Camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, or engaging in other outdoor activities is a great opportunity to find the best medicinal plants you can use to improve your immunity, health, and well-being.
Not everything outdoors is toxic; some are very good for your health. Data from the U.S. Forestry Services indicates that we get about 40% of all our drugs from plants.
Before civilization, our ancestors used unique plants to cure diseases, heal wounds, and even ease troubled minds. Today, we will revisit their natural ways of keeping themselves healthy by looking at some of the medicinal plants you can find outdoors, their purposes, and how to use them.
1: Plantain (Commonly called The Medicine Leaf)
Plantain is the first pick because outdoor enthusiasts use it a lot.
For example, on one of my hiking trips, a bee stung me. I looked around, saw a plantain plant, bruised it to expose the juices, and then I applied it on the sting spot. In just a few minutes, the sting had gone away: no pain, swelling, or rashes. That’s how great they work.
Plantain is a perennial plant with large oval-shaped leaves and greenish flowers. They are native to Europe and some parts of Asia.
Research has shown that Plantain can take out the poison from a wound and neutralize it. If you make a poultice from it, you can use it to soothe and heal bites, stings, rashes, wounds—deep and shallow—scratches and crapes. When eaten, it can relieve stomach pain and minimize swelling and pain in joints.
Many people refer to Plantain as a “Medicine Leaf” because it can heal pretty much everything.
Scientific research shows that it can stop bleeding, quicken wound healing, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and block microbial growth. It soothes sore throat when taken with tea. It can also help you cough out congested chest or expectorate blocked airway. It eases diarrhea and hemorrhoids.
Additionally, research conducted by Electronic Physician revealed that Plantain seeds are a laxative. They can help loosen stool and increase bowel movements, thus treating or preventing stomach bloating, constipation, and other digestive issues. Another study found that it promoted the healing of stomach ulcers.
How to find Plantain Plant
Plantain plants are nature’s gift to us. These plants can grow and thrive anywhere, even where there is human disturbance. They are probably growing in your backyard right now, but you haven’t noticed or given it a thought.
You can find them along footpaths, roadsides, in a garden as weeds, riverbanks, on grassy fields, and even abandoned places like vacant lots or old buildings. You can’t miss them when outdoors!
These plants are plentiful because they produce an abundance of seeds. According to the Ohio State University Perennial and Biennial weed guide, one plant can produce up to 14,000 seeds a year, and each of these seeds will remain viable for over 60 years.
To spot Plantain, look for a green fibrous plant withs broad oval-shaped leaves with a diameter of 6-12 inches and a tall flower stalk of about 9 to 10 inches. The flowers are greenish, and within the flowers, there is a purple stamen.
When you try to pull the leaf from the stem, you will see sinewy strings still holding the leaf to the stem.
How To Use Plantain
If you have a sore throat, cough, cold or congested chest, brew tea with a Plantain leaf. Add sugar or honey to sweeten, then drink. Plantain soothes sore throats, clears out mucus, relieves cold, and decongests the chest.
If you have any digestive issues like stomach ache, constipation, or a bloated stomach, eat plantain seeds; they will help with bowel movement and act as laxatives.
If you have a cut, been stung by a bee/thorn, or bitten by an insect, crush the plantain leaf with your hands or chew it to make a poultice, apply it on the wounded area and cover for a couple of minutes, or cover with a bandage and let it stay a while.
If you want vitamins like Vitamins A, C, and E and minerals like calcium and magnesium, make a salad or a smoothie with plantain leaves.
When harvesting plantain leaves, be gentle. Pull the leaves slowly to avoid uprooting or interfering with the flowering part of the plant. Rinse well with clean water before use. The plant works best when used fresh.
2: Yarrow plant—The Feathery Herb
Yarrow is another useful and beneficial perennial herb. You know what they say, plants that grow on mountainsides and windswept sea cliffs produce the strongest and most useful medicine. Well, the yarrow plant is one such plant. It can grow almost anywhere. You will find it growing on rocky beaches, fields, sandy soils, yards, and also on alpine meadows.
The yarrow plant is one of the plants I would advise you to find when engaging in outdoor activities. Carry the seeds or a young bud and grow it on your homestead. It is handy and can do just about everything!
You can use Yarrow leaves and flowers to treat wounds—stings, scrapes, deep cuts, etc.—stop bleeding, including nose bleeds, reduce swelling and pain; the plant also has antimicrobial properties—kills bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.
When you take tea made with yarrow flowers, it opens up your capillaries, makes you sweat, and in the process, breaking your fever and quickening your recovery from viruses and other infections.
It helps with bladder infections, aids in digestion, normalizes your blood pressure, eases menstrual discomfort, and generally helps blood flow in your body easily.
Furthermore, if there is any congestion or stagnation in any part of your body, Yarrow will clear it out.
The uses of this plant are extensive. For centuries, humankind has used it to treat jaundice, hepatitis, and malaria. Many traditional medicine practitioners have prescribed Yarrow for headaches, influenza, cough, kidney stones, high blood pressure, gout, chickenpox, boils, psoriasis, hemorrhagic disorders, cystitis, diabetes mellitus, hemorrhoids, bleeding disorders, wounds and bruises, osteoarthritis, dyspepsia, eczema, and indigestion. That’s not all; there are still more studies done on the Yarrow plant.
