Nature’s Most Powerful Medicinal Plants

From marijuana to catnip, there are hundreds of remarkably common herbs, flowers, berries and plants that serve all kinds of important medicinal and health purposes that might surprise you: anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, insect repellent, antiseptic, expectorant, antibacterial, detoxification, fever reduction, antihistamine and pain relief. Here are eighteen potent medical plants you’re likely to find in the wild – or even someone’s backyard – that can help with minor injuries, scrapes, bites and pains.


Cannabis, also known as marijuana, and by numerous other names, is a preparation of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug and as medicine.

Seriously. Though marijuana is still illegal in the United States, it is legal in 12 states for medicinal purposes, and if a case of poison ivy in the woods isn’t a medicinal purpose, what is? Marijuana was *mostly* legal until 1970 when it became classified as a hard drug. No one thought of it as a dangerous or illicit drug until the 20th century; in fact, hemp was George Washington’s primary crop and Thomas Jefferson’s secondary crop. The Declaration of Independence is written on it; the Gutenberg Bible was printed on hemp, too. There’s actually an environmental dimension to legalizing marijuana – hemp is a remarkable and renewable plant, offering all kinds of foodstuff and product uses that surpass cotton and plastic. But health benefits are well documented, from depression and anxiety relief to reduced blood pressure, pain alleviation and glaucoma treatment. It is not addictive, does not kill brain cells and is not a “gateway” drug – in fact, when pot is more available, studies show that the use of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine actually decreases. The bottom line for hikers: when your leg is broken from a misjudged boulder hopping attempt (pain) and a bear has eaten your friend (depression) and you’re lost because you forgot the compass (dumbass), consult the cannabis.

Lady Ferns

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern or common lady-fern) is a large, feathery species of fern native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere, where it is often abundant (one of the more common ferns) in damp, shady woodland environments and is often grown for decoration.

Athyrium filix-femina is now commonly split into two species, A. angustum (narrow lady fern) and A. asplenioides (southern lady fern). The southern lady fern has a broader frond, especially at the base.

Both species are cespitose (the fronds arising from a central point as a clump rather than along a rhizome). The deciduous fronds are light yellow-green, 20-90 cm long and 5-25 cm broad. Sori appear as dots on the underside of the frond, 1-6 per pinnule. They are covered by a prominently whitish to brown reniform (kidney-shaped) indusium. Fronds are very dissected, being 3-pinnate. The stripe may bear long, pale brown, papery scales at the base. The spores are yellow on A. angustum and dark brown on A. asplenioides.

The rhizomes and young fronds are poisonous when raw, but edible after cooking

Athyrium filix-femina unrolling young frond

Common Names: Northern Lady Fern
Genus: Athyrium
Species: felix-femina
Parts Used: the leaves are used for decoration

If you grew up in the Pacific Northwest you likely know what ferns are good for: treating stinging nettles. One of the world’s oldest plants, there are many varieties of ferns, but if you’re lucky enough to spy the soft, delicate lady fern, grab some and roll it up between your palms into a rough mash. The juices released will quickly ease stinging nettle burns and can also ease minor cuts, stings and burns (fresh salt water also works in a pinch for bee stings). Bracken fern are similar to lady fern and will work, as well. The rougher, glossier, stiff sword fern and deer fern won’t be as effective, though. Lady ferns actually grow all over North America but are common in areas with high rainfall.

California Poppy

Eschscholzia californica (California poppy, golden poppy, California sunlight, cup of gold) is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae, native to the United States and Mexico, and the official state flower of California.


Leaves are deeply cut, glabrous and glaucous, mostly basal, though a few grow on the stem.

Flowers have four yellow or orange petals, and grow at the end of the stem, either alone or in many-flowered cymes. The petals are wedge-shaped, forming a funnel. The two fused sepals fall off as the flower bud opens. There are 12 to numerous stamens. The flowers close in cloudy weather.

Seeds are tiny and black, held in long pointed pods that split open when ripe.

The taproot gives off a colorless or orange clear juice which is mildly toxic.

The brilliant blooms of the poppy make this opioid plant an iconic one. The plant is an effective nervine (anxiety reliever) and is safe for use on agitated children. Can be made into a a tea for quick relief of nervousness and tension. A stronger decoction will offer pain relief. (A decoction is made by “stewing” all safe plant parts, including stems and roots if possible, in water for several hours and, ideally, soaking overnight.)

Blood Flower

Asclepias curassavica, commonly called Mexican Butterfly Weed, Blood-flower, Scarlet Milkweed or, Tropical Milkweed, is a species of flowering plant in the milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae. It is native to the American tropics.

It has a pantropical distribution as an introduced species. It is grown as an ornamental garden plant and as a source of food for butterflies.


Typical plants are evergreen perennial subshrubs that grow up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall and have pale gray stems. The leaves are arranged oppositely on the stems and are lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate shaped ending in acuminate or acute tips. Like other members of the genus, the sap is milky. The flowers are in cymes with 10-20 flowers each. They have purple or red corollas and corona lobes that are yellow or orange. Flowering occurs nearly year round. The 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) long, fusiform shaped fruits are called follicles. The follicles contain tan to brown seeds that are ovate in shape and 6–7 mm (0.24–0.28 in) long. The flat seeds have silky hairs that allow the seeds to float on air currents when the pod-like follicles dehisce (split open)

Flower closeup


Seed with parachute

Monarch caterpillars feeding on Milkweed.

