The purple coneflower, a true garden beauty, tall and colorful, attracting an array of butterflies and other wildlife, has been a part of our native culture for centuries. I feel this pretty plant helped open the doors of natural medicine into mainstream awareness. It emerged as a strong player through the AIDS crises.
Name: Echinacea sps, purple coneflower
Where found: native to North America, found in the prairies west of Ohio. It’s a member of the Aster family. If you have any allergies to ragweed, marigolds, or daisies try in very small amounts or avoid. It grows from 2-3′ in height, great food for butterflies, moths. Echinacea purpura, Angustifolia, and purpura are the most common varieties used in herbal tinctures, teas, etc.
Parts used: When I first stepped in the study of herbalism many years ago, we talked about echinacea root. When you chew a piece of the root, it leaves a distinct almost numbing taste and quality which is a good way to ID plant. At that time, the root was used to make several types of herbal preparations including teas and tinctures. Later on, studies were done on the stems, leaves, flowers and they too contain the same properties as the root. Today, echinacea farms grow and harvest the entire plant for the herbal supplement industry.
Actions: Sioux, Cherokee, even Russia have tested and used this plant. In recent years this plant received much press from studies that show it does have some impact on our immune system functions, specifically raising white cells.
- From the NCCIH.gov:Taking echinacea after you catch a cold has not been shown to shorten the time that you’ll be sick.
- Taking echinacea while you’re well may slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold. However, the evidence on this point isn’t completely certain. Currently, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is funding research to identify the active constituents in echinacea and to study the effects on the human immune system of substances in bacteria that live within echinacea plants.
- WebMD states: ” Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, you’re body’s defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white cells, which fight infections. A review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a very slight benefit in preventing colds.
Uses: Teas, decoctions, tinctures. In older herbals, it was used to help rid the body of toxins. Dr, Mercola claims 10 benefits of echinacea, one of which may help shorten the duration of a cold. Studies are underway since the sales of herbal medicines have soared and cannot be ignored over OTC’s.
What’s the difference?
Each herb has its own unique collections of constituents that drive its action on a cellular level.
It seems echinacea exerts its influence on raising white cells which helps fight infection.
Elderberry exerts its influence in a variety of ways. …Dr. Maxwell Crispo, N.D. says: ” the antiviral activity of elderberry on influenza was strongest when used in pre-treatment, during infection and post-infection, rather than when used solely during infection. The study confirmed that elderberry exerts its antiviral activity on influenza through a number of mechanisms of action, including suppressing the entry of the virus into cells, modulating the post-infectious phase, and preventing viral transmission to other cells. Elderberry also upregulates IL-6, IL-8, and TNF, suggesting an indirect effect on viral immune response in the body.”
Also: “black elderberry extract has previously been shown to inhibit human influenza A (H1N1) infection in vitro by binding to H1N1 virions, thereby blocking the ability of the viruses to infect host cells.2 The same study showed elderberry to be effective against 10 strains of influenza virus and compared its effectiveness favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and amantadine.”
What to take? Recommendations are to use elderberry as a preventive, at the onset, and through the duration of a cold or flu. Echinacea may be more useful at the onset and for the duration, maybe even a week or 2 afterward. Both herbs come in a variety of ways. Teas provide nourishment, capsules, tinctures are more medicinal. Lozenges soothe.
- Read labels.
- Check botanical names.
- Buy organically grown.
- Use it wisely. If you need to see a physician always disclose which herbal preparations you include in your daily routine.
- There are preparations designed especially for children. I recommend you use those for these younger ages and not the ones designed for adults.
- Herbal medicine is slowly catching up in terms of research and well-conducted studies. It takes time. Remember both plants were effectively used long before double-blind studies became the sought after norm. Both plants have several uses but today they are gaining attention because of COVID-19. Can they help prevent this strain of flu? Too early to tell. But, like many others, I keep both plants in my home medicine chest. I worked in the health food industry for many years. Folks often related their success in terms of having a positive health response. Some didn’t. These are testimonials. But either way, both plants contribute a profound understanding of herbal medicine. My native elders would say: “whatever ails you, nature has the answer.” I hope you will take a walk today and look at the plants available with fresh eyes.
All comments are welcome. Enjoy your day. Judith
COVID-19 surprised us, caught us off guard. Many wonder how best to prevent or support our immune systems through this crisis we are in. Not just for COVID but we still get colds and influenzas too. What helps?