How to identify The Yarrow plant
You will find Yarrow growing practically everywhere, except Antarctica. You can’t miss it outdoors. The plant likes meadows, dry soils, footpaths, mountainsides, sea cliffs – everywhere.
They are 1-3 ft. tall.
One feature that stands out is their feathery leaves arranged spirally on the stem.
They have a composite flower head, with 10 to 30 disc flowers and 3 to 8 ray flowers.
They have small achene-like fruits.
How to harvest
Every part of the Yarrow plant is beneficial and usable, from the flowers, leaves, and roots.
To know that the yarrow plant is ready for harvest, whether you plan on harvesting leaves or flowers, smell it for fragrance. Crush a leaf on your palm and smell it. If there is no fragrance, it isn’t ready for harvesting. The potency of a yarrow plant goes together with the fragrance. The heavier the fragrance, the higher the potency.
Harvest using pruning shears. Cut the stalk 5 cm from the ground. If you intend to harvest several stalks, gather like 10 (this is the maximum of stalks you should harvest from a single plant) in your palm and prune them together.
Another factor to note is that you should harvest when the dew has evaporated, somewhere during midday.
The flower is the most preferred part because it has high aromatic oils (also known as essential oils). Harvest it while it is fully open but not yet turned yellowish or brown.
Leaves are high in tannins. Tannins are biomolecules responsible for reducing blood pressure, modulating immune responses, accelerating the blood clotting process, etcetera.
The best time to harvest leaves is after a hot, dry spell, just before it blooms. This time is perfect for producing highly potent leaves. Avoid harvesting during heavy rains or cool weather; the leaves don’t have enough fragrance then. The root is best for toothaches. The best time to harvest them is during fall.
You can also dry your harvest for future use. Place your plant in the oven and turn the heat setting as low as it will go. Allow some time for all the moisture to dry out but be careful not to turn up the oven as you will cook or burn your plant. Put the dried Yarrow in a container and store it in a cool, dry, dark place.
How to use Yarrow
You can use Yarrow as:
Make a powder
You can make a powder for your cut or wound. Take your dried leaves and place them in a blender or grinder until they form a powder.
Brew Yarrow tea
Yarrow tea is good for relieving headaches, nausea, and fever. Use 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped flowers for 1 cup of boiling water. If using dried flowers, take 1 teaspoon with 1 cup of boiling water. Steep the tea for 15 minutes to extract the yarrow healing compounds, strain, and sugar or honey to taste.
Mix with alcohol to make a tincture
Use alcohol with 80 proof strength or higher, i.e., 40% alcohol or higher. Mix 147 ml (5 ounces) of alcohol with 28 grams (1 ounce) of dried Yarrow, cover, and let it sit for 6 to 8 weeks in a dark bottle or a dark place. Strain and use.
You can use the Yarrow tincture to stop bleeding, wash wounds and cuts, kill bacteria, and reduce fever.
Yarrow bath relieves menstrual or postpartum (after childbirth) pains. Put the Yarrow plant in a muslin bag (or cotton bag), add in other herbs like chamomile, calendula, witch hazel, plantain leaf, lavender blossoms, and sea salt, and ran a hot bath with the bag of herbs.
All the herbs should be of the same amount; for example, you can use 5 ounces of each herb. Stay in the bathtub for 20 minutes.
3: Wild Berries
Now onto a “superfood.”
Blackberry isn’t just famous for its outstanding nutritional value but also its medicinal value. You will get a ton of health benefits from consuming berry leaves or fruits, which encompasses all the common berry species, including raspberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, bilberry, cranberry, blueberry, and lingonberry. All these species contain high amounts of a substance called “phenol.”
This substance is responsible for the health benefits you get from berries, including, according to research, preventing cardiovascular diseases and inflammation disorders, lowering cancer risk, improving brain function, and many other health benefits.
Here are some of the reasons why you should never fail to pick up some wild berries when outdoors:
- They have high antioxidants levels: The chemical reactions in our cells produce dangerous compounds known as free radicals. These substances are useful to us in small amounts, but sometimes the body produces too many free radicals, causing oxidative stress on our cells. Research has shown that the antioxidants in berries neutralize these antioxidants. Blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries have the highest antioxidant activity.
- They help with insulin response, thus improving your blood sugar levels: Wild berries can help normalize blood sugar levels. They do that by increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin and insulin response to sugar-producing foods like high carbohydrate meals, smoothies, etc. Therefore, berries can protect you against diabetes.
- They help fight inflammation: Inflammation is your body’s reaction to injury or infection. It is a form of defense against anything that can harm you. However, sometimes this process can last for a long time and sort of “overreact,” causing prolonged swelling, pain for a long time, fever, and overproduction of fighter cells like white blood cells and platelets. That usually happens when you are suffering from stress, getting inadequate exercise, or eating junk food. That can cause conditions like heart diseases, diabetes, and obesity. The antioxidants in wild berries can help your body fight against inflammation.
- They protect you against cancer: The antioxidants in berries can protect you from mouth, esophagus, colon, and breast cancer.
The above three medicinal plants are all you need for any health-related issues you may have or wish to prevent while in the great. The best part about them is that nature is giving it to you freely. When you’re outdoors, look out for the above medicinal plants and carry as much as possible to your home and grow them in your backyard.