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2016 12 20

             I am not an expert on plants nor on using them. I discovered that many of the plants found commonly near my home were used by the peoples in the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere for all manner of purposes over millennia, and by herbalists in the treatment of ailments.

WILD FLOWERS of ALBERTA by R.G.H. Cormack (Government of Alberta, 1967) has been a constant companion for forty years.

Wild Plants ~ the useful and the beautiful

[alder] [agrimony] [alfalfa] [arnica] [arrowhead] [avens] [baneberry] [bearberry] [bedstraw] [birch] [blueberry] [bulrush] [bunchberry] [buttercup] [canada thistle] [cat's-tail] [cherry] [clover] [cow parsnip] [cranberry] [cucumber root] [dandelion] [dock] [fiddlehead] [fireweed] [foxtail barley] [goldenrod] [grains] [hemp nettle] [honeysuckle] [horsetail] [jewelweed] [kinnikinik] [labrador tea] [lamb's quarters] [marigold] [mint] [nettle] [paintbrush] [pearly everlasting] [pine] [pineapple weed] [plantain] [poplar] [raspberry] [rat root] [rose] [red willow] [sarsaparilla] [saskatoon] [shepherd's purse] [spruce] [strawberry] [sweet clover] [strawberry blite] [tamarack] [tansy] [touch me not] [vetch] [water hemlock] [willow] [wintergreen] [yarrow]

             The best way to obtain the useful plants is to pick them in the wild where, invariably, they are most potent.
             Women were the principal gatherers. Families would have the gathering rights to a particular area. Looking for edible roots, greens, nuts and berries women went on forays in groups. They used digging sticks and gathering poles, seed-strippers and berry scoops and baskets. Sometimes special attention was given to the first plant products gathered by a girl, and she was almost always taught plant lore and gathering techniques by her mother: Harvest in season. In the autumn of the year plants are dormant and ripened seeds left on the ground grow another crop. Gather when dry, not in the morning dew or following a rain. Gather seeds ripe in the pod before they fall to the ground. Collect roots that store the dying plant's active principle at season's end. Barks can be stripped when sap prevents it sticking; shave off the woody outer layer and use the potent cambium.
             According to the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic): when food plants are gathered the roots, tops, and outer leaves should be left on as this "delays wilting, and Vitamin values are increased until the onset of wilting, when they decline.
             The term 'herb' is meant to signify a plant of which the leaves are used for food or medicine, or in some way for its scent or flavor. Strictly, it is a plant of which the stem does not become woody but is soft and succulent and dies down after flowering. Only small stems with leaves and flowers and so much of the main stem as the leaves run on it are used. Picked when bud turns to flower, the herb's essence is most vital. Herbs are delicate and easily bruised or crushed, nor tolerate direct sun for very long. Hang small bunches to dry in a dark, airy place. Roots need washing and drying in the sun. Properly dried, herbs do not fall to a powder when touched nor can a leaf be rolled without breaking, seeds shake out of the pod, and roots break with a snap. Store in dark, closed containers.

Medicinal Plants ~ Food for Thought
             The traditional uses of plants in European and native American folk medicine are many, Although modern medicine recognizes large numbers of these herbal remedies ~ many of our present drugs are processed plant-remedies ~ modern men are largely distrustful of the herbal lores of the different peoples, or the other disciplines that are not commonly considered "scientific".
             The state of native American medicine in particular, however, cannot really be measured in terms of white medical practice alone. That the Indian has thousands, and the white man but some hundreds, of years of practical experience with those plants that are indigenous to this continent is a fact that must be considered of some importance. As Virgil J, Vogel puts it in American Indian Medicine: "The mere fact that a plant is not listed in the Dispensatory, or the Pharmacopeia, or the Formulary, does not necessarily signify that the plant is without medical value. . . ." As not all of the potentially valuable plants have been investigated at this time, they cannot be dismissed if there is evidence that they were in use by peoples eminently schooled in their employment. When the two cultures first met, Indian medicine ~ at the least ~ could be favourably compared with European medicine of the same period.
             Almost all of the Indian tribes used plant remedies for the curing of diseases. So much so that many of the modern drugs used today are of native origin, such as quinine, ephedrine, novocaine, curare, ipecac, witchhazel, and others. Although many of the best-known examples have come from South America, examples from the northern half of the continent abound. Scurvy, which could be identified according to the sixteenth century sailor Sir Richard Hawkins, "by swelling of the gums, by denting of the flesh of the leg with a man's finger, the pit remaining without filling up in a good space," was a debilitating disease in which wounds refused to heal, and swollen, painful gums made eating a prolonged agony. In 1535, Jacques Cartier, the French navigator and explorer, reportedly saw twenty-five of his crew die of scurvy before a band of friendly Iroquis cured the rest by giving them the decoction of a certain tree ~ since conjectured to be spruce, pine, hemlock, and sassafras!
             Among the Ojibwa, and to a lesser extent among the neighbouring Cree, the Grand Medicine Society exercised great influence. The society levied heavy dues from its members who were the principal doctors, or medicine-men, of the tribes. In treating the sick they employed mainly herbal remedies. The tribes which had so few herbal remedies as to have escaped the attention of Diamond Jenness, noted anthropologist and author of The Indians of Canada ~ were those Indian tribes of the MacKenzie Delta and the Eskimo.
             The development of native American medicine can best be illustrated, however, by an Aztec example. The early Spanish in the Aztec domain recognized the effectiveness of Aztec medicine, and studied the prescriptions and methods of Aztec physicians for European use. In the sixteenth century, a course in native medicine taught by the best Aztec doctors was included in the curriculum of the College of Santa Cruz. The first American medical volume was produced here. This herbal, written in his native language by the Aztec physician Martinus de la Cruz, was translated in 1552 by his Spanish colleague Badianus, and is now known as the Badianus Manuscript. It was a worthy companion to the great medieval herbals such as the Herbarium of Apuleius, written in the fifth century A.D. and still in use in Europe at that time.
             Let us take a brief look at the uses of the two common plants ~ the mint and the nettle - by way of illustration.

