Your backyard medicine cabinet is our heritage of healing as a civilization stems (pun intended) from humans using the local, regional plants most conveniently located to them for aiding the most common issues that faced them. The medicine people belonging to lineages like southern folk medicine, and hundreds of Native American tribes who are practicing herbalism still take this approach. The medicine cabinet meant for you, and your family’s health comes from what grows beneath your feet.
When folks lacked the time, money, and wherewithal to import exotic herbs from faraway places, they first turned to the superfoods that were growing underfoot – abundant, weedy herbs like dandelion, violets, and black walnuts. Before “locally sourced” was a buzzword, it was simply a fact of life. Before it was artisanal, it was the only thing that was affordable and accessible. Before herbs were on-trend, they were merely a necessity for those who wanted to stay healthy and avoid illness.
Preparing the Medicine Outside Your Door
Making medicine from the fresh plants that surround us takes many different forms. Making herbal remedies at home can be as simple as simmering a syrup of elderberries and honey or as nuanced as formulating a double extraction of medicinal mushrooms. A high-quality plant identification book or herbal field guide is a great place to start for those wanting to DIY.
How the natural rhythms of the earth complement making maximum-potency herbal medicine are key to acknowledge and practice. These patterns include flowing with the lunar calendar, digging roots like burdock and dandelion in the dark of the new moon, and harvesting fruits and flowers like hawthorn or chamomile in the bright light of the full moon. This time-honored tradition goes back centuries. Attuning to the wax and wane of the seasonal calendar is essential, too, which means preparing in the spring to gather buds, leaves, and flowers, in the summer to collect seeds, and in the late fall or early winter to gather roots and rhizomes.
These patterns follow the natural cycle of plant life as each of these respective parts is highest in its active medicinal constituents at the particular time of the year when it should be harvested. For example, St. John’s wort buds and flowers are best gathered around the full moon closest to the summer solstice of late June as this is when their levels of hypericin, the bright red anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, and anti-viral active phytocompound, is most present.
Mood Medicine is Everywhere
Uplifting the spirits of the people around them is one thing that plants do best. In an authentic way, there’s a sense in which most of us experience a deficiency in herbs. This botanical deficit is linked to our modern disconnected lifestyle. It is directly correlated to our food being less nutritious than it once was because of soil quality, environmental pollutants, and the daunting array of environmental toxins that come at us from every direction. Integrating herbal medicine into everyday life in basic ways is simply the best stepping stone to living a life that is more connected (to the earth) and less pressurized.
Lemonbalm – a volunteer in many kitchen gardens and a common mint-family herb – is known as one of the “happiness plants” due to its ability to brighten the mood and mind of anyone who encounters it. And St. John’s wort – considered a noxious weed in some states because of its abundance along roadsides and in meadows – offers the body a more cheerful and serenely regulated state of well-being because of its effect on stabilizing neurotransmitters like serotonin. Plants are everywhere in part because they are our birthright; we need them as much we need the very air we breathe.
Harvesting herbs has long been understood to be a task as sacred as it is mundane. Both ancestors steeped in the old ways of doing things and modern herbalists alike know that to get the most out of a particular plant, one must enter into a relationship with it in a respectful and reciprocal way. When we harvest and use herbs with gratitude, patience, and reverence, we can fulfill the depth of possible plant-people connections. The gatherer is satisfied with empowered self-care and interdependence with the natural world, and the plants often benefit from conscientious human involvement. This relationship makes for the best medicine of all.
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