Medicinal Bed

The oldest and most significant use of herbs is medicinal, pre-dating written records. Plants formed the crux of medicine for virtually all systems of healing. Approximately one-third of the more than one-quarter million known species of flowering plants were assigned some healing virtue at some point in history.

In the first century, the Greek physician Dioscorides attempted to organize and consolidate this information into the first true herbal, describing the plants and detailing their medicinal use. This and subsequent herbals became increasingly essential as physicians attempted to establish a more scientific thrust to medicine. Herbal healing traditions continued to develop throughout Europe as the effects of plant remedies upon the human body were studied and recorded more accurately through trial and error.

The advent of modern synthetic drugs curtailed the use of herbs in medicine, although an estimated 25% of modern medicine is still directly derived from plant material. Growing concerns about the side effects of drugs, clinical research on physiological effects which support some traditional uses of plants, and people's desire to move toward a more natural and holistic approach to health have created a revival in herbal medicine.

Achillea millefolium-- Yarrow (perennial)

Special Considerations: Yarrow repels ants, flies, and Japanese beetles and attracts beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and ladybird beetles.

Historical Use: Yarrow is speculated to have been used 3000 years ago by Achilles during the Trojan War to dress his soldiers wounds. Yarrow also played an important role in American Indian and Shaker medicine.

Medicinal Use: The leaves, stems, and flowers of white- and red- flowered yarrow facilitate blood clotting. Species containing the volatile oil azulene have anti-inflammatory properties, soothing external rashes, skin ulcers, and hemorrhoids. Yarrow's flavenoid compounds have antispasmodic effects, and its salycilic acid derivatives make it useful in treating pain.

Other Uses: Household-- decorative, cleansing, companion planting; Dye.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi-- Bearberry (perennial shrub)   

Special Considerations: Bearberry forms a groundcover and prefers dry sandy soil. It effectively stabilizes easily eroded soils.

Historical Use: Bearberry was smoked in peace pipes by American Indians to promote calming and mental clarity. People of the Middle Ages believed that since bearberry grew in sandy, gravely soils, it would effectively remove "sand" and "gravel" from the kidneys.

Medicinal Use: Bearberry is a diuretic and neutral tonic that decreases infection and swelling of the urinary tract, uterus, vagina, and prostate gland. The leaves contain the active compound glucoside arbutin, which is broken down in the urinary tract into hydrokinone, a powerful antiseptic.

Chamaemelum nobile-- Chamomile (perennial)

Historical Use: People were known to have used this herb in kitchens and in sick rooms to freshen the air. English people are known for their lawns of chamomile.

Medicinal Use: Extracts from the plant are used as anti-inflammatories for skin and mucous membrane afflictions. It is also used to treat ailments from indigestion and menstural cramps.

Other Uses: Flowers from Chamomile dry nicely for arragements. Their apple-like fragrance is a nice addition to potpourris.

Chrysanthemum parthenium-- Feverfew (perennial or biennial)   Picture

Special Considerations: Do not plant feverfew with flowers depending on bees for pollination-- bees dislike its odor and will avoid the entire area it occupies.

Historical Use: Feverfew was used by the ancient Greeks to promote contractions to expel afterbirth and to lower fevers. It also has been used in confectioneries and wines, as an insect repellent, and to ward off disease.

Medicinal Use: Feverfew leaves alleviate the pain of migraines and arthritis. They contain the substance parthenolide which appears to lessen smooth muscle cells' responsiveness to body chemicals triggering migraine muscle spasms.

Other Uses: Household-- decorative, insect repellent; Dye.

Digitalis purpurea-- Foxglove (biennial)       Picture

Special Considerations: Plant foxglove each year so that flowers are always present.

Historical Use: Foxglove was cultivated in Europe as far back as 1000 AD to treat epilepsy, coughs, and swollen glands. It is speculated that Vincent Van Gogh took digitalis for epilepsy and that the yellow vision the drug creates may have influenced his art. Foxglove's effectiveness in treating heart conditions was first documented in 1785 by William Withering in England.

Medicinal Use: Foxglove contains the powerful chemical digitoxin, which acts on the heart by increasing the force of contractions. It is used to treat congestive heart failure and hypertensive heart disease; it elevates arterial blood pressure, improves circulation, alleviates water retention, and reduces edema.