             Although mint had long been used in medicine, Culpeper noted that if a wounded man eat of it he would never recover. Native Americans obviously did not believe this, for it was much used by them in medicinal preparations and as a savoury for dried meats. The native mint (Mentha arvensis), not to be confused with the peppermint or spearmint, was well known to the Plains Indians. It is a familiar, common plant, looks like a true mint, and its pungent, aromatic scent cannot be mistaken. The dried leaves and flowering tops were used in the manner of other mints, in aromatic stimulant beverages, and to relieve nausea, gas, and pain in the stomach and bowels. All of the great Canadian tribes used the various mints for these and related ills.
             An early eighteenth century treatise on Women's Diseases noted that "it is said that either crocus or mint prevents conception, if introduced into the vagina immediately after intercourse."

             That the nettle stings, everyone knows, and the common nettle (Urtica gracilis) does not make up for this by its appearance in any way; with its small, green flowers, it is an unattractive plant. The stinging is caused by the tiny hairs on the leaves, which are like small vials with needle-sharp points that can be seen with the naked eye. On contact, the hairs break off like fine slivers of glass and a chemical substance is discharged into the skin which causes the irritation. One of the Urtica species (urentissima) is so virulent as sometimes to cause death; it is said that the sting lasts even in the dried plant.
             Still, the nettle is a most useful and beneficial plant. Flagellation with nettles was a method of treatment formerly employed in paralysis and to produce local irritation, which must have been very effective. Cree Indians used the plant as a treatment for rheumatism by walking bare-legged ~ bared as much as the individual dared ~ through the living plants and by rubbing them on affected parts of the body, with the caution not to scratch but to let the sting wear off naturally. Strangely, the juice from its leaves will heal the nettle's sting.
             Medicinally, in herbal practice, nettle tea was used in the treatment of neuralgia and asthma, to expel worms, and as a blood purifier ~ as John Gay said in 1732, "Elder's early bud with nettle's tender shoots, [will] cleanse the blood." Inhaling the smoke from the dried leaves was also said to relieve asthma and bronchitis. U. dioica and U. urens, as well as U. gracilis, increase the flow of urine and arrest hemorrhage. The infusion, it is said, will restore the natural colour of hair, and has been used as hair tonic ~ as in the recipe for one which instructed to simmer a handful of young nettles in a quart of water for two hours, which was then to be strained and bottled when cold. Saturating the scalp with the lotion every night was said to prevent the hair from falling out, and to make it soft and glossy.
             Nettle leaves are rich in sodium, calcium, iron, and potassium, and they may be used as an additive to various dishes for these qualities. The nineteenth century Manual of Botany said, "the young shoots of the common nettle are sometimes used like spinach or greens." The first Americans also used it extensively as a food. The fresh young leaves, picked early in spring and boiled in a small amount of water as a vegetable and then served with butter, salt, and pepper, are a truly tasty dish.
             In the words of Ecclesiasticus, one of the poets of the Apocrypha, "the Lord has created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not disparage them."

published 1974 in Manitoba Nature
"Gently stroke a nettle, it will sting you for your pain;
grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remain."


Yarrow ~ Achilllea millefolium

             With tough grey stem, finely divided leaves and flat clusters of flower heads of a somewhat dull white, this common herb is a useful plant.
             Yarrow stalks for use as I Ching divining sticks need to be from one to two feet long. Although only forty-nine are used for discovering the responses of the ancient "Book of Change", there must be exactly fifty sticks for ritual purpose. Gathering these in early winter before the snow is too deep, when they are thoroughly dried is an easy and pleasant chore.
             Why the Chinese believed yarrow stalks to be particularly suited for use as divining sticks I do not know. The plant has been used for magical purposes in Europe: "A sprig of yarrow should be plucked at the time of the new moon and placed under one's pillow to make this divination work":

Good night, fair yarrow,
Thrice goodnight to thee;
I hope before tomorrow's dawn
My true love I shall see.

             Yarrow's medicinal use is ancient.
             As a youth, Achilles was taught the properties of this plant by his tutor Chiron, one of the centaurs who was knowm for his goodness and wisdom. Achilles is said to have made a yarrow ointment to heal the wounds of his soldiers, and its scientific name is in honour of that occurrence. It was also called soldier's woundwort and knight's milfoil and was used as the basis of healing ointments in every castle and monastery of Medieval Europe.
             The rather sharp, astringent tea is classed a sudorific tonic and is helpful to people with stomach disorders. The pioneers considered yarrow-tea a good remedy for "malaria", a designation freely used in those times to describe various fevers, and when taken very hot it is a good treatment for this affliction. Its properties are due to an extractive, achillein, and its volatile oil. It also contains tannin.
             Yarrow was widely used by Americans since early times. A report from 1724 related that yarrow was considered an effective treatment for cuts. And, in fact, tribes from the Micmacs in the Maritimes to the Thompson Indians of British Columbia treated wounds, sores, and bruises with it.
             In the south, according to Weiner, Utes pulverized the plant, Winnebagos used it in infusion, while others "prepared a powder for dusting on skin sores by roasting the leaves or stems until they were dry enough to be pulverized between stones."
             Far to the north, Aleuts used the juice of yarrow leaves to stop bleeding. An old folk remedy for piles were yearrow leaves ground fine and inserted in the anus.
             Potter deemed it a diaphoretic stimulant tonic used in infusion to treat colds and commencement of fever. It contains potassium and is deemed a sedative.

Picking Ratroot by John Dixon
Ojibwa from Port Dover, Ontario
at ahnisnabae-art
Sweet Flag (Calamus) ~ Acorus calamus

             This fairly rare marsh plant is known as 'rat root' by the Cree, for the muskrat likes to dig and eat the long, shallow and horizontally growing rhizomes. According to the Cree they themselves could eat this root and "travel great distances without touching the ground". In fact, it is known by some as their sacred plant, and considered to be 'psychoactive'.
             So widely used was it by all the continental tribes that it is believed to have been dispersed by them and planted along their migratory paths to be harvested as needed. Sweet flag can often be found growing close to the sites of Indian villages, camping areas or trails, throughout north America.
             Sweet flag often shares habitat with the common cat-tail which it resembles. Plants have long creeping roots that spread just below the surface of the soil, and grow horizontally to be be finger-thick and several feet long in old, well established specimens.
             The Cree of northern Alberta use it for a number of medicinal reasons including as an analgesic for the relief of toothache or headache, for oral hygiene to cleanse and disinfect the teeth, and to relieve the effects of exhaustion or fatigue.
             It was widely used by trappers working for the Hudson's Bay Company, who chewed a small piece when tired. The plant was also known to many early settlers and used for a number of folk remedies. Walt Whitman even wrote poetry about his beloved herb in Leaves of grass.
             The root was used by the ancient Greeks and included in the traditional remedies of many other European cultures. It was an admixture in several of the ancient 'witches flying ointments', and the unpeeled, dried rhizome was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia until 1916 and in the National Formulary until 1950, for medicinal use.
             from Gaian.ca:

