and am helping my group plan for our annual batizado. We’re flying in mestres and profesors from all over, hiring samba teachers, and trying to convince our friends and family to come watch the event. Everyone in my small but mighty little group is doing our part to raise money so, naturally, I decided to whip up something crafty and sell it at the event.

Chilly Pepper Salve - Mamoot

I’ve been wanting to play with cayenne pepper for a long time, but hadn’t gotten around to it between making wintery salves for runny noses and summery bug sprays. But now I’ve got dozens of capoeristas to appeal to and it seems like the perfect time to tackle the pain-relieving powers of cayenne.

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Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been taking herbalism classes at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative’s urban farm in Washington, D.C. I got to talk to other plant nerds, ate all kinds of weeds, and learned LOADS. I loved it so much that I’m already planning to sneak back down to D.C. in October to get my season’s worth of herbal info in the autumn classes.

Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

This one is fennel. You might have eaten it as a spice or had the bulb as a vegetable. It’s a member of the carrot family and can help stimulate the production of breast milk. Fascinating, right?

Since it’s summer (and, as everyone in New York reminded me before I can here: summers in D.C. are brutal. (although I hate to burst your collective bubbles, NYC people, but here in D.C. we have air conditioning and trees and sky which makes summertime nine-hundred percent more bearable)), we talked about and touched and smelled and ate cooling herbs – the little guys that help with heat-related ailments like sunburn, bug bites, agitation, nerves, and insomnia. The classes were taught by Holly Poole-Kavana, an herbalist who, in my book, is the perfect balance of woo and evidence-based practices.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It's got little pods that look (but don't taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It's related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It’s got little pods that look (but don’t taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It’s related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

How much is there really to say about plants? Ohmylord, SO MUCH. I took notes and I know that I still missed gobs. Here are my six favorite things that I learned.

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Materia Medica: Calendula

Background

Names
  • Botanical Name: Calendula officinalis
  • Other Names: Bullseye, garden marigold, genda, gold-bloom, holligold, marigold, pot marigold, marybud, zergul
  • Etymology: The name “calendula” comes from the plant’s tendency to bloom along with the calendar, typically flowering at the same time in the moon’s cycle. The name “pot marigold” comes from calendula’s use in German stews.il_570xN.266567222
Growth
  • Appearance: Calendula flowers range from yellow to orange. The blooms resemble highly-colored daisies. The stems grow from 30-60 cm (12″-24″). The flowers open in the morning and close at night.
  • Cultivation: Native to the Mediterranean, calendula grows in its natural habitat nearly year-round. An annual, calendula seeds can be sown directly in the garden in April or even in the fall in warmer climates. Although calendula prefers sunshine, rich soil, and occasional watering, it still grows well when neglected. Don’t be afraid to pick the flowers; the more you take, the more calendula gives. Flowers are ready to pick when they are sticky with anti-fungal resin.
  • Parts used: Flower
History
  • Greek and Roman: Romans and Greeks used Calendula garlands in ceremonies.
  • Catholic: Some Catholics call the plant “Mary’s Gold” and use it in ceremonies to honor the virgin
  • Hinduism: Calendula has been used as decorating for Hindu temples, statues and ceremonies
  • Dye: Much cheaper than saffron, calendula is used as a dye for food and fabric
  • Battlefield: Calendula was used to stop bleeding and heal wounds during the American Civil War and World War I
  • Traditional uses: Dye, cuts and wounds, digestive system
  • Symbolism: Endurance, grief, pain, Virgin MaryB1hHA6rCMAAfVsn

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Medicinal and Practical Uses

*I write about uses for plants as a novice herbalist, not a doctor or scientist; this isn’t medical advice. If you want to use plant-based remedies, find a doctor you trust and respect who also trusts and respects you so that you can work together to make sure you’re the healthiest version of you.