The blood flower (also Mexican butterfly weed) is a type of tropical milkweed with toxic milky sap that is emetic (it makes you hurl). It’s also historically favored as a heart stimulant and worm expellent. Pretty useful for a number of potential hiking disasters, if you think about it. (Of course, if you’d quit eating those poisonous berries you probably wouldn’t need to worry about finding a natural expectorant.)


Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family, native to temperate Europe and Asia. It has been introduced to other parts of the world and in some areas has become invasive. It is also known as Common Tansy, Bitter Buttons,Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons.


Tansy is a flowering herbaceous plant with finely divided compound leaves and yellow, button-like flowers. It has a stout, somewhat reddish, erect stem, usually smooth, 50–150 cm tall, and branching near the top. The leaves are alternate, 10–15 cm long and are pinnately lobed, divided almost to the center into about seven pairs of segments, or lobes, which are again divided into smaller lobes having saw-toothed edges, giving the leaf a somewhat fernlike appearance. The roundish, flat-topped, button-like, yellow flower heads are produced in terminal clusters from mid-to-late summer. The scent is similar to that ofcamphor with hints of rosemary. The leaves and flowers are toxic if consumed in large quantities; the volatile oil contains toxic compounds including thujone, which can cause convulsions and liver and brain damage. Some insects, notably the tansy beetle Chrysolina graminis, have resistance to the toxins and subsist almost exclusively on the plant.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Asterids
  • Order:Asterales
  • Family:Asteraceae
  • Genus:Tanacetum
  • Species:T. vulgare
  • Binomial name: Tanacetum vulgar

If you’ve decided to backpack through Europe instead of the mountains of Mexico,  you’ll want to know about a few helpful medicinal plants. Tansy is an old-world aster and remedy, used for flavoring beer and stews as well as repelling insects. Rubbing the leaves on the skin provides an effective bug repellent, but tansy can also be used to treat worms. It is said to be poisonous when extracted, but a few leaves are not harmful if ingested.

Korean Mint (hyssop)

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Asterids
  • Order:Lamiales
  • Family:Lamiaceae
  • Genus:Agastache
  • Species:A. rugosa
  • Binomial name: Agastache rugosa

Who doesn’t want to be minty fresh? Most of the various types of “mint” or mentha – spearmint, Korean mint, applemint, regular old mint – offer reported health benefits and medicinal properties. (Avoid pennyroyal, as it’s poisonous.) Mint is famous for soothing headaches, fighting nausea, calming the stomach and reducing nervousness and fatigue. Korean mint, also called Indian mint and hyssop, is a fairly effective antiviral, making it useful for fighting colds and the flu. Whatever continent you’re on, some type of mint is usually to be found. Eat whole, garnish food or make tea to get the all purpose health benefits.


Alfalfa /ælˈfælfə/, Medicago sativa, also called lucerne, is a perennial flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world. The English name alfalfa is widely used, particularly in North America. But in the UK,[3] Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, the more commonly used name is lucerne. It superficially resembles clover, with clusters of small purple flowers followed by fruits spiralled in 2 to 3 turns containing 10-20 seeds. Alfalfa is native to a warmer temperate climate such as that of Iran (where it is thought to have originated). It has been cultivated as livestock fodder since at least the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Rosids
  • Order:Fabales
  • Family:Fabaceae
  • Genus:Medicago
  • Species:M. sativa
  • Binomial name: Medicago sativa

Nutritional value  

Alfalfa is high in protein, calcium and other minerals, vitamins in the B group, vitamin C,vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. The sun-dried hay of alfalfa has been found to be a source of vitamin D, containing 48 ng/g (1920 IU/kg) vitamin D2 and 0.63 ng/g (25 IU/kg) vitamin D3. There is reference to vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 being found in the alfalfa shoot; this is awaiting verification. Mushrooms are not allowed in Jain vegetarianism, making alfalfa the only known source Jains can use to make vitamin D2 supplements.

Alfalfa is fodder for livestock for a reason: it’s incredibly rich in minerals and health-promoting nutrients and compounds. With roots that grow 20 to 30 feet deep, alfalfa is considered the “father of all plants”. (It also contains a high amount of protein for a green.) Alfalfa originally grew in the Mediterranean and Middle East but has now spread to most of Europe and the Americans. It can treat morning sickness, nausea, kidney stones, kidney pain and urinary discomfort. It is a powerful diuretic and has a bit of stimulant power, helping to energize after a bout with illness. It’s a liver and bowel cleanser and long-term can help reduce cholesterol. You can purchase seeds and sprouts, but it’s fine to eat the leaves straight from the earth.


Nepeta cataria, commonly known as catnip, catswort, or catmint, is a species of the genus Nepeta in the Lamiaceae family, native to Europe and southwestern to central Asia, and is widely naturalized elsewhere.The common name catmint can also refer to the genus as a whole.