Baneberry (Cohosh) ~ Actaea rubra

             Both red- and white-berry-producing plants are thought to be of the same species, according to Cormack. Regardless, these fruit are poisonous. The name of the berries are particularly ominous, deriving from the old Teutonic banon, 'that which causes death, or destroys life'. (Any plant having bane in its name is poisonous: dogbane, henbane, etc.) The fruit of A spicata (a black berry) is poisonous in a very high degree and is the dictionary baneberry.
             Perhaps the generic name is from Actaeon, the mythological hunter turned into a stag by Diana, with a play upon his becoming 'horned' (cuckolded), after he surprised the goddess at her toilet.
             'Such a color as tinges the clouds at sunset or at dawn came over the countenance of Diana, thus taken by surprise. . . . She dashed water into the face of the intruder, saying, "now go and tell, if you can, that you have seen Diana unappareled." On emerging from Diana's cave, Actaeon was torn apart by his own dogs.
             In any case, the local baneberry was used by Americans in a number of childbirth-related ailments (parturient). The pulverized roots were used for inflammation and abscess of the breast (lactescent). Newborn babies were bathed in warm water, while the mouth, nostrils and eyes were washed out with an infusion of the root.
             The leaves were chewed and spat on a boil to bring it to a head, and was applied to wounds and sores.

Agrimony ~ Agrimonia striata

             Common throughout wooded regions, this erect-stemmed plant is a member of the large rose family. (Its numerous tiny yellow flowers which are borne on a long slender spike are shaped somewhat like a rose.)
             A eupatoria is common in Britain and is the plant to which the English name is usually attached. It was sometimes cultivated in herb gardens for, as a seventeenth century medical volume noted: it 'nobly opens the Liver and Spleen'. The root of the species is used to arrest hemorrhage, diarrhea, etc.
             The Treasury of Botany of 1886 stated that it contains tannin, that vegetable substance required to convert animal hide into leather, 'and will dye wool of a nankeen [yellow] colour.'
             Tannin is the chief ingredient of vegetable astringents. The root and leaves of striata are astringent, 'exceedingly useful in coughs resulting from colds. . . . The Indians of North America and the Canadains are reported to have employed the root with advantage in many ailments,' according to Meyer. 'Rustics' in Europe, reportedly, still make a gargle from the decoction of the herb.
             Agrimony-tea, made by pouring boiling water over a handful of the dried plant, then left til cold and strained, was drunk as a beverage in France where it was highly valued for its supposed health-giving properties.

Government of BC

Alder ~ Alnus tenuifolia

             The alders are closely related to the birches. Tenuifolia is known as the mountain-alder but it ranges east into Saskatchewan, far from the mountain streams and shady gulches of the Rocky Mountains. Ordinarily it is but a shrub of perhaps fifteen feet high, but at its best it can reach to thiry-five feet ~ a small tree.
             In the exhaustive A Natural History of Western Trees, Donald Culross Peatty wrote : 'The early explorers and pioneers soon learned that the presence of this species denoted running water, while the liquid whisper of a Cottonwood may be a delusion; Cottonwood sometimes flourishes handsomely along the courses of intermittent streams which actually run only a few weeks in the year. But the Mountain Alder must have its roots in eternal streams whose waters it helps, with its shade and its humus, to keep cool and pure. So this alder passed into the true legends of the west as the friend of the explorer and settler.'
             It is also said to be relatively intolerant of competition, but in the Lesser Slave Lake area the alder often grows on moist bottoms with willow and poplar.
             The wood, which has little commercial value and was used in other localities as fuel-wood, resists decay for an indefinite time under water. Three-hundred years ago The Country Farme described its use in this connection: 'The Aller or Alder tree . . . doth serue . . . to lay the foundations of buildings vpon, which are laid in the riuers, fens, and other standing waters, because it neuer rotteth in the vvater, but lasteth as it vvere for euer.'
             John Josselyn, a seventeenth century botanist, reported in 1672 that 'an Indian, bruising and cutting of his knee with a fall, used no other remedy than alder-bark, chewed fasting, and laid to it; which did soo heal it.' Josselyn found a decoction of alder ' . . . excellent, to take the fire out of a burn or scald.'
             Most other native American applications employed the inner-bark in decoctions for abdominal cramps, constipation, nausea, etc. It was considered generally beneficial and healing.
             In British Columbia, according to a government publication, 'Because of its hardness, some Interior aboriginal people used mountain alder wood for making bows and snowshoes. Because it doesn't flavour the food, they also used it for smoking and drying salmon and meat. Like red alder, it was a source of dye and a substance for tanning hides. The Carrier made fish nets out of mountain alder and dyed them black by boiling them in their own juice. Fish cannot see the black nets.

Saskatoon ~ Amelanchier florida (alnifolia)

             Misaskwatomin, the Cree called this shrub which, according to Father Lacombe in his Dictionaire de la Langue des Cris was derived from misaskwat: the 'amelanchier', plus min: 'fruit' or 'berry'. It was then, simply the Cree name for the medlar tree, although many fanciful meanings have been supposed in the word. The settlers' bastardized version of the name resulted in its present one.
             The shrub was widely used. The strong, pliable wood was much sought for arrow-making, and the beautiful white flowers, among the first of spring, were seen as a symbol of that season and of the rejuvenating earth, and were used in religious ceremonies.
             The purple berries, also called june-berries, shad-berries, and service-berries, were a favourite treat and have been found to contain three times as much copper and iron as prunes or raisins, according to Cormack. The Crees cooked the berries in huge, spruce-bark tubs between layers of hot stones. Then they were broken up by hand, sprinkled with the juice, and dried over a slow fire.
             In BC, dried saskatoons were boiled and thickened with flour. With the addition of some sugar, that made the delicious 'Siwash pudding'.
             Saskatoon berries dried in the sun can be stored in flour-sacks and hung in a dry place away from mice.