Herbal teas nourish and provide many health benefits. Warm liquids are recommended to keep our mucous membranes healthy and resistant. I keep many dried plants as part of my home medicine chest, But, with any herb, it’s wise to know how to properly ID them in the wild, and know how to use them; what form is best.
One of my most popular blog posts talked about the value of elderberry. Family and friends frequently ask me about this woody shrub. With the COVID-19 flu virus causing unprecedented changes to our lives, I thought it worthwhile to look at the differences between elderberry and echinacea both used to support our immune systems during cold and flu season. I added echinacea here because folks wonder about that herb’s health benefits. Today, we’ll review elderberry. In Part 2, we’ll look at echinacea and then compare the two.
Elderberry: Sambucus nigra, also known as European Elder. Elder has a rich history. One of its name origins is Aeld, which meant fire. The pith in young branches is soft and easily pushes out. A hollow tube remains which was used to stoke the kitchen fires. In ancient times pipes were made of elder wood, hence the common name, pipe tree. The hollow reed was fashioned into instruments and of course pea shooters.
Where Found: common to Europe and Northern Africa; now found all over the United States; in fact, it was thought this was the tree Judas chose to hang from. A fungus occurs on the elder, Hirroneola auricular Judaea, so named from the above historical story or myth. Elder is considered a small tree about 10-12’ high or a shrub. It is commonly found along wood edges, along with wood stands in fields, along banks and fences. This plant is also nitrogen loving and in the Honeysuckle family. It flowers from May- June. Fruit ripens in August. Virginia Tech has a great ID page and plant facts.
Parts Used: bark, leaves, flowers, and berries. Do not eat the bark, leaves raw. The dried flowers dried or fresh or dried berries are often taken in tea form.
Actions: The flowers and berries are ideal for colds and flu, even sinusitis or any inflammation of the upper respiratory tract.
“What our study has shown us is that the common elderberry has a potent direct antiviral effect against the flu virus,” said Dr. Golnoosh Torabian. It inhibits the early stages of infection by blocking key viral proteins responsible for both the viral attachment and entry into the host cells.” Does it work against COVID-19? That’s still in debate. But since our immune system can be attacked by these types of viruses, research is on.
James Duke, Ph.D., who wrote, Herb-a-Day studied the studies conducted on herbs. He recommended the elderberry for the flu. and his research states that this plant was used by many Native American tribes.
Sambucol, Sambucus, two popular names for commercial products fly off the shelves of health or natural supplement departments. I have heard many stories of folks getting through a winter with no or few respiratory ailments hitting their households when combining elderberry with good winter health practices. If a cold should hit, elderberry syrup supplements are often the herb of choice. Research studies are being conducted by notable University’s Complementary and Alternative Medical Departments including the NIH. The German Commission E recommends elderberry and elderflower preparations for colds and flu even bronchitis.
Medical News Today states: One cup of elderberries contains 106 calories and 26.68 grams (g) of carbohydrate. A cup also contains the following vitamins and minerals:
Elderberries are also an excellent source of fiber, containing 10.2 g of dietary fiber per cup.
How used: Edler flowers can be brewed and taken as a tea. Elderberry syrup and lozenges are part of my home medicine chest. I usually use elderberry during the winter or if I am traveling to keep my immune system strong. In fact, there is some research that indicates it’s beneficial to take when flying. There are many products that are available for children too. In view of the recent flu outbreaks, I thought it important to get info out about this wonderful plant. The berries have a long “food as medicine” history and can be found recipes including wine, jams, vinegar, and more.
Nature has so many remedies for us. Doug Tallamy, a podcast guest on my show: Holistic Nature of Us, reminds us: our personal land can play a huge part in supporting wildlife. And Elderberry is a host plant for a variety of butterflies and moths.
Elder, referenced by Shakespeare and Pliny, holds a place of connection whether superstition, hedgerows, or poetry capturing us with its many uses and meanings.
Have you made elderberry vinegar or jam? Next week we’ll talk about echinacea and then compare the actions and uses of both plants. We enjoy hearing from you. Any comments or suggestions are always appreciated.