Nepeta cataria is a short lived herbaceous perennial, growing 21–40 inches (530–1,000 mm) tall and wide. It resembles a typical mint family member in appearance by having the characteristic square stem that members of the Lamiaceae plant family have, but with Brown-green foliage. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to ovate.

The small two-lipped bilabiate flowers can be white and finely spotted with pale purple or pink. They are showy and fragrant. The plant blooms from late spring through autumn

The cannabis of the cat kingdom. Famous for making cats deliriously crazy, catnip has health properties that are great for humans, too. Catnip can relieve cold symptoms (helpful if you’re on a camping trip and don’t have access to Nyquil). It’s useful in breaking a fever as it promotes sweating. Catnip also helps stop excessive bleeding and swelling when applied rather than ingested. This mint plant (yep, another one) is also reportedly helpful in treating gas, stomach aches, and migraines. Catnip can stimulate uterine contractions, so it should not be consumed by pregnant women. It grows in the Northern Hemisphere.


Salvia officinalis (sage, also called garden sage, or common sage) is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the family Lamiaceae and is native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalized in many places throughout the world. It has a long history of medicinal and culinary use, and in modern times as an ornamental garden plant. The common name "sage" is also used for a number of related and unrelated species.


Cultivars are quite variable in size, leaf and flower color, and foliage pattern, with many variegated leaf types. The Old World type grows to approximately 2 ft (0.61 m) tall and wide, with lavender flowers most common, though they can also be white, pink, or purple. The plant flowers in late spring or summer. The leaves are oblong, ranging in size up to 2.5 in (6.4 cm) long by 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. Leaves are grey-green, rugose on the upper side, and nearly white underneath due to the many short soft hairs. Modern cultivars include leaves with purple, rose, cream, and yellow in many variegated combinations.


Common sage is grown in parts of Europe for distillation of an essential oil, though other species, such as Salvia fruticosa may also be harvested and distilled with it. In Britain sage has for generations been listed as one of the essential herbs, along withparsley, rosemary and thyme (as in the folk song "Scarborough Fair"). It has a savoury, slightly peppery flavor. It appears in many European cuisines, notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern cookery. In British and American cooking, it is traditionally served as sage and onion stuffing, an accompaniment to roast turkey or chicken at Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. Other dishes include pork casserole, Sage Derby cheese and Lincolnshire sausages. Despite the common use of traditional and available herbs in French cuisine, sage never found favour there. In the traditional Austrian medicine Salvia officinalis herb has been used internally (as tea or directly chewed) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and skin. Salvia and "sage" are derived from the Latin salvere (to save), referring to the healing properties long attributed to the various Salvia species. It has been recommended at one time or another for virtually every ailment by various herbals. Modern evidence shows possible uses as an antisweating agent, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and tonic. In a double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial, sage was found to be effective in the management of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. The strongest active constituents of sage are within its essential oil, which contains cineole,borneol, and thujone. Sage leaf contains tannic acid, oleic acid, ursonic acid, ursolic acid, cornsole, cornsolic acid, fumaric acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, niacin, nicotinamide, flavones, flavonoid glycosides, and estrogenic substances. Investigations have taken place into using sage as a treatment for Alzheimer's diseasepatients. Sage leaf extract may be effective and safe in the treatment of hyperlipidemia.

Sage is an incredibly useful herb, widely considered to be perhaps the most valuable herb. It is anti-flammatory, anti-oxidant, and antifungal. In fact, according to the noted resource World’s Healthiest Foods, “Its reputation as a panacea is even represented in its scientific name, Salvia officinalis, derived from the Latin word, salvere, which means ‘to be saved’.” It was used as a preservative for meat before the advent of refrigeration (eminently useful: you never know when you’ll be forced to hunt in the wild). Sage aids digestion, relieves cramps, reduces diarrhea, dries up phlegm, fights colds, reduces inflammation and swelling, acts as a salve for cuts and burns, and kills bacteria. Sage apparently even brings color back to gray hair. A definite concern when lost in the woods.


The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by many species in the Rubus genus in theRosaceae family, hybrids among these species within the Rubus subgenus, and hybrids between the Rubus and Idaeobatus subgenera. What distinguishes the blackberry from its raspberry relatives is whether or not the torus (receptacle or stem) 'picks-with' (ie stays with) the fruit. When picking a blackberry fruit, the torus does stay with the fruit. With a raspberry, the torus remains on the plant, leaving a hollow core in the raspberry fruit. The term 'bramble', a word meaning any impenetrable scrub, has traditionally been applied specifically to the blackberry or its products, though in the United States it applies to all members of theRubus genus. In the western US, the term caneberry is used to refer to blackberries and raspberries as a group rather than the term bramble.

The usually black fruit is not a true berry. Botanically it is termed an aggregate fruit, composed of small drupelets. It is a widespread and well-known group of over 375 species, many of which are closely related apomictic microspecies native throughout Europe, northwestern Africa, temperate western and central Asia and North and South America

Growth and anatomical description

Blackberries are perennial plants which typically bear biennial stems ("canes") from the perennial root system.