Pearly Everlasting ~ Anaphalis margaritacea

             The everlastings, as the name suggests, will remain fresh-looking for months when used in floral wreaths. The pearly everlasting may be the most beautiful.
             It often shares habitat with yarrow and somewhat resembles it with its broad clusters of small pearly-white flowers topping a long stem on which run lance-shaped leaves.
             According to Vogel, the Flambeau tribe spread pulverized flowers of pearly everlasting over live coals to aid a patient stricken by paralysis.

Sarsaparilla ~ Aralia nudicaulis

             There is an old cowboy song in which a Texas Ranger ("look out stranger, 'cause I'm a Texas Ranger") is "sippin' sa'sparilla thru a straw." The true sarsaparilla (from the tropical plant Smilax) was used as a flavoring in a carbonated drink, but the wild sarsaparilla was often used as a substitute.
             It is very commonly found in wooded areas, and is one of only two members on the ginseng family found in Alberta. The plant has but one long-stalked stem which divides into three, each of which bears five leaves. The naked flower-stalk usually has three globular clusters of small greenish-white flower clusters and, later, red berries.

             The distinctive feature of the wild sarsaparilla is the long, creeping root-stock which is held to have medicinal properties. It should be dug in early fall when the yellowing leaves make the plant easy to see, low in the underbrush ~ still green in the sun's waning light, among the deep reds of cranberry bushes, and shriveled, brown fireweeds tipped by early frost.
             In herbal lore it was considered a blood purifier and a preventative of skin disease. One of the active ingredients of the wild sarsaparilla has been used in the successful treatment of psoriasis and certain blood disorders. Sarsaparilla potions were also used as a wash for eyes and skin. The dried roots were made into a tonic drink, and were used for flavoring.
             The Iroquois have been reported as using sarsaparilla-root decoctions to apply to wounds. In nineteenth century America, "sarsaparilla" tonics were extremely popular, although many of these patent medicines contained dozens of different ingredients. Vogel wrote that, "Montagnais (Cree) Indians fermented the berries in water for a wine used as a tonic. The Penobscots dried the roots, crushed them to powder, and steeped the substance together with roots of sweetflag for a cough medicine. Some tribes made a decoction of the root for a sore-eye lotion. The Kwakiutl mixed the beaten root with an oil for a medicine used for coughing and spitting blood.
             In all, native tribes used A. nudicaulis extensively in their medicine ~ in root-tea blood purifiers and for high blood pressure; as a tonic and health beverage; for pleurisy (chest pains); in poultices for burns, sores, boils, and carbuncles; and Ojibwa women used it for purification during pregnancy. To the Plains Indians it was a drug to be used in kidney and bladder ailments, abdominal pain, and difficulties in urinating, in recognition of its diuretic properties ~ promoting the flow of urine.
             It appears that the early Americans also used the sarsaparilla extensively as a food; one oft-quoted account has it that they were able to subsist on it for a long time, and took the roots on hunting trips, etc., as a handy proviand.
             Most of the species of Aralia have mild qualities which induce perspiration, and disperse general feeling of illness. Because of this, many plants of this genus are esteemed in folk medicine although medical science recognizes few active qualities of high value in any of them. A. nudicaulis was officially recognized as a stimulant, alterative, and diaphoretic ~ stimulating the sweat glands.
             Saponin is a glucoside that forms when mixed with water; it is found in sarsaparilla. Saponins are not absorbed but act locally by injuring the tissues with which they come into contact. When given internally, they cause nausea, vomitting, and diarrhea, yet Potter notes A. nudicaulis use in decoction for skin disease, and as a syrop to treat coughs and colds.

Bearberry ~ Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

             The bearberry is a tough little evergreen that hugs the ground in large mats. It has bright-red berries, that are often half-hidden by the small leathery leaves, that were used as a food. The berries must be high in vitamin C, as they were recognized by many tribes as effective against scurvy. They were also used in the making of pemmican.
             As a remedy the uva-ursi was used by the ancients. In British Columbia the tribes used steeped bearberry­leaves to increase the flow of urine, and as beneficial to the functions of the kidney and bladder. European medicine employed it for the same purposes at least since the middle of the eighteenth eentury when it was classed an official drug.
             The chief constituent of bearberry-leaves is the substance arbutin. The tannin present in the leaves is so abundant that they have been used for tanning leather in Russia and Sweden. Tannic acid having diuretic properties, the leaves were used in infusions and fluid extracts for inflammations of the kidney, bladder, etc. The powder of the plant was recommended by Linnaeus as valuable in breaking-up stone in the bladder. An 1842 scientific dictionary stated of it: "The leaves of this plant, under the name uva-ursi, are used as an astringent and tonic in medicine."
             The leaves should be picked in the fall. The Herbalist noted that "best results are obtained if the the leaves are soaked in sufficient alcohol or brandy to just cover them and taking 1 spoonful of the soaked leaves to a cup of boiling water. . . . The tea may be made without the alcohol, of course, if desired."
             The Cree smoked smoked the leaves in their pipes; after first drying the leaves in the heat of the sun or a fire, or in a mud oven, and then crumbling them, it was usually mixed with European tobacco ~ at least, after this became available to them.
             They called it 'kinnikinik', wrote Cormack in Wild Flowers of Alberta, and the nineteenth century A Diary in America designated it likewise as "the Kinnakinnec, or weed which the Indians smoke as tobacco." Using the 1770 account of a Swedish traveller as his authority, Virgil J. Vogel, in American Indian Medicine, wrote that the bearberry was called Sagackhomi and Indians and colonists "mixed the leaves with smoking tobacco." Among Lesser Slave Lake Cree, however, the true kinnikinic is the red willow.

University of Northern BC

Arnica ~ Arnica cordifolia

             A medical preparation for treating sprains and bruises was named arnica, and the leaf of this plant can be applied with good results to wounds, and sore and tender feet.
             A. montana, the mountain tobacco ~ a native of central Europe, has valuable medicinal properties; it was considered an effective stimulant and has been used in paralysis, aneurosis and other nervous diseases.
             It was only in the last century that the American arnica's long-time use by natives was recognized by medical science.
             A. cordifolia has been used mainly as a local irritant and, in tinctures especially, for bruises, sprains, abrasions and slight wounds. Herbalist Joseph E Meyer wrote: "For irritation of the nasal passages and chapped lips there is nothing superior." It should be used only externally as it may produce a serious reaction when taken internally. Arnica is employed in the treatment of epilepsy and sea-sickness in homeopathy, the fundamental doctrine of which is expressed by the Latin motto for 'likes are cured by likes," and diseases are treated by the administration of very small doses of drugs which would produce in a healthy person symptoms closely resembling those of the disease treated.
             This arnica is easily recognized by its heart-shaped leaves and its bright yellow flowers which resemble the daisy with which it shares a family. Most of the arnicas are found in the mountains, but this common species can also be found at much lower elevations in coniferous forest land.

