Heather Housman and Chris Schimmoeller presented a program about the medicinal value of plants at the February meeting of The Garden Club of Frankfort at the Franklin County Extension Office.
Housman holds a master’s degree from UK in Forest Ecology and has previously worked as an ecologist for the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. She has spent many years gardening and has been using her plants medicinally for the last few years.
Schimmoeller is a graduate of Georgetown College and is known for her work on issues including national forest protection, regional water supply, smart growth, and comprehensive planning. She has been growing and using medicinal herbs for about 20 years. Both are board members of the Woods and Waters Land Trust.
Historically, harvesting medicinal plants, processing and preserving them, was just as natural as canning and preserving vegetables from the garden. The use of medicinal plants is an ancient practice and is common throughout the world.
Many of our modern medicines are derived from plants. For instance, the active chemical in aspirin, salicin, is found in willow bark. Medicinal plants can be used in their raw form, such as applying the juice from a cut aloe leaf to a burn; taken as an infusion (herbal tea); or preserved for later use in a tincture.
Many common garden plants have healing properties. For example, bee balm and rosemary are good for treating colds; catnip, chamomile, lavender and rose are calming; most mints, particularly peppermint, are great for digestion. Fresh basil leaf can be rubbed on an insect bite to stop the itch.
Are you suffering from bronchitis? Try drinking a tea made from goldenrod flowers. Are you prone to migraines? Chew on the leaf of feverfew to help prevent these debilitating headaches.
Medicinal teas are very easy to make from herbs grown in the home garden, although many are widely available for purchase as well. Just steep the fresh or dried leaves or flowers (depending on the particular plant used) for 15-20 minutes in water that has been brought nearly to a boil and strain. Make sure you cover the top of your mug while steeping to capture all of the beneficial oils from the plant.
Homemade tinctures are also relatively simple to make by infusing the desired part of a plant, such as the roots from Echinacea (known to boost immunity), in a jar of vodka or grain alcohol, shaking it regularly for several weeks. The resulting tinctures are taken sparingly, using a dropper.
Housman and Schimmoeller recommend consulting one of the many available books and online resources for further advice on preparing and using such herbal home remedies. Housman sells her plants at the Franklin County Farmers Market.