Description: Healthy soils support healthy plants, create nutrient-dense foods, help create better health. It all begins with the soil. My guest this week, Nigel Palmer, is a soil consultant and teaches sustainable and regenerative soil practices with The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, TIOSN, here in North CT. What’s good for soil biology, the “digestive system” of soil, is actually important for us. Join us for an informative discussion on growing nutritious foods from the ground up.
About My Guest: Nigel Palmer is a Bionutrient Food and Soil Consultant practicing sustainable, regenerative mineralization programs. He develops plant and soil improvement products by fermenting local plants, extracting minerals, and capturing then cultivating indigenous microorganisms. He uses the refractive index of plant saps and crops as a way of monitoring long and short-term plant health trends and the efficacy of the products developed.
Nigel is the Outside Consultant for The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition or TIOSN. He teaches sustainable regenerative gardening techniques, the keeping of bees, and discusses monthly, the night sky and many subtle nuances of the world out of doors.
Transcript: Nigel Palmer
While we wait for the rain to stop here in the NE, spring flowers brighten up our landscapes. The grass is an ‘Emerald City’ green. Bulbs rise, flower, come and go as we place seeds in the ground for early crops. Clovers will be coming up soon though I kinda take the little white clover blossoms for granted.
Botanical name: Trifolium repens
Common names: white clover, shamrock
Parts used: whole plant, Peterson’s field guides to medicinal plants states the entire plant can be used.
Uses: teas, washes for sores, ulcers, very popular in Europe. This plant was brought to our country with the early settlers during the 1600-1700’s. It’s short, a perennial and flowers from April to September with shamrock type leaves. As you can imagine, looking for four-leafed clover was and is considered a sign of good luck. In Europe, flower tea was used for rheumatism and gout. In North America, the Native Americans used the leaf tea for colds, coughs, and fevers.
Jethro Kloss, an American icon in the world of herbalism, lived from 1863 to 1946 and practiced herbal medicine. He used white clover blossoms in a tea to cleanse the system, especially if ulcers, boils or other skin ailments were present. He also noted that poultices, tea washes applied externally, helped heal sores, ulcers too.
White clover has been used for many years as a ground cover. It is useful as a ground cover for its nitrogen-fixing properties. There are nodules on the roots that literally grab nonusable nitrogen from the air and with the help of bacteria convert it into a plant usable form which is important for plant growth and provides protein source for foraging animals.
Benefits of White Clover: (from the University of Hawaii cooperative extension service pdf.)
1. Excellent for attracting beneficial insects, for reduced- or non-chemical pest management, for controlling erosion, suppressing weeds once established,
2. …and as a source of organic nitrogen good for quick growth and establishment,
3. …for bearing equipment traffic
4. …tolerates low fertility soils
5…. fair shade tolerance suitable for higher elevations
6. …good forage for animal grazing systems;
7. …high production, nutritional quality, and palatability
8. For use in plantation and orchard cropping systems including macadamia and coffee, in vineyards, and as a living mulch in vegetable cropping systems.”
In doing research for this article I came across a blog: insteading.com they use white clover as a living mulch, planting it in the garden to keep down weeds; eventually, it becomes mulch, retains moisture, attracts pollinators, and improves the soil. When I visited Michael Judd’s property, (author of Edible Landscapes), I saw his use of crops like mint growing in many places. He explained to us that he was not worried about keeping them harnessed. He cut them down periodically during the growing season and they became mulch there and then. It seems Insteading supports the same practices.
Last but not least, white clovers attract pollinators. White clover honey is one of the most popular honey here in the US, light in color and milder in taste.
Teas are easy: gather flowers, leaves at peak growing times, dry, store in glass jars. These plant parts can be combined with other herbs for tea making. A few white clover blossoms along with red clovers can be added to ice teas too creating pleasing summertime drinks.
White clover flowers dried, then ground into flour can be added to bread recipes. Southern forager shares a bread recipe made from dehydrated and dried, ground white clover blossom flour. I have found forager sites have great uses and recipes for meadow plants.
I hope you look at white clovers in lawns, gardens, and paths a bit differently. This little plant often mowed and ignored provides a host of uses. Do you have a favorite recipe? Please share…I’d like that.
So many of my podcasts are concerned with growing good soils. Nettles pops up as a great plant, a must in fact for growing good soils and for adding nutrition to our spring diet. If you don’t have any nettles, can you think about dedicating an area just for them? A new addition that will contribute so much to your garden? Seeds are available too if you can’t find a neighboring gardener willing to share.