Birch ~ Betula species

             The birch was among the first trees to move north after the ice of the last glaciation retreated. It is now distributed throughout most of Canada, growing on a wide variety of soils, and prominent in virtually all of the forested lands of our country.
             The white-birch, paper-birch, or canoe birch (see [on building a birch-bark canoe]), B. papyrifera, is the most important of the species found in the Lesser Slave Lake area.
             Virtually every part of this birch tree has been used at one time or another. The bark contains potassium, and the leaves are considered diuretic. The tribes extracted the sap of the birch which makes a refreshing drink, or they made a sweet syrop by boiling it similar to maple syrop operations in other regions. Tho hard, closed-grained wood has been put to use by furniture makers through centuries of craftsmanship.
             Locally known as the swamp birch, B. occidentalis, the water-birch, red- or black-birch, is one of the smallest of the species, and is found growing in shrub-like clumps with all stems rising from the same root system, and commonly grows on moist soil along streams with alders, cottonwoods and willows.              Turner noted in his Herbal of 1551 that the birch was used "for betynge of stubborne boyes," and the rod has been feared by the naughty child since Romans first used a bundle of birch twigs as a symbol of authority two thousand years ago.
             The aromatic barks have been used for tea, birch-beer and wine, which have been emploed as remedies in coughs, colds and fevers, and were highly~steemed as beverages. The dried leaves were used in infusion for gout, rheumatism, dropsy, and to dissolve kidney-stones.
             Birch-oil, extracted from the bark, is used in the preparation of Russia leather, to which it gives its odour. Birch-tar, the tarry oil of B. alba is useful in certain skin diseases. The bark of the American-b1ack-birch, B. 1enta, yields an oil which by the action of alkali is converted into an oil almost identical with the volatile oil of wintergreen, and is used in acute rheumatism and as a local antiseptic. Birch-resin, or birch-camphor, derived from the bark of the black-birch, B. nigra is used like true camphor in cholera, vomitting, headache, cardiac depression, etc.

Marsh Marigold ~ Caltha palustris

             The marsh-marigold is found in wet places and, early blooming in spring, often in great clusters of yellow-flowered brilliance. The resemblance to the calendula probably gave the genus its name; it is not related to the garden marigold.
             Like the calendula, the plant may be helpful to cancers, ulcers, wounds and sprains.
             In the spring, when it is near flowering, it can be used as a pot herb. When the leaves and stem are boiled like spinach it is equal ~ some say superior ~ to this vegetable (though it may be advisable to double-boil it). The roots are also edible, and the buds may be pickled.
             The plant, also known as cowslip and water-dragon, has been used in herbal medicine in diseases of the chest ~ in infusion will promote the discharge of phlegm from the lungs; it is known as a pectoral and expectorant, containing phosphorus and appreciable amounts of tannin.
             The use of marsh-marigold in connection with Beltane and May Day celebrations is well documented. It has a strong association with the nature goddesses.

Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, scanned plant image
Shepherd's Purse ~ Capsella bursa-pastoris

             The resemblance of the distinct, heart-shaped seed pods to the small purse once carried by shepherds in Europe (of which it is native) gave this common weed of roadsides and gardens its name. The young leaves, rich in calcium and sulphur and a useful remedy against scurvy, when blanched and used in a salad, taste somewhat like cabbage but are more delicate in flavour.
             Gerarde said in his Herball of 1597: "Shepheardes purse . . . staieth bleeding in any part of the bodie"; the infusion has been used to arrest external bleeding, and the herb tea in herbal medicine to stop internal bleeding ~ a use that appears to be supported by medical opinion which holds that shepherd's-purse arrests hemorrhage, containing the coagulating vitamin K; the entire herb is held to be a stimulant diuretic and anti-scorbutic. It contains calcium, sodium, and sulphur, and is held to be astringent. Formerly used in a gargle for throat irritation, etc, by steeping it in brandy or whiskey for a few days.
             The herbals note the plants usefulness in kidney complaints, abcesses of the bladder, chronic diarrhea, the treatment of excessive menstruation, and sometimes to promote uterine contractions during childbirth.

(Indian) Paintbrush ~ Castilleja miniata

             When autumn is near, the eye is often caught by vibrant splashes of red in roadside ditches; as often as not these are the common-red-paintbrush. Cormack notes that "Alberta has a wealth of paintbrushes of almost every colour of the rainbow: red, scarlet, purple, magenta, pink, orange, yellow and greenish-white." The color is not due to the flowers but the floral leaves or bracts which enfold them. The plant is parasitic on roots of other plants.
             Perhaps their use by native Americans is the reason they are often designated as 'indian' paintbrushes. The species miniata is a main ingredient for an ointment that has been found effective against skin rashes, chapped lips, sores, etc.
             Other paintbrushes have been used in decoction to dry up menstrual flow by Hopi (and science has classed it with the "so-called oral contraceptives though to excite temporary sterility."


             [strangely, i learned of the use of this plant from a man who stopped by our log home a very long time ago
             my memory is hazy on when and who ~ but do recall his last name as castilla]

Lamb's Quarters (Pigweed) ~ Chenopodium album

             This large tribe of plants derives its scientific name from the Greek for goosefoot in allusion to the supposed resemblance of the leaves to that bird's webbed feet.
             A prehistoric European 'spinach' known as the white-goosefoot, this plant looks like spinach, is related to spinach and (wrote Cormack) "in dire need is used as spinach." Others, however, say that those who fail to make use of it as a vegetable when the plant is young deny themselves a tasty dish. The tender young leaves of the lamb's-quarters, strawberry-blite (C. capitatum, and any other plants (e.g. dandelion, dock) to taste, can be combined in a salad, or they can be boiled, alone or together, in a small amount of water until tender. The seeds can be ground into a flour for bread or mush.
             C. capitatum, the strawberry blite, has round flower-clusters which turn red after they have been fertilized, making them resemble strawberries ~ these are a source of red dye. They are edible, maybe eaten raw or cooked, and are highly nutritious.
             As a medicinal herb it is deemed to relieve wind, though The Herbalist cautioned it "should be used only in combinations with other herbs," as it is constipating. The plant pigment carotene is converted by the body into Vitamin A.