In its first year, a new stem, the primocane, grows vigorously to its full length of 3–6 m (in some cases, up to 9 m), arching or trailing along the ground and bearing large palmately compound leaves with five or seven leaflets; it does not produce any flowers. In its second year, the cane becomes a floricane and the stem does not grow longer, but the lateral buds break to produce flowering laterals (which have smaller leaves with three or five leaflets). First- and second-year shoots usually have numerous short-curved, very sharp prickles that are often erroneously called thorns. These prickles can tear through denim with ease and make the plant very difficult to navigate around. Prickle-free cultivars have been developed. Recently the University of Arkansas has developed primocane fruiting blackberries that grow and flower on first-year growth much as the primocane-fruiting (also called fall bearing or everbearing) red raspberries do.

Unmanaged mature plants form a tangle of dense arching stems, the branches rooting from the node tip on many species when they reach the ground. Vigorous and growing rapidly in woods, scrub, hillsides, and hedgerows, blackberry shrubs tolerate poor soils, readily colonizing wasteland, ditches, and vacant lots.

The flowers are produced in late spring and early summer on short racemes on the tips of the flowering laterals. Each flower is about 2–3 cm in diameter with five white or pale pink petals.

The drupelets only develop around ovules that are fertilized by the male gamete from a pollen grain. The most likely cause of undeveloped ovules is inadequate pollinator visits. Even a small change in conditions, such as a rainy day or a day too hot for bees to work after early morning, can reduce the number of bee visits to the flower, thus reducing the quality of the fruit. Incomplete drupelet development can also be a symptom of exhausted reserves in the plant's roots or infection with a virus such as Raspberry bushy dwarf virus.

In botanical terminology, the fruit is not a berry but an aggregate fruit of numerous drupelets.

Blackberry leaves are food for certain caterpillars; some grazing mammals, especially deer, are also very fond of the leaves. Caterpillars of the concealer moth Alabonia geoffrella have been found feeding inside dead blackberry shoots. When mature, the berries are eaten and their seeds dispersed by several mammals, such as the red fox and the Eurasian badger, as well as by small birds.
Blackberries grow wild throughout all parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are an important element in the ecology of those countries. Harvesting the berries is a popular pastime in these countries. However, it is also considered an invasive weed, sending down its strong suckering roots amongst garden hedges and shrubs. In some parts of the world, such as in Australia, Chile, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest of North America, some blackberry species, particularly Rubus armeniacus (syn. R. procerus, 'Himalaya') and Rubus laciniatus ('Evergreen'), are naturalised and considered an invasive species and a serious weed.The blackberry tends to be red during its unripe ("green") phase, leading to an old expression that "blackberries are red when they're green".In various parts of the United States, wild blackberries are sometimes called "Black-caps", a term more commonly used for black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis.As there is forensic evidence from the Iron Age Haraldskær Woman that she consumed blackberries some 2500 years ago, it is reasonable to conclude that blackberries have been eaten by humans over thousands of years.


The soft fruit is popular for use in desserts, jams, seedless jelly, and sometimes wine. It is often mixed with apples for pies and crumbles. Blackberries are also used to produce candy.Good nectar producers, blackberry shrubs bearing flowers yield a medium to dark, fruity honey.

Phytochemical research:

Blackberries contain numerous phytochemicals including polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, salicylic acid, ellagic acid, and fiber. Anthocyanins in blackberries are responsible for their rich dark color.

Blackberries contain salicylic acid and ellagic acid which has been associated in preliminary research with toxicity to cancer cells, including breast cancer cells.

Blackberries rank highly among fruits for in vitro antioxidant strength, particularly because of their dense content of polyphenolic compounds, such as ellagic acid, tannins, ellagitannins, quercetin, gallic acid, anthocyanins, and cyanidins. One report placed blackberry at the top of more than 1000 antioxidant foods consumed in the United States.


Blackberries are notable for their high nutritional contents of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and the essential mineral manganese.Blackberries have both soluble and insoluble fiber. One cup of blackberries (144 g) has an average of 7.6 g of fibre and contains half the daily recommended dose of vitamin C. Dietary fiber is important in maintaining a healthy digestive system, as it supports regular bowel movements.

Nutrient content of seeds:

Blackberries contain numerous large seeds that are not always preferred by consumers. The seeds contain oil rich in omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and -6 fats (linoleic acid) as well as protein, dietary fiber, carotenoids, ellagitannins and ellagic acid.
Diseases and pests

As a result of blackberries belonging to the same genus as raspberries, they share the same diseases including anthracnose which can cause the berry to have uneven ripening and sap flow may also be slowed. They also share the same remedies including the Bordeaux mixture, a combination of lime, water and Copper(II) sulfate.The rows between blackberry plants must be free of weeds, blackberry suckers and grasses which may lead to pests or diseases.Fruit growers are selective when planting blackberry bushes as wild blackberries may be infected and gardeners are recommended to purchase only certified disease-free plants.

The spotted-wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii is a serious pest of blackberries. Unlike its vinegar fly relatives which are primarily attracted to rotting or fermented fruit, D. suzukii attacks fresh, ripe fruit by laying eggs under the soft skin. The larvae hatch and grow in the fruit, destroying the fruit's commercial value.

Another pest is Amphorophora rubi, known as the Blackberry Aphid, which not only eats blackberries but raspberries as well.