Nettles are one of my favorite spring herbs. Their reputation to “sting” usually makes many wary or loathe this plant. Yet they are a powerhouse of nutrients not only for the soil but for us too. In biodynamic farming, nettle is a major player in composting. Why?
Biodynamic farming, founded by Rudolph Steiner, encourages its farmers to use nettles in a preparation called BD504. “Stinging Nettle has enormous healing potential. Working in conjunction with Mars, (Steiner worked with the planets, moon cycles etc) BD504 plays a huge role in resolving soils with an imbalance of iron, magnesium, and sulfur. Excess iron can cause many problems and often presents itself in the form of very tight soil with hardpan or crust. This tightness locks in the iron and other trace minerals, which in turn exacerbates the problem. BD504 preparation loosens the soil texture allowing the nutrients to release, disperse and be absorbed by plants.”
This plant also contains formic acid, phosphorus, and a trace of iron. The square and downy stems are covered with tiny sharp spikes that release an acrid fluid when touched much like a bee sting. Interestingly the juice of the crushed nettle leaves can be rubbed on the sting for relief. Each of these spikes or spines is composed of small cells that contain this fluid. Once dried or cooked the sting is neutralized. However once discovered and tried it makes for a nutritious pot herb or tea.
Name: Stinging Nettles: Urtica dioca
Parts Used: the whole plant
Where Found: Nettles are found in most temperate regions and seem to follow man’s migrations. Nettles can indicate a soil rich in Nitrogen.
Young Shoots: Nettles are best gathered in the early spring when they are less than one foot tall. Later in the season they get gritty and accumulate crystals, cystoliths that make them unpalatable to eat. I gather for two reasons, one to cook and eat that day, or two, to make a pot of tea with the fresh herb or two, and then dry the rest for later use including winter.
Stems: Nettles have been valued for its fiber. While in herb school we separated the fibers found using the cut and dried stems gathered late in the summer. We then wove our own cordage. This fiber was also used in clothing, sailcloth and sacking material.
Compost tea: after I gather young nettles for kitchen use, pot herb and tea making, I gather some and place in 5-gallon bucket. I cover about 3/4 full with water. I stir it frequently for about 3 weeks. At the end of three weeks, I add molasses, about a tablespoon to 1/4 cup and let it ferment a bit. When done I dilute the tea 1:10 with water. Then I give each plant a cupful. You can also dilute the tea 1:20, 1 part tea to 20 parts water and use as a foliar spray which can deter bugs and even fungi, such as powdery mildew.
At the end of the season, plants are cut back to the ground and added to the compost pile.
Recipe for nettles as a potherb and/or tea:
- Gather tender aerial parts in spring
- Wash and chop, wear gloves as they will sting
- Place in a pot, about 1 handful and cover with water. Bring ot a boil and simmer a couple of minutes.
- Drink the tea water and add the greens to rice, veggies, pasta dishes.
My podcast guest this week, Craig Floyd, manager for the Coogan Farm in Mystic CT celebrates all plants including nettles. Bright green parts poke up at the beginning of spring offering nourishment both for us and our soils, a treat after winter’s greys and browns. Nettles has been a part of my garden. I wouldn’t be without them. I encourage you to appreciate this little stinging plant more for it offers much. The sting reminds us to quiet down and approach them with respect.
Enjoy perusing the seed catalogs and consider nettles.
Description: The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition, TIOSN, offers a one-year certification program in Sustainable Health and Nutrition. They have four focuses:
1. Learn and practice sustainable gardening methods.
2. Take the food from the garden, weeds included, and grow your culinary skills in the kitchen.
3. Identify nutrient-rich wild plants, for culinary and medicinal uses both for us and the garden.
4. Learn about preparing wild edibles for food and medicine.
Joan Palmer, the founder of TIOSN, shares her experiences, and how she is attempting to connect the dots between our health, the health of the planet, through the science and art of gardening and nutrition.
About My Guest: Joan Palmer is the Founder and Director of The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition and owner of Real Food Matters, LLC. Joan has an MS in Human Nutrition, a BS in Education and received her certification as a Family/Community Herbalist. She has been planting the seeds of real food matters for decades through educational programs presented to schools, businesses, organizations, families, and individuals. Joan presents the Art and Science of Eating as part of an accredited master’s degree program in Ct.
Transcript: Joan Palmer #45