Water Hemlock ~ Cicuta maculata

             This plant is known by many names besides water-hemlock: spotted-cowbane, musquash-root, beaver-poison, wild-chervil, water-fennel, water-parsnip, fools-parsley. It is found growing in or near shallow water.
             The genus Cicuta contains the most deadly poisonous plants of the North American continent. The poison of C. maculata (... the juys Cicute. that is venym of venyms," Trevisa called it in the fourteenth century) is concentrated in the thick fleshy roots which are about the size and shape of a little finger, resemble sweet potatoes, and have an odour similar to parsnips. In spring, the roots are more poisonous than at any other season of the year. As yet no antidote to its poison is known.
             The symptoms of poisoning are acute pain, frenzy, muscular spasms, irregular respiration, and a hard pulse. In some cases death takes place within fifteen minutes, and nearly always the symptoms are more violent than in other cases of plant poisoning.
             The deadly roots were employed by at least one tribe as an oral contraceptive. Vogel wrote that "Cherokee women desiring to remain sterile chew and swallow for four consecutive days the roots of the spotted-cowbane (Cicuta maculata). They believe that if a woman uses this recipe, she will become sterile forever." Himes, however, considered it "highly probable that it was useless; for no drug has yet been discovered which, when taken by the mouth, will induce permanent sterility."
             This plant is similar to the poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, by which Socrates died in 399 BC. A Cyclopedia of the Practice of Medicine (1876) noted that "cicuta . . . may be of use in dimishing the violence of the fits of coughing." C. virosa, a poisonous species of northern Europe, has been used in the treatment of rheumatism by external application.

Canada Thistle ~ Cirsium arvense

             The Canada-thistle is considered one of the worst perennial weeds; for this reason, perhaps, it is also known as the cursed-thistle.
             It has, however, many redeeming qualities: thistle roots are considered a useful source of food ~ when roasted they become very sweet. In olden days, the whole plant was eaten: the young stalks, after peeling, were consumed both raw and boiled; young leaves can also be eaten both raw and boiled ~ the prickles losing their strength upon wilting.
             The herbals said that the thistle strengthens the brain, heart, stomach, and liver, as well as purifying the blood and assisting its circulation.
             The bull-thistle, C. vulgare is more common further south of the boreal zone. It is also known as the Scotch-thistle for it is Scotland's heraldic emblem, and part of the insignia of the Order of the Thistle.

             How to get rid of them ~ old English rhyme (add a month for north America?):
             Cut them in May, they're sure to stay;
             cut them in June, they'll be back soon;
             cut them in July, they're sure to die.

Red Willow (Red Osier Dogwood) and Bunchberry ~ Cornus species

             The red-willow, C. stolonifera, is really a dogwood that rarely achieves a diameter of more than one inch, and is better classed a shrub than a tree. It can often be found in great numbers in moist clearings. It is prized for the decorative stems, luxurious foliage, colourful berries, and hard wood.
             The Montagnais on the eastern shores of Hudson's Bay relieved headache with a mash of the bark which was applied as a plaster; they also made a tea of the leaves for the same purpose. Vogel noted that "the Wisconsin Potowatomis used the root-bark of red-osier dogwood as their most efficacious remedy for diarrhea and flux; the same species was described in the U.S. Dispensatory as a mild astringent, aromatic bitter, stomachic, and emetic."
             The red-willow was best known among the Cree as kinnikinik.

             The bunchberry or Canada-flower, C. canadensis, contains ~ as do all of the dogwoods ~ tannin and gallic acid, and is mildly tonic, astringent, and a slight stimulant. Cornine, the active principle of the genus, seems to have been occasionally used as a substitute for quinine. The virtues are yielded to both alcohol and water and exert them best when used in ointments.
             Pharmacognosist Frank Chandler of Dalhousie University reported that "our biological testing shows that there are compounds present [in C. canadensis] which would be helpful in treating psoriasis. . . . If there was skin cancer, it would have some effect on that." Researchers have determined that flavonoids isolated from the bunchberry can be active anti-cancer agents.

The Love of Smoke
             The Cree smoked the leaves of the bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in their pipes. After drying them in the sun or by a fire, or in a mud oven, they were usually mixed with European tobacco ~ at least after this became available to them. "They called" it "Kinnikinik," wrote Cormack in Wild Flowers of Alberta (1967), and the nineteenth century A Diary in America designated it likewise as "the Kinnakinnec, or weed which the Indians smoke as tobacco . . . ." Using the 1770 account of a Swedish traveller as his authority, Vogel in American Indian Medicine (1970) stated that the bearberry was called Sagackhomi and Indians and colonists "mixed the leaves with smoking tobacco." The confusion becomes obvious when we find a respected Agricultural Cyclopedia of 1912 asserting that Omahas used the inner-bark of rose-bushes, or, when this could not be obtained, sumac-leaves, for mixing with tobaoco. "The two ingredients. were well dried over a fire and rubbed between the hands. This was killickinnick, for smoking in pipes."
             Among northern Crees the true kinnikinic is the red­willow, Comus stolonifera ~ which really is a dogwood (swamp-dogwood is another of its names). Milton and Cheadle noted in 1865 in Northwest Passage: "what the Indians call kinnikinnick ~the bark of the dogwood." Like bearberry leaves, it was used as a substitute for tobacco, or for mixing with it. The outer-bark on the twigs was peeled back and the soft inner-bark shaved off. This was dried and further prepared until it resulted (aocording to a source in Harper's Magazine of Oct. 1883) in "a pale yellow pile of stuff resembling 'granulated' tobacco." It is said to have imparted a fine flavour to "white-man's-tobacco " ~ at that time mostly of the plug variety ~ when mixed with this.
             Smoking was from the first a purely American habit. The first European drawing of the tobacco plant to appear in a published work was that of the yellow henbane, or Nicotiniana rustica in Rembert Dodoens' Cruijdeboeck (Antwerp, 1554). The smoking of plants by Americans was reported by the earliest European explorers. Some dried leaves of tobacco were among the gifts the natives o£fered to Columbus upon his first landing. The fascinating custom of smoking was observed with interest and amazement by Jacques Cartier at Hochelaga (Montreal). His reactions are recorded in John Florio's translation, A Short and Briefe Narration of Two Navigations, (London, 1580): "There groweth also a certain kind of Herb,whereof in Sommer they make greate provision for all the yeare, making great aocompt of it, and only men use of it, and first, they cause it to be dryed in the Sunne, they weare it aboute their necke wrapped in little beastes skin made like a little bagge, with a hollow peece of stone or wood like a pipe; then when they please they make a pouder of it, and then put it in one of the endes of the sayd Cornet or pipe and laying a cole of fire uppon at the other ende smoke so long that they fill their bodies full of smoke, till that cometh out of their mouths and nostrils, even as out of the Tonnel of a chimny. They say that this doth kepe them warm and in good health; they never go without some of it about them. We ourselves tryed the same smoke, and and having put it in our mouthes, it seemed that they had filled it with Pepper dust, it is so hote."
             Cartier and other Europeans learned to regard the smoking plants with a delight to equal the ancient pleasure of Americans.

