Natural Remedies: Use Homegrown Herbs and Plants for Healing

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Christopher cuts prickly pear fruit using brown paper to protect his hand.

The Natural Remedies column shares information on how to use healthful plants that are often as close as your door. Use these homegrown herbs and plants for healing from the garden.

The true prophet is never accepted by his own people. By
some strange quirk of human nature, we tend to think that
only something from a faraway country can be of the
greatest value. This blindness also affects us when it
comes to herbs and nutrition. We think that the best
substances for our health are only those herbs and roots
imported from faraway China or India or South American rain
forests, sold at tremendous costs in small bottles at the
herb shop.

When you scan the shelves of herb shops, it’s easy to come
to the conclusion that health can be purchased in a bottle.
In fact, many businesses push that very idea: “Buy our
[expensive] product and you’ll be happier, live longer, be
free of disease, and have a great sex life, besides:”

In this country, we are surrounded by an unbelievable
bounty of nature. Just about everything that you’d want for
health and nutrition can be found in your backyard or in
the wild, or you can easily grow homegrown herbs and plants for healing. No money need change
hands. Shockingly, many of the most nutritious plants on
the planet are despised as common weeds, and at any nursery
in town, you can buy poisons to kill off these valuable
weeds. Such sad ignorance.

Poor Man’s Cure-All: Dandelions

Dandelions are probably better for you than anything in
your garden, wild or cultivated. An analysis of 100 grams
(about a cup) of dandelion greens by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture shows 14,000 IU of vitamin A, 35 mg of vitamin
C, 397 mg of potassium, 66 mg of phosphorus, 187 mg of
calcium, and 36 mg of magnesium. Dandelion greens are also
the richest source of beta-carotene, with 8.4 mg per cup.
By contrast, carrots–considered an excellent source of
beta carotene–contain 6.6 mg per cup. Only young dandelion
greens are good in salads, and the older bitter leaves can
be cooked like spinach or added to mixed vegetable dishes.
And the young dandelion roots can also be cooked.

Nature’s “Mineral Tablet”: Lambs-Quarter

The health food store shelves are full of pills, including
mineral tablets. But nature provides an excellent
alternative-one that you take advantage of by eating. This
is lamb’s-quarter, a spinach relative found worldwide in
the wild. It probably grows in your garden even if you
don’t plant it. Used raw in salad or in juice mixes, 100
grams of lamb’s-quarter (about a cup) contains about 80 mg
of vitamin C, 11,600 IU of vitamin A, 72 mg of phosphorus,
309 mg of calcium, and small amounts of thiamin,
riboflavin, niacin, and iron. These figures are slightly
lower when you cook the lamb’s-quarter for a spinach
replacement, or in soups, egg dishes, or vegetable dishes.
You could nearly survive on lamb’s-quarter alone!

Clear Thinking with Ginkgo

Ginkgo leaves and nuts have been used in the Orient for
centuries, and are one of the new popular herbal
medications in the U.S. Some researchers suggest that
ginkgo may help Alzheimer’s patients, and that it should
help anyone increase mental alertness. And there are
several processed bottles of ginkgo pills on the shelf with
the expensive price tag.

Guess what? Ginkgo is widely planted as a street and park
tree! It is very common, and you can simply take the leaves
and brew your own tea. Never mind that the pill
manufacturers report that you shouldn’t do this–you can!
Make an infusion of the leaves, or if you prefer, simply
powder the dried leaves and fill gelatin capsules if you
prefer to take your herbs in pill form.

And don’t overlook the nuts which fall in September and
October. The fleshy outer layer of these nuts have a foul
odor, but it is easily cleaned off. The nuts can be dried
or roasted, then eaten. Many of the same qualities of the
leaves have been attributed to these nuts.

Get Your Daily Vitamin C From Rose Hips

Roses are great to grow in any garden because they provide
beauty and fragrance. Also, if you let the fruits mature
(referred to as the “hips”), you’ll have a rich source of
vitamin C. The only known source of vitamin C that is
richer is the acerola. Rose hips contain about 7,000 mg of
vitamin C per pound, a remarkable amount. By contrast, a
pound of oranges (depending on the type of orange) contains
anywhere between 100 to 250 mg of vitamin C.

To use rose hips, first snip off the orange-red mature
fruit. Once you cut it in half and remove the fibrous
seeds, you could just eat it raw. However, most people find
it more enjoyable to simmer into tea, or to make it into
jams, jellies, or blended nutritional drinks.

Is Milk the Best Calcium Source?

