late spring greetings, i was awoken by an urban thunderstorm with the idea that it is time to share some lists. often when humans learn that i am an herbalist or “plant person” they ask “what is your favorite plant?” i have heard smart people say they couldn’t chose a favorite, it is akin to choosing a favorite child. yet there is a difference-the children may end up being psychoanalyzed or posting your ill-conceived favoritism on facebook where the plants don’t give a rat’s ass about our favorites list. that being said, it is fun to share what we love with others and i personally find others’ medicine making choices quite inspiring.
so.#1. my personal favorite herbs, the plants that speak most and loudest to me, and support me in my need.
1. lobelia inflata. the firstplant to scream at me. it said “hey! i’m lobelia! down here!” well, i am not abot to argue with that. we have formed a lifelong bond. yes, i use lobelia. usually externally for spasm. but that is not the basis of my loyalty.
2. calamus. i searched for acorus calamus for a looooong time. then one day i tripped and fell in a swamp. right into a giant family of stinky calamus. sooo smelly, so good. the mere sight of calamus uplifts me.
3. black haw. i searched for this viburnum for a long time, too. nothing soothes the beast of cramps like black haw. nothing makes a believer of non-plant-people quite like tincture of the fresh bark. to those who believe that “herbs don’t work” or “herbs are stupid” i say first, try black haw and second, bugger off.
4. rosa rugosa. a plant of my childhood near the ocean i have always loved the sexiest wild rose i’ve ever seen. the near-obscenely hot pink petals provide a church to all types of bees and a cooling heart tonic to those of us who seek one. a lusty and hardy plant which protects the land against erosion rosa rugosa is a giver with bright large hips which are fun and tasty.
5. milky oats. oat plants are easy to grow and fun to observe. what i love about avena sativa is that something so easy to grow, so basic and common, can give so much to people in need. the most soothing and protective plant the nervous system has ever seen brings me nothing but joy. the flavor is delightful too.
6.violets! the state flower of my home rhode island is somehow both common and exciting. i love the false flower, i love the scented leaf, i love violet flavored confections, i love the cooling medicine of violets. and i love purple stuff.
7.blue vervain. as you can see the vigorous and the weedy get my special feelings moving. i also love blue plants. i love plants which attract honeybees and butterflies. i love plants which are not fussy but thrive when and where they must. and i love plants which cool and relax and protect my frazzled brain and nervous system. thus, verbena hastata. a plant for our time.
8.scullcap. i use the scutellaria lateriflora common in the northeast and also the flashier galericulata which is less common in my ‘hood. a low-growing creepy plant in the mint family which folks would not notice if they weren’t seeking. but isn’t it funny that we, humanity i mean, have done so much work to propagate and promote the flashy and fussy flowers and shrubs that are more or less completely useless and dependent on vats of miracle-gro while we don’t even notice powerful medicine vibrating just off the path…? yeah, real funny.
9.white pine. a tree which always feels like an elder to me, welcoming me to the forest but reminding me to watch my ass, i am not in kansas anymore. i use the resin most but a tea of fresh twigs and needles got me through a nasty bronchitis i picked up in moldy post-flood new orleans one winter. i find the pine to be profoundly healing and extremely multi-purpose. i love the idea of a counter-irritant to shake things up. in fact, i sometimes perform that role myself…
10.dandelion. yes, the humble dandelion, i have to mention. it seems like everyone hates dandelion, and one look at a home depot ad or one walk through your average lawn store confirms that. any plant which has enough power to put half of america’s panties in a bunch is a friend of mine. yes, dandelion is extremely useful as food and as medicine, as an apiary plant and to make delicious trippy wine. but the real reason i love dandelion is because it is a survivor, a teacher, and it brings joy to me on a daily basis.
so. what plants would i want to have with me if, god forbid, i was stranded on a desert island? well, my emergency island kit is not the same as my favorite herbs. my favorites list is moony and loving, my island list is practical.
1. yarrow! number one. of course, on a desert island you want some polychrests, that is plants which have more than one use. specifics are great when you are doing emotional work or treating long-term headaches but we are talking travel light here. yarrow stops bleeding. i also use it in fevers and for menstrual issues, digestion, on the skin and internally/ yarrow is a protector and a healer and a mover, a hardy and vigorous grower with a lot of power.
2. sage. common garden sage is the definition of multi-purpose. a supremely grounding plant with delightful bright blue flowers and powdery green leaves sage is useful beyond my wildest imagination. do you have something that needs to be dried up? sage. moved? invigorated? sage. germy mess? sage. colds, flus, fevers, sage. sage is clearing and is used externally and internally, tinctures, tea, wash, burn, eat, oil, seriously, everything.
3.artemisias. ok, so i couldn;t pick a favorite one. sweet annie for malaria? lyme? look, your deserted island may have some bugs. artemisias will help repel critters including insects, true bugs, arachnids, worms, other parasites and fungal colonizers. critters, god bless ’em all, but get out of my pants, you know? we also have various mugworts, wormwood…bitters which move and provide a little food for the mind.
4. elecampane. inula helenium, a tall yellow aster flower on a sturdy stalk with broad soft leaves. the root is what i would like best in my desert island magic bag, a strong flavor and powerful medicine for the lungs. may help move giardia and address nasty germs externally too. elecampane is one of my first choices in a bad case of sinus infection, cold, can’t sleep-mucous stuff, moving germs and any stuck nastiness. i believe elecampane works miracles when folks think nothing will work, and have seen it over and over. i will breathe easy on a desert island with elecampane in my pocket.
5. rose. any rose, the wilder the better, to cool and soothe overheating inside and out. to eat, to wash, to spray on, to tincture and to poultice. rose for diarrhea that threatens health, rose to astringe and repair. rose hips for vitamin c. rose for inflammation. and most importantly, rose for the heart.
6. alder. a tree which heals, a polychrest for sure with many wonderful uses. the bark and catkins tinctured move pain and infections and move the lymphatics. a little-known medicinal plant promoted in our time by herbalist kiva rose the alder grows as a community in moist ground near freshwater sources. alder has, with and without monarda, given me the gift of healing in uti and tooth infections as well as other infections, pain and lymphatic stagnation.
7. monarda. there are many monardas often grown in ornamental gardens as “bee balm”. the bright tubular flowers attract pollinators by the zillions including the awesome hummingbird moth. in the mint family, the flowers and top leaves are dried or tinctured and define polychrest as a multiple use medicinal rarely found in herbal commerce. monarda can be used on burns externally and heat internally. fevers, digestion, nerves, tinnitus, it moves infections and provides healing and soothing. the smell is amazing the flavor is minty/spicy with a hint of honey.
8. milk thistle. the seed would come with me on any trip to protect my liver, to counteract any posions my liver meets and to promote my liver’s healing and renewal. it’s a nasty world out there. love your liver.
9.propolis. the resin made by honeybees is profoundly healing and a balsam to skin, can fill in a broken tooth, and nourishes deeply. propolis tincture is a good base note to add nearly any healing herb too to soothe throat pain, heal rawness and kill bad bacteria.
10. garlic! i love me some alliums, and garlic is my number one. keep the blood moving with garlic. garlic clearly helps us keep illnesses and infections at bay. it stinks, you say? if the crap that most humans think smells “good” IS good then i don’t want to be good. i love garlic and eat it so much and have for so long that i am part garlic. my number one cure for mastitis also tastes delicious.