|Here are just a few of the medicinal plants growing wild within a 3-mile radius of my home in July 2006. Some were
commonly used by herbalists in days gone by, others are still important in herbal medicine today.
Some plants are very potent and their use by medical herbalists is now forbidden by law. Others are regulated by
law and may only be given in controlled doses.
Plants should never be used as medicine except by those competent in plant identification and with
training in phytotherapy or herbal medicine.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is a member of the Daisy family (Asteraceae) The family
used to be called Compositae as their flowerheads are actually
composed of a number of smaller individual flowers.
Dandelion has a long history of use in herbal medicine as a liver
tonic, laxative and diuretic. It used to be taken together with nettle
and cleavers as a spring tonic to cleanse the body after the stodgy
food of winter. It is still an important herb for Medical Herbalists.
|Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Most people have been stung by a nettle at one time or another, which
tends to make them a rather unpopular plant. However, they are actually
very nutritious. They prefer growing in nutrient-rich soils and can be an
indicator of soil quality. Nettles also enrich the soil with nitrogen.
According to Maud Grieve (xxx) nettles are disliked by flies and a fresh
bunch hanging in the pantry will keep them away.
The Romans used the stinging action of nettles as a counter-irritant,
flogging themselves with freshly cut nettles to treat painful joints and
muscles. Nettles were used in the Bronze Age to make cloth. They were
later used in a similar way to hemp to make rope, sail cloth, sacking,
twine for nets and clothing in parts of Europe. Herbalists use nettle for its
cleaning and nourishing properties.
|Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Meadowsweet is used by herbalists for its anti-inflammatory
properties. This action is mainly due to substances called
salicylates, which the plant contains. During the 19th century the
salicylates in meadowsweet were used to make acetylsalicylic
acid or aspirin.
The flowers are faintly aromatic and meadowsweet was a
favourite strewing herb in Tudor times. In addition to its
anti-inflammatory properties meadowsweet has a very soothing
action on the gut and is used to treat a variety of digestive
|Broom (Saraothamnus scoparius)
Broom was apparently so-called because it was used to make brooms.
The flowering tops contain substances which are believed to act on the
conductivity of the heart. It is used by Medical herbalists to treat
|Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow was traditionally used externally to treat wounds. Today it is more commonly
used to help improve circulation. This is thought to be achieved via the action of
constituents called flavonoids, which dilate the blood vessels and also tone and
Hawthorn has been regarded as a protective and sacred plant
for a long time. It was believed to be one of the plants in Christ’
s crown of thorns. Herbalists use the plant as a heart tonic. It
has a number of beneficial actions. It dilates the blood vessels
and has a diuretic action, lowering lood pressure. It also slows
the heart rate, strengthens the heart muscle and softens
deposits and hardened blood vessels.
|Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Horsetail grows in watery places. It was once used by peasants and gypsies to scour
pans and milk churns and was also traditionally used as a wound herb and to treat TB.
It has a high silica content which helps to repair connective tissue, particularly in the
lungs and urinary tract. It also improves the condition of hair and nails and can staunch
|Heartsease (Viola tricolor)
The flowers of heartsease were traditionally used to treat heart
disease, hence its name. Medical herbalists use it today to treat
chronic skin disorders and coughs.
|Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed was once used as a feed for birds, hence its
name. It was also traditionally harvested as a vegetable. It
can be eaten in salads and when boiled has a similar taste to
spinach. The juice was once taken internally for treating
scurvy. It was also used as a wound herb. Herbalists now use
chickweed, mostly externally in oils, creams and ointments to
cool and soothe inflammation and relieve irritation and
itching. Its ability to relieve itching is believed to be due to
constituents called saponins.
|Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers was traditionally taken as a spring cleansing
tonic and to treat skin complaints. It was a popular food
for poultry, particularly geese, hence its common name.
The seeds were once roasted and used as an alternative
to coffee. Cleavers is still commonly used in herbal
medicine for treating problems in the lymphatic and
urinary systems such as enlarged lymph nodes, swelling
|Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Raspberry leaf tea was a traditional remedy for easing
childbirth and stimulating milk production. It continues to
be used by herbalists as a gentle tonic for the uterus,
particularly in pregnancy, when preparing for the birth.
The affinity of raspberry leaf for the uterus is believed to
be partly attributable to the action of a constituent called
|Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
In the past Valerian has been used to treat a host of medical problems.
It was given the name “All heal” in medieval times. In World War I and II
it was used to treat shell shock. It was also commonly used to treat
insomnia and nervous disorders. Today it is most commonly used for
its sedative properties.
|Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis)
Comfrey was once known as “knitbone” because it
was used to assist the healing of fractures. Comfrey is
still used both internally (leaf only) and externally to
heal wounds and ulcers and soothe inflammation.
Much of the healing effect is thought to be due to
allantoin, which promotes the regeneration of tissue.
|Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Ground ivy was used to flavour, presence and clarify ale
before the introduction of hops from Germany in the
sixteenth century. It was used medicinally to treat
coughs and headaches, often taken as snuff. Medical
herbalists use ground ivy to treat upper respiratory
conditions where a lot of mucus is present such as
catarrh and bronchitis.
|Dog rose (Rosa canina)
In Roman times the wild rose was recommended for the bites
of rabid dogs! The leaves were once used as a substitute for
tea. The rose hips have a very high vitamin C content. They
can be used to treat diarrhoea due to their astringency.
|Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
Plantain was used traditionally as a wound herb, particularly as
a “herbal drawing agent” to draw infected material out of bites,
wounds etc. It is now commonly used to treat respiratory
problems and allergies. Its properties make it suitable for
treating both dry, inflamed conditions and catarrhal conditions.
|Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxglove is a source of cardiac glycosides, especially digoxin
and digitoxin. Although once used to treat heart failure it is highly
toxic and herbalists are no longer legally permitted to use it.
|Virtual Herb Walk