published 1978 in The Beaver

Fireweed ~ Epilobium angustifolium

             After a forest has been decimated by flames. the fireweed rages through the burned-over area like the fire that preceded it. It is easily recognized by the clusters of bright purple flowers. The fireweed is also called willow-herb because of the similarity of its leaves to those of the willow.
             The Cree made fragrant carpets of fresh-cut fireweed in their forest camps ~ some still do to this day.
             The young leaves of this tall standing, very common plant can be used as greens, resembling spinach in flavor. The young shoots that poke through the soil in spring can be eaten like asparagus ~ Weiner wrote that "French Canadians value it so that they call this herb asperge." When older, the stalk can be split open and a sweet glutenous substance removed which is quite palatable; some tribes prepared a flour from this for mush or bread.
             Tribes in British Columbia supplemented the wool in mountain goat blankets with the tufts of silky hairs at the ends of the seeds, and combined these with duck feathers for stuffing comforters.
             An herb tea of the leaves (called 'kaponic' by Russian peasants) has been used by herbalists in fevers. Though poisonous to drink, some native Americans made an infusion of the roots as a treatment for tuberculosis, and boiled the whole plant in water in which to bathe invalids.

Horsetail ~ Equisetum arvense

The field-horsetail (or mare's-tail) is the most common species in the northern hemisphere. In structure it is reminiscent of a type of tree of prehistoric times which grew from twenty to thirty feet high and four to six inches in dimameter in the swamp forests of the Paleozoic. Today it is a small plant (rarely reaching a height of two feet) that grows in woods and meadows and along roads and railroad tracks, preferring a moist habitat.
             Horsetails are worldwide in distribution. Shuttleworth and Zim in Non-Flowering Plants wrote that "this and other species are poisonous to livestock," but goats eat them with apparent impunity. One of the first signs of spring are the reproductive pink or tan colored fertile stems with cones that contain spores. When young, the shoots can be used as a potherb, end some use the tops of the fertile stems as asparagus, which it resembles. John Parkinson, an old British herbalist (l567-1629), said, "The young buds are dressed by some like asparagus, or being boiled, are afterwards bestewed with flour and fryed to be eaten."
             The hollow sterile stems are green, with whorls of branches and are known as scouring rushes. Horsetails contain a large quantity of silicic acid. It was used for cleaning and scrubbing copper, brass, pewter, and all fine metals. It is best to use the older rushes for this use.
             Medicinal uses are connected with the use of silicic acid which has an astringent and strengthening effect on the tissues. Gerarde, quoting an even more ancient herbalist, wrote: "Dioscorides saith that Horse-tail, being stamped and laid to, doth perfectly cure wounds; yea although the sinues be cut asunder, as Galen addeth. It is of so great and singular virtue in healing wounds as that it is thought and reported for truth, to cure wounds of the bladder and other bowles, and helpeth reuptures and burstings."
             Classed as a diuretic, its present use by herbalists is in a tea which is said to be beneficial to the urinary and intestinal tracts, and as a stimulant to kidney disorders, and for menstrual disorders. It is also beneficial when applied to poorly healing wounds.

Stawberry ~ Fragaria glauca

             The wild strawberry looks so much like the cultivated variety that it is easily recognized by anyone familiar with that plant. The snow-white flowers are a familiar sight throughout Alberta. A seventeenth century Dr. Boteler said of the fruit: "doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did." It is indeed deliciously sweet when eaten fresh. Boorde wrote in 1542: "rawe crayme vndecocted, eaten with strawberryes or hurtis, is a rural mannes banket." The berries can be used in preserves, jams, and pies. They make a refreshing drink, or can be dried for use in winter, "in order not to be sick."
             It is rich in silicon and the herb has astingent properties. The leaves make a wonderful tea which is said to be a tonic to the digestive system or, someone said, they may be added to bathwater for a soothing soak. According to herbalists, the powdered leaves are a good remedy for children's rash. An old folk treatment for diarrhea or to combat various stomach troubles, was to dry wild strawberry runners and boil tea from them. The 'roots were also boiled and the resulting juice drunk for the same purposes.

H. Irving
Hemp-nettle ~ Galeopsis tetrahit

             The hemp-nettle (or, hedge-nettle), a plant of the mint family, deserves mention if only to satisfy the curiosity many may have about the origin of its common name. In fact, its uncanny resemblance to Cannabis sativa, the marijuana plant, when very young (up to about two or three inches tall) has caused it to be smoked in quantity by many. The only results reliably reported so far have been a splitting headache after more than a dozen 'joints'.
             The plant is poisonous, causing paralysis, and is antispasmodic, detergent, expectorant and resolvent. It is used in the treatment of tissue-wasting complaints. An infusion of the plant is used in the treatment of pulmonary complaints. Other uses include a drying oil that is obtained from the seed. It is used as a polish for leather. A fibre is obtained from the stems which is used for making cord.

