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Many common wild herbs with strong medicinal properties are easy to find, easy to identify, and easy to preserve. They’re a great way to make a tea that will boost your immune system, improve organ function, and load you up with key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Aside from those properties, the herbs on this list have enormous medicinal powers for treating everything from coughs to arthritis, as discovered by human experimentation over the course of centuries. And if you ask me, there are few better ways to round out your overall wilderness survival knowledge than by learning how to identify and use more wild plants for medicine.
This guide will outline a few of the most easy-to-find wild medicinal herbs in North America, including species that are nearly ubiquitous in yards and roadsides throughout much of the United States.
Each of these species can be dehydrated and steeped as a tea. They can also be used to make topical treatments such as salves, poultices, ointments, and rubs. Individually, they are powerful. Used in combination, they’re even more potent.
The listings below will describe each plant’s physical characteristics along with a brief summary of its medicinal properties and uses as a tea or topical treatment.
Just as each of these plants can be used in tea, they can also be simmered in an oil, such as coconut oil, to extract their medicinal chemicals. The oil can then be used topically. Poultices from the crushed plant are also a good bare-bones option for survival medicine. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on tea, since it’s probably that simplest (and tastiest) way to use them aside from crushing them and applying them to the skin.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Ground Ivy Identification
Known colloquially as Creeping Charlie, among other names, Ground Ivy is a ground-hugging plant in the mint family with tons of Vitamin C and lots of medicinal properties. A very common yard weed, ground ivy has round leaves with scalloped edges and hollow, square stems.
Flowers are small and purple, often getting lost beneath the layer of leaves weaving themselves through the grass. If you crush some up and sniff it, it will have a pleasant, mint-like aroma.
Ground Ivy Medicinal Tea Uses
Ground ivy tea has been used to treat joint pain, diarrhea, bladder and urinary infections, kidney stones, and symptoms of PMS. The taste is pleasant and slightly minty.
Strawberry & False Strawberry (Fragaria vesca/virginiana & Duchesnea indica)
I see a lot more false strawberry out in the wild than I do real strawberry, but for the purposes of turning the leaves into a medicinal tea, both plants are more or less equally powerful and have similar medicinal properties. The leaves of both of these plants are essentially identical… both growing close to the ground and appear in threes, with toothed edges.
Wild Strawberry Medicinal Tea Uses
Strawberry leaf and false strawberry leaf tea are both great for gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea and indigestion. It has also been used to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding. The leaves also contain ellagic acid, which has been shown in studies to boost the immune system and discourage the growth of cancer cells.
Strawberry leaves also have diuretic effects, cleansing the system and organs such as the kidneys and liver, and helping to reduce symptoms of conditions like arthritis and gout.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a wonderfully mild edible green that happens to have an array of medicinal properties as well. Chickweed grows in dense mats along the ground and has a small, star-shaped white flower with five petals.
Stems tend to be long and snaking, intertwining with other chickweed stems and other plants. Leaves are oval to teardrop-shaped with pointed tips, appearing opposite along the stems. Some species are covered in fine hairs or fuzz.
Chickweed Medicinal Tea Uses
Medicinal tea from chickweed has been historically popular as a folk medicine for constipation and other bowel issues. It is also known as a powerful tonic for muscle pains, skin rashes, and psoriasis.
Its diuretic properties also make it great for detoxing the organs and helping people with excess water retention leading to swollen ankles and other swollen body parts. The tea is said to be good for menstrual regularity as well, and is used in some Asian cultures for this purpose.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow has a flower head with many five-petaled white to light yellow flowers with yellow centers. Leaves are fern-like and pungent. Yarrow can typically grow up to around three feet tall. Look for the flower heads all summer long, then sniff the rich-smelling leaves to confirm that you have a yarrow plant.
Yarrow looks somewhat similar to wild carrot and poison hemlock. Hemlock has a white powder on the stem, and will not be as aromatic as Yarrow. Carrots are also easy to distinguish from the other two because, well, the roots smell like carrots.
Yarrow Medicinal Tea Uses
Use yarrow leaves and flowers in tea to reduce fevers, colds, and cases of flu. Yarrow can also help relieve hormonal cramps and improving overall circulation. Some say yarrow tea can reduce allergy symptoms, especially when combined with plants in the mint family such as ground ivy.
Yarrow is also beneficial for the relieving of sore throats, symptoms of PMS, and to promote deep, restful sleep.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Burdock looks similar to the rhubarb plant. Leaves are wavy and meaty and become enormous, almost prehistoric-looking in size. Most people have their first encounter with this plant when they discover that some of the Velcro-like burrs have attached to their clothes. Leaves are whitish on the bottom. Flowers are purple, growing within spiny little bracts.
Burdock Medicinal Tea Uses
Burdock tea can be made from the powerful dried roots, which are also an edible part of the plant. Burdock root dishes and tonics are particularly popular in parts of Asia, such as Japan.
The tea is anti-inflammatory and has been used for gout, arthritis, headaches, liver problems, and acid reflux. Burdock can boost the production of collagen by the body, so those with thinning hair can try it as a hair loss remedy, and those with thick but dandruff-prone hair may find it helps reduce their dandruff.
Burdock is an expectorant, so the tea helps clear phlegm and makes for more productive coughs. Since burdock root is antibacterial, it also has the effect of clearing out bacteria in the throat.
Like the other plants on this list, burdock root tea has diuretic properties, making it beneficial for flushing out excess water and clarifying the kidneys and liver. Since it is loaded with potassium, the root is also beneficial for high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues. Its antioxidant content means that it may also assist with preventing and battling cancer cells.
These plants are powerful healers, even stronger when used together. So strong, in fact, that they shouldn’t be taken every day. But if you start feeling ill, or notice symptoms described above, these natural medicines can work just as effectively as any remedy you’d buy at the store… if not better.
The medicinal qualities I’ve listed for this article are only an introduction and are not comprehensive. Having used lots of wild plants for medicine myself, I’m always blown away by how effective they are, as they seem to work consistently better than store-bought remedies for the same issues.
So whether you’re surviving in the forest after a plane crash, think wild medicine is a fun hobby, or just want to rely less on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry for real healing, these herbs are valuable beyond measure.
Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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