My podcast guest this week, Gail Reynolds, spoke about her love of bogs and marshland ecosystems. She gave us a variety of plants that live in these types of areas which I include here.
She also mentioned witch hazel, an unusual shrub, native to North America that puts out its blossoms in late fall.
Name: Hamamelis virginiana, Witch hazel, sometimes known as winterbloom; tall flowering shrub, blooms in late fall, yellow star-like blossoms are seen on bare twigs; blooms after leaves fall off. After flower blooms, a seed is formed which is explosively released giving the shrub the nickname of snapping hazelnut. It can grow tall about 10-12′. This shrub puts up several trunks that cluster together.
Where Found: dry or moist woods
Parts Used: bark, dried and leaves can be fresh or dried
Uses: astringent, tonic, used for centuries for treating hemorrhoids, bruises, inflammation, varicose veins, bags under the eyes, burns, and scalds earning a place in many a home medicine chest. Witch hazel contains tannins which give it its astringent qualities. Applying witch hazel water to acne, pores helps reduce inflammation, a very popular remedy. Witch hazel’s most popular use is to reduce the swelling from hemorrhoids.
Witch hazel, a native, shown to early settlers by Native Americans found its way into the settler’s home and into our pharmacopeia as an effective remedy. Some sites researched claim there is a low number of studies performed today on its effectiveness though some sources claim it is safe to use topically.
Iroquois Indians used a tea made from bark and twigs, made into a poultice to reduce swelling and inflammation from bruises, sprains. It worked. Euell Gibbons, one of my favorite authors on the use of edible plants in our local environments, supported by the University of Pennsylvania’s agricultural department, made teas, distilled leaves for a poultice. He acknowledges witch hazel as one of the most commonly used folk remedies.
Gail Reynolds, Master Gardener, plant scientist, and Middlesex County Coordinator for that program here in CT stresses proper ID before using any plant from the wild. I agree. However, we have folkloric traditional use of our plants. They were effective at a time when there were no antibiotics, no words for bacteria and viruses. They used these plants effectively and passed down that knowledge generationally. We have many uses both edible and topical from our native plants, many right in our backyards or visible on our local trails.
Before taking plant material, research the plant well, know the parts used. Also look into its habitat, pay attention to how many plants exist in one area and if sparse, leave alone. All contribute to sustainable wildcrafting practices.
What are your family’s plant stories? So many of our families stories and use of local remedies is lost. I recently appeared on a radio show and someone called in and spoke of a plant remedy for removing a splinter when he was a young boy. Today he remembers the story but doesn’t remember the plant. Many of my university students came from different countries and were quite familiar with successful local remedies. I encouraged to listen more carefully to the stories, be the one who passes the knowledge down.
Do you have any local plant stories? Please send me a note as I would value hearing them.