Byturus tomentosus (Raspberry beetle), Lampronia corticella (Raspberry Moth) and Anthonomus rubi (Strawberry blossom weevil) are also known to infest blackberries.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Rosids
  • Order:Rosales
  • Family:Rosaceae
  • Genus:Rubus
  • Subgenus:Rubus (formerly Eubatus)
  • Species
    • Rubus ursinus
    • Rubus argutus
    • Rubus fruticosus—Common Blackberry
    • Rubus ulmifolius
    And hundreds more microspecies (the subgenus also includes the dewberries)

Ripe, ripening, and unripe blackberries,
Rubus fruticosus

A bee, Bombus hypnorum, pollinating blackberries

Did you know blackberries have useful healing properties? Of course they’re loaded in antioxidants and vitamins, but the leaves and roots have value, too. Native Americans have long used the stems and leaves for healing, while enjoying the young shoots peeled as a vegetable of sorts and the berries, either raw or in jams. The leaves and root can be used as an effective treatment against dysentery and diarrhea as well as serving usefulness as an anti-inflammatory and astringent. Ideal for treating cuts and inflammation in the mouth.

Wild Quinine

Parthenium integrifolium is a species of flowering plant in the aster family known by the common names wild quinine, American feverfew, and eastern feverfew. It is native to the eastern United States.

This plant is a perennial herb growing 30 to 60 centimeters tall, but known to exceed one meter at times. The glandular leaves are oval to lance-shaped and variable in size. They have serrated, toothed, or lobed edges. The inflorescence is an array of several flower heads containing whitish disc flowers and 5 to 6 ray flowers. The "flowers have a pleasant but mild medicinal fragrance."

This plant grows in disturbed areas as well as prairies, woods, and hillsides. It tolerates hot and cold climates and can be used as a garden plant in many areas.

The leaves of the plant contain tannins and the plant was used for medicinal and veterinary purposes by Native Americans. The Catawba people used it as a poultice to treat burns. The ashes were applied to horses with "sore backs". The roots were made into a tea to treat dysentery.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked): Asterids
  • Order: Asterales
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Genus: Parthenium
  • Species: P. integrifolium
  • Binomial name: Parthenium integrifolium

According to Alternative Nature Online, wild quinine is a potent herb that “is used as an antiperiodic, emmenagogue, kidney, lithontripic, poultice. It has traditionally been used in alternative medicine to treat debility, fatigue, respiratory infection, gastrointestinal infection, and venereal disease.” Whatever the ailment, quinine is famously helpful in treating it. Only the root and flowers are edible; avoid the plant.

Navajo Tea

Thelesperma is a genus of flowering plants in the aster family, Asteraceae. Members of the genus are used by a number of the southwestern Native American tribes as a tea, as such it is sometimes called "Navajo Tea," "Hopi Tea," etc. T. megapotamicum contains luteolin. It also appears that many of the species contain a very similar chromatographic profile, and thus may contain very similar profiles of flavenoids. The genus is closely related to parts of Coreopsis and to certain North American Bidens species (including Bidens coronata and Bidens comosa). Thelesperma species are native to western North America, South America, and Mexico

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • (unranked): Angiosperms
  • (unranked): Eudicots
  • (unranked): Asterids
  • Order: Asterales
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Subfamily: Asteroideae
  • Tribe: Coreopsideae
  • Genus: Thelesperma

Also called greenthread, Plains Tea or Coyote Plant, this plant has been used for centuries by Native Americans to quickly relieve that most brutal and irritating of infections: the UTI (urinary tract infection). Best when made into a tea or decoction.

Red Clover

Trifolium pratense (red clover) is a species of clover, native to Europe, Western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted and naturalised in many other regions. It is an herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant, variable in size, growing to 20–80 cm tall. The leaves are alternate, trifoliate (with three leaflets), each leaflet 15–30 mm long and 8–15 mm broad, green with a characteristic pale crescent in the outer half of the leaf; the petiole is 1–4 cm long, with two basal stipules. The flowers are dark pink with a paler base, 12–15 mm long, produced in a dense inflorescence.

Diseases Red clover is subject to bacterial as well as fungal diseases. Other problems include parasitic nematodes (roundworms) and viruses.


It is widely grown as a fodder crop, valued for its nitrogen fixation, which increases soil fertility. For these reasons it is used as a green manure crop. Several cultivar groups have been selected for agricultural use, mostly derived from var. sativum. It has become naturalised in many temperate areas, including the Americas and Australasia as an escape from cultivation.

Red clover is commonly used to make a sweet-tasting tisane. It is an ingredient in some recipes for essiac tea.

Warnings and contraindications

Dietary amounts of red clover are safe, but medicinal quantities may cause rash-like reactions, muscle ache, headache, nausea, vaginal bleeding in women, and slow blood clotting.

Due to its activity on estrogen receptors, red clover is contraindicated in people with a history of breast cancer, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, uterine fibroids, or other estrogen-sensitive conditions, but others have suggested the high is oflavone content counteracts this, and even provides benefits in these conditions. 

Due to its coumarin derivatives, it should be used in caution in individuals with coagulation disorders or currently undergoing anticoagulation therapy.

It is metabolized by CYP3A4 and therefore caution should be used when taking it with other drugs using this metabolic pathway.


