It’s a very busy time in the plant world! It’s finally the time of year that most of us have been waiting for, the time of year when the colors are vibrant, the berries are abundant, and medicinal plants are flourishing.
Here’s your guide for just some of the amazing medicinal plants you might come across while foraging in your neck of the woods.
RED CLOVER (Trifolium pratense): Often thought of as a weed, red clover is actually a powerful medicinal plant. It is used in traditional medicine for a vast array of aliments from indigestion to asthma. Interestingly, red clover has been shown to be effective at reducing depression and anxiety related to menopause by its ability to bind to specific estrogen receptors from the phytoestrogen effects of isoflavones and others.
How To Identify: Red clover has a distinct red colored flower head that is round and made up of many tabular-shaped flowers. The leaves have a light green or white colored chevron on its upper side.
LAVENDER (Lavandula angustifolia): Medicinally, lavender can be used both internally as a tea or applied externally to the skin as an essential oil. The essential oil has even been called “a first-aid kit in a bottle” because of its range of uses from healing wounds, decreasing pain, and working as an antiseptic. When infused in water and drank as a tea, lavender can help relax the nervous system, ease digestion, relieve stress, and act as a mild antidepressant. In traditional medicine, lavender is often used in aromatherapy and is thought to relieve headaches, promote sleep and a restful state, and ease exhaustion. When used topically, lavender is thought to ease aches and pains, act as a bug repellent, a natural antifungal and potent antibacterial.
How To Identify: Lavender has an unmistakable scent and its flowers rise in the air in the form of a spike with various tones of purple flowering petals.
SAGE (Salvia officinalis): This aromatic herb is native to the Mediterranean yet known globally for its restorative benefits. The name salvia originates from the Latin word ‘salvare’ that means to save or heal-and sage does exactly that. This mint family member offers much more than just a potent scent; it contains over 28 important medicinal compounds used to treat a wide range of ailments. Traditional uses include sore throats, acne, inflamed skin, and dandruff.
How To Identify: Sage has a potent lemony-mint scent and a recognizable leather-like texture that is lined with tiny soft hairs. The leaf color is largely dependent on the variety but ranges from silvery green to slightly purplish.
LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis): This mint-family member is also calming plant and has been used back as far as the Middle ages to promote sleep and ease anxiety. Lemon balm actually does far more than just aid in stress reduction; it can also ease pain and support digestion. Newer evidence also reveals that this sweet-smelling plant can even improve cognitive function.
How To Identify: Lemon balm looks similar to other members of the mint family with its white flowers and square stems with leaves in an opposite branching fashion but its lemony scent will always give it away.
OREGON GRAPE (Mahonia aquifolium): The root is often used for liver support, topically it has been proven to help with psoriasis and other chronic skin conditions, and can improve digestion through its bitter properties.
How To Identify: Oregon grape has yellow flowers that typically appear in the winter and small cluster-like blue/black fruits that appear in June. This shrub has compound leaves with spiny leaflets (ranging between 9 and 13) and bark with a cork texture.
Hidalgo, Luis A, et al. “The Effect of Red Clover Isoflavones on Menopausal Symptoms, Lipids and Vaginal Cytology in Menopausal Women: a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Gynecological Endocrinology : the Official Journal of the International Society of Gynecological Endocrinology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373244.
Booth, Nancy L, et al. “The Chemical and Biologic Profile of a Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense L.) Phase II Clinical Extract.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1780253/.
Sánchez-Vidaña, Dalinda Isabel, et al. “Lavender Essential Oil Ameliorates Depression-like Behavior and Increases Neurogenesis and Dendritic Complexity in Rats.” Neuroscience Letters, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 May 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30825591.
Kianpour, Maryam, et al. “Effect of Lavender Scent Inhalation on Prevention of Stress, Anxiety and Depression in the Postpartum Period.” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27095995.
Ghorbani, Ahmad and Mahdi Esmaeilizadeh. “Pharmacological properties of Salvia officinalis and its components” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 7,4 433-440. 13 Jan. 2017, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.12.014
Hamidpour, Mohsen et al. “Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Property of Sage (Salvia) to Prevent and Cure Illnesses such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Dementia, Lupus, Autism, Heart Disease, and Cancer” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 4,2 (2014): 82-8.
Miraj, Sepide, et al. “Melissa Officinalis L: A Review Study With an Antioxidant Prospective.” Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, SAGE Publications, July 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871149/.
Cases, Julien, et al. “Pilot Trial of Melissa Officinalis L. Leaf Extract in the Treatment of Volunteers Suffering from Mild-to-Moderate Anxiety Disorders and Sleep Disturbances.” Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Springer Milan, Dec. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230760/.
Janeczek, Monica, et al. “Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Topical Mahonia Aquifolium for the Treatment of Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Matrix Medical Communications, Dec. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30666279.
Yan, Fang, et al. “Berberine Promotes Recovery of Colitis and Inhibits Inflammatory Responses in Colonic Macrophages and Epithelial Cells in DSS-Treated Mice.” American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, American Physiological Society, 1 Mar. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311435/.