Other Uses: Household-- decorative; Dye.

Echinacea purpurea-- Purple Coneflower (perennial)      Picture

Special Considerations: Divide the roots every five years.

History: Purple coneflower is credited with being used medicinally more often by American Indians in the plains states than any other plant . A solution of root juice and water was sprinkled on hot coals during traditional "sweats" for purification purposes. At one time, it was prepared and packaged as a drug.

Medicinal Use: The root of purple coneflower is highly regarded as a blood purifier and antibiotic, building up the immune system and conferring nonspecific immunity to disease. It contains caffeic acid glycoside, which also facilitates wound healing.

Other Uses: Household-- decorative.

Gentiana lutea-- Yellow Gentian (perennial)

Historical Use: An Egyptian papyrus dating from 1200 BC listed yellow gentian as medicant. The Greeks and Arabs used it in treatment of stomach and liver ailments, for prevention of pestilence, protection against and to kill intestinal worms, and for wound washing.

Medicinal Use: The bitter root stimulates appetite in people suffering from anorexia, old age, illness, or chronic indigestion. Similarly, it is a constituent of commercial bitters which increase appetite and initiate stomach secretions.

Capsicum annuum-- Cayenne Pepper (annual)    Picture

Historical Use: Cayenne was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus.

Medicinal Use: Cayenne treats a variety of ailments. The fruit contains the active ingredient capsaicin, a powerful stimulant having a soothing effect on the stomach and mucous membranes. Taken internally, it tonifies the stomach, intestines, and other internal organs and treats constipation; it stimulates the production of saliva and gastric juices and aids digestion. Prepared as a poultice, it treats chest and lung congestion, general lethargy and painful joints.

Other Uses: Culinary.

Salvia sclarea-- Clary Sage (biennial)

Special Considerations: Clary sage requires a winter mulch.

Historical Use: The seed was used to clear sight and relieve eye irritations. Sixteenth century German wine merchants created Muscatel with clary sage and substituted it for hops in beer.

Medicinal Use: Clary sage is still recommended as an eyewash to remove foreign particles from eyes. The seeds are soaked until they become mucilaginous, then a single seed is placed in the corner of the eye. The foreign object will adhere to it and be cleared when the seed is removed.

Other Uses: Fragrance.

Stachys byzantina-- Lamb's Ears (perennial groundcover)   Picture

Special Considerations: Lamb's ears benefits from a winter mulch.

Historical Use: During the Middle Ages, the leaves of lamb's ears provided bandaging for wounds.

Medicinal Use: Lamb's ears foliage binds wounds and reputedly reduces the pain of bee stings.

Other Use: Culinary.

Ruta graveolens v. blue mound-- Rue (evergreen perennial sub-shrub)

Historical Use: The Roman writer Pliny reported that rue improved the eyesight of artists, antidoted poisons, and repelled insects, scorpions, and serpents. During the Black Plague, it was hung or carried by people to ward off the disease. Rue symbolized repentance; in the early Catholic church, stems of rue were used for sprinkling holy water. The leaves served as an early model for the suit of clubs in cards.

Medicinal Use: Rue alleviates gas pain and colic, improves appetite and digestion, and promotes menstruation. Large doses are toxic.

Other Uses: Household-- decorative; Fragrance.

Teucrium chamaedrys-- Germander (woody perennial)

Historical Use: Germander was used in the 16th century for garden bed borders. Ancient Greeks considered it a cure-all, and in the mid-18th century, it served as a gout remedy.

Medicinal Use: Germander has been used to treat various conditions, heal wounds, reduce fevers, and aid digestion. However, it is best-known as a pain killer and a treatment for gout and rheumatism.

Nepeta cataria-- Catnip (perennial)

Historical Use: Roman cooks and doctors documented their appreciation for catnip at least 2000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, it was considered useful against leprosy and colds. In 1754, the British horticulturist Philip Miller described cats rolling in and flattening a catnip patch and suggested thorn hedges as protection against cat pests. In 1796 America, catnip was a commercial crop where it escaped cultivation and invaded the landscape.

Medicinal Use: Catnip leaves and flowers combat various illnesses, especially colds, and act as a digestive and sleeping aid. Research shows that catnip contains a compound chemically similar to the sedative found in valerian, a well-known natural tranquilizer, supporting its application as a sleep inducer.

Other Use: Culinary.