It is the national flower of Denmark and the state flower of Vermont.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Rosids
  • Order:Fabales
  • Family:Fabaceae
  • Subfamily:Faboideae
  • Genus:Trifolium
  • Species:T. pratense
  • Binomial nameTrifolium pratense

Native to Europe, Northern Africa and Western Asia, red clover is now ubiquitous worldwide. The plant’s reddish pink blossoms can be used for coughs and colds, but they are an excellent detoxifier and blood cleanser as well.

Sweet Marjoram

Marjoram (Origanum majorana, syn. Majorana hortensis Moench, Majorana majorana (L.) H. Karst) is a somewhat cold-sensitive perennial herb or undershrub with sweet pine and citrus flavors. In some Middle-Eastern countries, marjoram is synonymous with oregano, and there the names sweet marjoram and knotted marjoram are used to distinguish it from other plants of the genus Origanum.The name marjoram (Old French majorane, Medieval Latin majorana) does not directly derive from the Latin word maior (major). Marjoram is indigenous to Cyprus and southern Turkey, and was known to the Greeks and Romans as a symbol of happiness.


Marjoram (Origanum majorana) essential oil in clear glass vial

Considered a tender perennial (USDA Zones 7-9), marjoram can sometimes prove hardy even in zone 5.

Marjoram is cultivated for its aromatic leaves, either green or dry, for culinary purposes; the tops are cut as the plants begin to flower and are dried slowly in the shade. It is often used in herb combinations such as herbes de Provence and za'atar. The flowering leaves and tops of marjoram are steam-distilled to produce an essential oil that is yellowish in color (darkening to brown as it ages). It has many chemical components, some of which are borneol, camphor and pinene.

Related species

Oregano (Origanum vulgare, sometimes listed with marjoram as Origanum majorana) is also called wild marjoram. It is a perennial common in southern Europe in dry copses and on hedge-banks, with many stout stems 30–80 cm high, bearing short-stalked, somewhat ovate leaves and clusters of purple flowers. It has a stronger flavor than marjoram.

Pot marjoram or Cretan oregano (Origanum onites) has similar uses to marjoram.

Hardy marjoram or French marjoram, a cross of marjoram with oregano, is much more resistant to cold, but is slightly less sweet. Origanum pulchellum is known as showy marjoram or showy oregano.


They are used for seasoning soups, stews, dressings and sauce. Majorana hortensis herb has been used in the traditional Austrian medicine for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and infections

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • (unranked): Angiosperms
  • (unranked): Eudicots
  • (unranked): Asterids
  • Order: Lamiales
  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Genus: Origanum
  • Species: O. majorana
  • Binomial name: Origanum majorana

Marjoram and oregano are often used interchangeably, but the aromatic sweet marjoram is slightly different. The Greeks called it the “Joy of the Mountain” and it was revered throughout the Mediterranean for its fragrance, flavor and medicinal value. The famous French herbs de provence and Middle Eastern za’atar both use sweet marjoram. Marjoram has many uses (it’s a famous digestive aid) but it is effective as an antifungal, antibacterial and disinfectant treatment in a pinch.

Burdock Herb

Arctium is a genus of biennial plants commonly known as burdock, family Asteraceae. Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide


Plants of the genus Arctium have dark green leaves that can grow up to 28" (71 cm) long. They are generally large, coarse and ovate, with the lower ones being heart-shaped. They are woolly underneath. The leafstalks are generally hollow. Arctium species generally flower from July through to October.

The prickly heads of these plants (burrs) are noted for easily catching on to fur and clothing (being the inspiration for Velcro), thus providing an excellent mechanism for seed dispersal. Burrs cause local irritation and can possibly cause intestinal hairballs in pets. However, most animals avoid ingesting these plants.

Birds are especially prone to becoming entangled with their feathers in the burrs leading to a slow death, as they are unable to free themselves.

A large number of species have been placed in genus Arctium at one time or another, but most of them are now classified in the related genus Cousinia. The precise limits between Arctium and Cousinia are hard to define; there is an exact correlation between their molecular phylogeny. The burdocks are sometimes confused with the cockleburs (genus Xanthium) and rhubarb (genus Rheum).

The roots of burdock, among other plants, are eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli). The plant is used as a food plant by other Lepidoptera including Brown-tail, Coleophora paripennella, Coleophora peribenanderi, the Gothic, Lime-speck Pug and Scalloped Hazel.

The green, above-ground portions may cause contact dermatitis in humans due to the lactones the plant produces.


Food and drink

A dish containing a Japanese appetizer, kinpira gobō, consisting of sauteed gobō (greater burdock root) and ninjin (carrot), with a side of kiriboshi daikon (sauteed boiled dried daikon)

The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favour in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia. In Japan, Arctium lappa is called "gobō" (牛蒡 or ごぼう); in Korea burdock root is called "u-eong" (우엉) and sold as "tong u-eong" (통우엉), or "whole burdock". Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about one metre long and two centimetres across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned or shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes.

Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear; their taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related. The stalks are thoroughly peeled, and either eaten raw, or boiled in salt water. Leaves are also eaten in spring in Japan when a plant is young and leaves are soft. Some A. lappa cultivars are specialized for this purpose. A popular Japanese dish is kinpira gobō (金平牛蒡), julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil. Another is burdock makizushi (sushi filled with pickled burdock root; the burdock root is often artificially coloured orange to resemble a carrot).