One hundred grams of the edible portion of the carob pod
(about a cup of the entire pod, minus the seeds) contains
352 mg of calcium. That makes carob one of the very richest
non-meat calcium sources. Even when that same volume is
compared to milk-generally considered a good calcium
source-carob is nearly three times richer in calcium. Carob
is also a good source of B vitamins. Though not a complete
protein, it is said that this is the food that sustained
John the Baptist in the desert for 40 days (hence the name,
Saint John’s bread).

You can simply eat the pods and spit out the seeds. Also,
you can crack the pods, remove the seeds, and grind the
pods into a flour, which you can add to bread and pasty
products, or blend into liquids like rice or soy milk.

Throughout southern California and the Southwest, there are
tens of thousands of carob trees, mostly along streets and
in parks. The brown leathery pods ripen from September
through February.

Eucalyptus Helps Cough and Sore Throat

Oil of eucalyptus is an active ingredient in many cough
medicines, and eucalyptus trees are extremely common. You
can simply pick a few eucalyptus leaves, make a hot tea by
infusion, and drink it. The flavors of the various types of
eucalypti differ, so you might smell around until you find
one you like. This tea relieves symptoms of most breathing
and respiratory ailments.

Use Aloe Vera for Cuts and Bruises

When you get a few minor cuts and scratches while doing
work, do you reach for that tube of creamy stuff and rub it
over your wounds? There’s something better. You could just
pinch off a bit of an aloe vera plant, break open the leaf,
and spread that gel directly onto the cuts. Aloe has been
used for centuries for such medicinal applications. Aloe is
easy to grow in pots or in the garden, and is widely
available at nurseries. Even the best bottled aloe
preparations are not as good as the fresh plant.

Cheating Cholesterol Using Garlic and Onions

You have high cholesterol, and there are a number of things
your doctor has told you to do: Cut out salts, fatty and
oily foods, stop smoking, eliminate alcohol, exercise more,
and lose some weight. Did you know that numerous studies
have shown that including garlic and onions in your diet
can reduce your cholesterol level? We don’t normally think
of garlic and onions as “medicine,” but they have a variety
of proven or reputed medical properties, and the lowering
of cholesterol levels is perhaps the most documented. In
this case, you simply eat your garlic and onions-ideally,
raw when possible-in order to receive the beneficial
qualities.

Another good way to lower cholesterol levels is to include
foods in your diet that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. In
1986, two biochemists (Norman Salem, Jr., with the National
Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda,
Maryland, and Artemis Simopoulos of the American
Association for World Health in Washington, D.C.)
discovered that a common weed, purslane, is the richest
leafy-plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. And purslane is
such a common weed, worldwide, that you shouldn’t need to
plant it–you may just need to look for it. It is common in
rose beds. To take advantage of purslane’s benefits, you
simply eat it in salads, or cook it in soups, stews,
vegetable dishes, etc.

Use Willow Bark for Headaches

Have a headache? Before you automatically reach for that
aspirin, first ask yourself: What is the source my
headache? Perhaps your pain is trying to tell you
something: You’re under a lot of stress, or have had too
much caffeine or not enough sleep. Then, consider the
original source of aspirin: the inner bark of the willow
tree. The cambium layer of willow bark contains salicin,
which the body converts to salicylic acid–the active
ingredient in most aspirin. If you grew a willow bush or
tree in your yard, you could prune off a small twig, remove
the bark, brew that bark for a few minutes in warm water,
and then drink it for headaches. The tea may be mildly
bitter, but will work (more or less) as well as aspirin.
Willow is extremely common worldwide along waterways.

Eat Prickly Pear Cactus for Diabetes

According to long-standing traditions throughout northern
Mexico, eating the young prickly pear cactus pad (once the
stickers are removed) is said to help with diabetes. In the
past 20 years, I have met dozens of people who claim to
have had relief from adult-onset diabetes by consuming the
cactus, and I’ve met three who actually stopped taking
insulin. Doctors who have researched this have come up with
some medical verification. They say that the prickly pear
contains a substance that strengthens the pancreas so it is
more able to produce insulin. Plus, they say the fiber
content of the cactus is beneficial. Consuming the cactus
fruits has also been shown to be helpful for prostate
problems.

Prickly pear cactus is not restricted to the Southwest. It
is common throughout the Plains, and at least one variety
is common along the Atlantic coast.

These are just a few examples of how we can obtain many of
our needed healthful vitamins, necessary nutrients, and
even medications from plants growing all around us.

Needless to say, none of the above is intended to replace
competent, professional medical care for serious illness.
In the interest of increasing wisdom and self-reliance,
learning which plants can be used in place of bottled
vitamin pills and simple medicines will ultimately be more
health-promoting.

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