  • Safety: Generally considered safe but may cause an allergic reaction in some individuals who are allergic to daisies, mums, ragweed, or asters. Calendula should not be taken by people who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  • Primary actions (Secondary actions): aromatic, mild astringent,diaphoretic, mucilaginous, (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-pyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, febrifuge, lymphatic, vulnerary)
  • Characteristics: dry, cool
  • Constituents: calendulin, beta-carotene9d0e69de968f774cf66af2f85a18fe04
Circulation
  • Bleeding: Calendula applied locally can help stop small cuts from bleeding.
Digestion
  • Indigestion: When consumed, calendula can sooth digestive issues such as cramps and diarrhea3-drying
Immune system
  • Wounds: Calendula promotes cell growth and keeps infection at bay, which can help wounds heal faster.
  • Fever: Calendula can be drank or used externally as a poultice to keep fevers down.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Along with exercise, consuming calendula can stimulate the lymph nodes and remove congestion.
  • Ear infections: Calendula drops have been used to treat child ear infections.
  • Canker sores: A strong calendula tea used as a mouth wash can speed the healing or canker sores.
Mind/Body
  • Itch: Calendula soothes itch associated with skin irritations.heal-all-salve-with-calendula
Skin and Hair
  • Burns: Calendula salve can help sooth minor cooking burns and sunburns.
  • Skin Irritation: Whether eczema, diaper rash, or a rash, calendula helps sooth itching and pain while promoting healing.
  • Insect bites and stings: Calendula salve or fresh calendula rubbed on the affected area soothes bee and wasp stings as well as mosquito bites.

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Cooking

  • Calendula used to be used to color cheese and butter
  • Calendula is drank as a tea for flavor as well as its medicinal qualities
  • Calendula flowers can be eaten fresh in salads9241158_f520

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Sources

Materia Medica: Burdock

Background

Names
  • Botanical Name: Arctium lappa
  • Other Names: Arctium (from Greek arktos, bear), Bardana (Portuguese and Spanish), Beggar’s buttons,  Clot-bur (bur comes from Latin, burra, a sheep’s wool, which refers to how sheep’s wool became entangled as sheep passed by the plant), Cockleburr, Cockle buttons, Fox’s clote, Gobo (Japanese), Happy major, Hardock, Hareburr, Lappa (from Greek lappa, to seize, Celtic llap, hand), Love leaves, Orelha-de-gigante (refers to how to leaves look like giant ears), Niu Bang Zi (Chinese), Personata, Philanthropium, Poor man’s potatoes, Thorny burr

Burdock, Lesser. (Arctium minus) Grace Road Sapcote SP 4915 9359 (taken 5.7.2006)

Growth
  • Appearance: Burdock is a large plant with gigantic leaves that can grow up to a yard long. The leaves are soft underneath and are oval- or heart-shaped. The plant flowers through the summer and the prickly seed pods mature in the fall.
  • Cultivation: Burdock is considered by many to be a weed and is harder to stop growing than grow. You name it, burdock can grow in it: poor soil, rich soil, hot weather, cold weather, drought, flood. To keep burdock from spreading, cut off the seed pods before they ripen in the fall. Burdock roots and leaves should be dug in July.
  • Parts used: Leaves, root

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History
  • Innovation: Burdock’s prickly burrs were the inspiration for velcro. After the inventor came home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he wondered how all the burrs managed to stick to his pants and went to his microscope to investigate.
  • Traditional uses: Both traditional Chinese medicine and European medicine have used it as a blood purifier

velcro

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Medicinal and Practical Uses

*I write about uses for plants as a novice herbalist, not a doctor or scientist; this isn’t medical advice. If you want to use plant-based remedies, find a doctor you trust and respect who also trusts and respects you so that you can work together to make sure you’re the healthiest version of you.

  • Safety: Contact with the green, above-ground potion may cause contact dermatitis
  • Characteristics: Cool, permanent
  • Primary actions (Secondary actions): Alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, tonic, (anti-inflammatory, nutritive)
  • Constituents: Inulin
Circulation
  • Wound healing: Applying a poultice of burdock leaves to bruises and wounds may help speed healing.
Digestion
  • Indigestion relief: Burdock root can be used to help with “hot” conditions like indigestion.
  • Diuretic: Burdock is a diuretic; it rids the body of excess water by increasing urine.
Immune system
  • Lymph nodes: Drinking burdock root tea can calm swollen lymph nodes.
Skin and Hair
  • Rash relief: Burdock can be used internally and externally to treat eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and other skin conditions. It’s anti-inflammatory properties ease itching while it’s other properties speed healing. Burdock root can be taken as a tea or applied topically as a salve.
  • Acne: Burdock leaves can help with acne when applied as a poultice or drank as a tea.

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Cooking

  • Vegetable: The taproot is used as a root vegetable in many Asian cuisines
  • Tea: Dandelion and Burdock is a British soft drink that has been around since the Middle Ages
  • Beer: Burdock was used by European brewers before hops became popular

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Sources