In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. It contains a fair amount of dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. It contains a polyphenol oxidase, which causes its darkened surface and muddy harshness by forming tannin-iron complexes. Burdock root's harshness harmonizes well with pork in miso soup (tonjiru) and with Japanese-style pilaf (takikomi gohan).

Dandelion and burdock is today a soft drink that has long been popular in the United Kingdom, which has its origins in hedgerow mead commonly drunk in the medieval period. Burdock is believed to be a galactagogue, a substance that increases lactation, but it is sometimes recommended to be avoided during pregnancy based on animal studies that show components of burdock to cause uterus stimulation.

In Europe, burdock root was used as a bittering agent in beer before the widespread adoption of hops for this purpose.

Traditional medicine

Folk herbalists considered dried burdock to be a diuretic, diaphoretic, and a blood purifying agent. The seeds of A. lappa are used in traditional Chinese medicine, under the name niubangzi (Chinese: 牛蒡子; pinyin: niúbángzi; Some dictionaries list the Chinese as just 牛蒡 niúbàng.)

Burdock is a traditional medicinal herb that is used for many ailments. Burdock root oil extract, also called Bur oil, is currently used in Europe under the belief that it is a useful scalp treatment. Modern studies indicate that burdock root oil extract is rich in phytosterols and essential fatty acids (including rare long-chain EFAs).

Burdock and Velcro

After taking his dog for a walk one day in the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to the dog's fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook system that the seeds use to hitchhike on passing animals aiding seed dispersal, and he realised that the same approach could be used to join other things together. The result of his studies was Velcro.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Asterids
  • Order:Asterales
  • Family:Asteraceae
  • Tribe:Cynareae[1]
  • Genus:Arctium
    • Arctium lappa L.
    • Arctium minus Schkuhr
    • Arctium tomentosum Mill.

Burdock, or cocklebur, is a prickly, thistle-like plant that grows commonly in many parts of the world. It can get fairly big and its leaves resemble the elephant ear plant. Though the burs often get caught in pets’ and livestock’s fur, don’t think of it only as an annoying plant. It is a highly effective treatment against poison ivy and poison oak (claims that it cures cancer are slightly *less* substantiated).


Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a traditional medicinal herb which is found in many old gardens, and is also occasionally grown for ornament. The plant grows into a small bush up to around 46 cm (18 in) high with citrus-scented leaves, and is covered by flowers reminiscent of daisies. It spreads rapidly, and they will cover a wide area after a few years. It is also commonly seen in the literature by its synonyms, Chrysanthemum parthenium and Pyrethrum parthenium. It is also sometimes referred to as bachelor's buttons or featherfew.


A perennial herb, which should be planted in full sun, 38–46 cm (15–18 in) apart and grows up to 61 cm (24 in) tall. It is hardy to USDA zone 5 (−30 °C (−22 °F)) and should be cut back to the ground in the autumn. Outside of its native range it can become an invasive weed. Feverfew was native to Eurasia; specifically the Balkan Peninsula, Anatolia and the Caucasus, but cultivation has spread it around the world and it is now also found in Europe, the Mediterranean, North America and Chile


Leaves of Feverfew

Though its earliest medicinal use is unknown, it was documented in the first century (AD) as an anti-inflammatory by the Greek herbalist physician Dioscorides.

The word "feverfew" derives from the Latin word febrifugia, meaning "fever reducer." The plant has been used as a herbal treatment to reduce fever and to treat headaches, arthritis and digestive problems, though scientific evidence does not support anything beyond a placebo effect

The active ingredients in feverfew include parthenolide and tanetin. There has been some scientific interest in parthenolide, which has been shown to induce apoptosis in some cancer cell lines in vitro and potentially to target cancer stem cells. There are no published studies of parthenolide or feverfew in humans with cancer. The parthenolide content of commercially available feverfew supplements varies substantially, by over 40-fold, despite labeling claims of "standardization". A study found that the actual parthenolide content of these supplements bore little resemblance to the content claimed on the product label.

Long-term use of feverfew followed by abrupt discontinuation may induce a withdrawal syndrome featuring rebound headaches and muscle and joint pains. Feverfew can cause allergic reactions, including contact dermatitis. Other side effects have included gastrointestinal upset such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and flatulence. When the herb is chewed or taken orally it can cause mouth ulcers and swelling and numbness of the mouth.

Feverfew should not be taken by pregnant women. It may interact with blood thinners and increase the risk of bleeding, and may also interact with a variety of medications metabolized by the liver.

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Asterids
  • Order:Asterales
  • Family:Asteraceae
  • Genus:Tanacetum
  • Species:T. parthenium
  • Binomial nameTanacetum parthenium

Feverfew is a plant that has well-known and documented health properties and medicinal benefits. This anti-inflammatory can treat rheumatism, arthritis and, most famously, migraine headaches and tension headaches. It’s also good for alleviating tension and general anxiety (it is a natural serotonin inhibitor). It also helps to reduce swelling and bruising. Though feverfew is most effective when taken daily, it can be a helpful pain reliever when no Advil is on hand.

Sweet Violet

Viola odorata is a species of the genus Viola native to Europe and Asia, but has also been introduced to North America and Australia. It is commonly known as wood violet, sweet violet, English violet, common violet, florist's violet, or garden violet. The plant is known as Banafsa, Banafsha or Banaksa in India. It is a hardy herbaceous flowering perennial.

V. odorata can be distinguished by the following characteristics:

The flowers are aromatic,the flowers are normally either dark violet or white,the leaves and flowers are all in a basal rosette,the style is hooked (and does not end with a rounded appendage),the leaf-stalks have hairs which point downwards, andthe plant spreads with stolons (above-ground shoots).

These perennial flowers can mature at a height of 4 to 6 inches and a spread of 8 to 24 inches.The species can be found near the edges of forests or in clearings; it is also a common "uninvited guest" in shaded lawns or elsewhere in gardens.


Several cultivars have been selected for garden use, of which V. odorata 'Wellsiana' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

The sweet scent of this flower has proved popular throughout the generations particularly in the late Victorian period, and has consequently been used in the production of many cosmetic fragrances and perfumes. The French are also known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In the United States, this French violet syrup is used to make violet scones and marshmallows. The scent of violet flowers is distinctive with only a few other flowers having a remotely similar odour. References to violets and the desirable nature of the fragrance go back to classical sources such as Pliny and Horace when the name ‘Ion’ was in use to describe this flower from which the name of the distinctive chemical constituents of the flower, the ionones – is derived. In 1923 Poucher writes that the flowers are widely cultivated both in Europe and the East for their fragrance, with both the flowers and leaves being separately collected and extracted for fragrance, and flowers also collected for use in confectionary and the production of a galenical syrup.

There is some doubt as to whether the true extract of the violet flower is still commercially available at all. It certainly was in the early 20th Century, but by the time Steffen Arctander was writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s production had "almost disappeared".

The violet leaf absolute however remains widely used in modern perfumery.

The leaves are edible and contain a deal of soothing mucilage. Water extracts of the plant have some in vitro antibacterial properties

Scientific classification

  • Kingdom:Plantae
  • (unranked):Angiosperms
  • (unranked):Eudicots
  • (unranked):Rosids
  • Order:Malpighiales
  • Family:Violaceae
  • Genus:Viola
  • Species:V. odorata
  • Binomial nameViola odorata

Native to Europe and Asia, sweet violet is cultivated around the world and is a pleasant, delicate purple color. When brewed into a syrup the plant is effective as a treatment for colds, flu and coughs or sore throat. However, when made as a tea, it is wonderfully effective for relieving headaches and muscle and body pain.

Winter Savory

Winter savory (Satureja montana) is a perennial herb in the family Lamiaceae, native to warm temperate regions of southern Europe.It is a semi-evergreen, semi-woody subshrub growing to 16 in (41 cm) tall. The leaves are opposite, oval-lanceolate, 1–2 cm long and 5 mm broad. The flowers are white.

Cultivation and uses

Easy to grow, it makes an attractive border plant for any culinary herb garden. It requires six hours of sun a day in soil that drains well. S. montana 'Nana' is a dwarf cultivar. In temperate climates it goes dormant in winter, putting out leaves on the bare stems again in the spring - do not cut the plant back, all those stems which appear dead will leaf out again. It is hardy and has a low bunching habit.Winter savory was used for hundreds of years both it and summer savory have been grown and used, virtually side by side. Both have strong spicy flavour. It goes particularly well with any type of mushroom, or in white sauces, and is very good in potato salads. Small amounts spice a regular salad well. It has a rich herbaceous aroma when crushed.It is used as a companion plant for beans, keeping bean weevils away, and also roses, reducing mildew and aphids.

Culinary uses
In cooking, winter savory has a reputation for going very well with both beans and meats, very often lighter meats such as chicken or turkey, and can be used in stuffing. It has a strong flavour while uncooked but loses much of its flavour under prolonged cooking.
Medicinal uses
Winter savory has been purported to have antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, and digestive benefits. It has also been used as an expectorant and in the treatment of stings. The plant has a stronger action than the closely related summer savory.

Taken internally, it is said to be a remedy for colic and a cure for flatulence, whilst it is also used to treat gastro-enteritis, cystitis, nausea, diarrhoea, bronchial congestion, sore throat and menstrual disorders. It should not be prescribed for pregnant women.[citation needed] A sprig of the plant, rubbed onto bee or wasp stings, brings instant relief.Therapeautic grade oil has been determined to inhibit growth of Candida albicans.

The plant is harvested in the summer when in flower and can be used fresh or dried. The essential oil forms an ingredient in lotions for the scalp in cases of incipient baldness. An ointment made from the plant is used externally to relieve arthritic joints.

In traditional herbal medicine, summer savory was believed to be an aphrodisiac, while winter savory was believed to inhibit sexual desire.

Winter savory is your savior against insect bites and stings. One of the most effective natural plant treatments for bug bites is originally from Europe and the Mediterranean but often shows up elsewhere thanks to global trade. In addition to being an antiseptic, it is delicious – used for flavoring meats and stews – and all parts are edible.

Comment Stream

a year ago

A good list of general medicinal plants. Well compiled!