This last information from: Plants for a Future

Northern Bedstraw ~ Galium boreale

             In names of plants, Lady's is in origin a shortening of Our Lady's which became familiar through the sixteenth century herbalists ~ and the designation was usually given to plants of more than usual beauty or delicacy. G. verum has long borne the legendary name of Our-Lady's-Bedstraw, "whence recent writers have somewhat irrationally taken 'bedstraw' as an English bookname for the whole genus."
             It can be used in cheese making as an agent to curdle milk, and has active properties which reduce fever. A number of other herbs of the genus Galium are also used in medicine. Notably G. aparine which is used in epilepsy, jaundice, and dropsy.
             The northern-bedstraw, the species boreale, the most common of the bedstraws, is a delicate plant, standing erect on a single stem around which the narrow leaves are arranged in whorls of four. In midsummer its tiny white flowers set it off conspicuously against the underbrush. The pleasing odour make it well suited for use in potpourris.
             The bedstraw got its name from the fact that it was commonly used as a stuffing for ticks and matrasses in Europe and by the early settlers of the New World. All are members of a small family of herbs known as the madder family, which derived its name from a European plant which has been cultivated for hundreds of years in order to procure a dye called 'madder' or 'turkey-red'. Both the Plains Indians and the northern inhabitants used it for this purpose by boiling the roots to get a red substance with which porcupine quills were stained.

Yellow Avens ~ Geum allepicum var. strictum

             The common yellow-avens is coarse, hairy, erect standing from one to three feet high, with dark green foliage. The flowers are like tiny yellow roses that are replaced by bur-like seedballs that stick to fur and clothing ~ making it easily recognizable. The basal leaves, while large, are even larger in the species G. macrophyllum that is more common west of the Rockies.
             The root of the avens was commonly and widely used by the woodland Cree, powdered in many herb remedies for various ailments, in decoction to make people sweat, for sore teeth and in teething problems, and for sore throats.
             Among the Iroquois and Ojibwa, decoctions of the roots of avens was used as a remedy for convulsions, high fever, and in infusion for diarrhea, as cough medicine and for chest soreness, as well as for children with croup.
             The Iroquois used the compound decoction to induce vomitting ~ as a love nedicine.
             The west coast tribes used the root of the large-leaf avens similarly: in decoction for stomach pain, and in infusion by women after childbirth. They also used the leaves extensively in their herbal medicine, applying poultices to cuts, bruises, boils and sores. In fact, the leaves were chewed as a universal remedy, 'good for everything'.
             The plant was used as a general female remedy: in infusion to avoid contraception, the leaves were chewed during labor, and young, small leaves after childbirth to heal the womb.

Cow Parsnip (Skunk Cabbage) ~ Heracleum lanatum

             The carrot family comprise the parsnips and water hemlocks. "Concerning this order," noted Millspaugh, "it is noteworthy, that those which grow near water are generally acrid, narcotic poisons, while those seeking dry soils are little else than carminative ~ stimulating the digestive juices and relieving gas."
             The leaves and flower-stalks were used as food, and the roots for medicine, wherever the plant occurs. The stems were boiled in water and steeped for days to be fermented to beer. The high sugar content of the stems made a snack of them after being dried in the sun. The leaves are good in soup ~ a kind of borscht, which is a balm to the digestive system. A tea made of the seeds is said to be aphrodesiac.
             A sixteenth century British The Garden of Health noted "Cowparsnip or Wilde Carrot, growing in medows. . . . Some seethe it in drinke with leuen, and vse it instead of Ale or Beere."
           The American cow-parsnip stands erect, four to eight feet tall, on hollow stems, has huge rough three-parted leaves, and large white flat-topped flower clusters which make one imagine it to be a species of wild cauliflower. It is considered a weed and is shunned by grazing animals, although it is said not to be injurious to them in any way.
             Virgil J Vogel referred to this plant as the 'master­wort', in his American Indian Medicine, and observed that "Pillager Ojibwas pounded the fresh root and applied it as a poultice on sores. The Meskwakis used the root for colic and stomach cramps, the seed for head pains, and the stems as a wound poultice."
             The root of the cow-parsnip was used as an official drug during the nineteenth century, but the leaves and fruit were also employed in folk-medicine. The fresh leaves were used as an irritant in that it causes blisters both internally and externally.
             Yet, according to Fred Bruemmer in The Arctic, it is the favourite plant of the Aleuts ~ the inhabitants of the chain of islands that reach from Alaska toward Siberia. "The outer layer of the stalk is noxious and, when eaten, produces cankers. But peeled, the young stems taste like celery."

Foxtail Barley ~ Hordeum jubatum

             Cultivated in all parts of the world ~ partly for food and largely for the preparation of malt liquors and spirits, the barley is considered to have been the first cereal domesticated. The wild barley is the plant from which the plump, nutritious grains ~ long seen as a symbol of fertility, have evolved. This beautiful foxtail, a long-awned, tufted grass, has been used primarily for decorative purposes. It is, however, edible before flowering.
             Seeds ~ just as those of the cultivated barley, are edible both raw and cooked, though exceedingly small and fiddly to use. They can be ground into a flour and used as a cereal in making bread, porridge, etc. Native Americans ate the dry flour raw. The roasted seed can be used as a coffee substitute.
             In medicinal uses, the dried root was pounded and wrapped in a cloth, then moistened and used as a compress for a sty in the eye or on swollen eyelids.

Grains of Grass
             Before their domestication by farmers in pre-history, the cultivated grains that are found in all parts of the world had once a wild existence. They all evolved from common grasses. The seeds of these made up a considerable portion of the cereal grain used in pre-historic times, and many of these are of great food value.
             As an example of the porridge of an early European, the stomach contents of Tollund Man (Iron Age, Denmark) included three grains, barley, oats, millet, as well as dock and sorrel, persicaria, bindweed, lamb's­quarters, spurry, chickweed, penny-cress, shepherd's-purse, mustard, a wild cabbage, flaxseed (linseed), pansy, hemp-nettle, plantain and sphagnum moss. Some of these were cultivated in the Iron Age.
             Seeds, like threshed grain, cannot be digested raw. Originally, people threshed grain on a heated stone floor, thereby roasting it. After pounding in a mortar, the coarse groats needed no further cooking to make them digestible, and had an excellent flavour.
             Grinding grain was never an easy task. It demanded patience and strength. Early people did this by pushing a rubbing-stone back and forth in a large saucer-shaped stone. The rotary mill revolutionized flour-milling about two thousand years ago, so that today many a country kitchen (and more and more city ones too!) are equipped with small hand or electric-powered mills.
             Seeds and grains can be toasted at home, and pounded into eoarse groats much like cooks of long ago did. A little water added to this mixture will make it into a paste (with some kneading). This can be eaten as is, flavoured with butter or salt. These grain pastes were standard items of diet in classical times, and are still favoured in today's Tibet.
             Unleavened bread can easily be made from either flour or groats, using a hot biscuit recipe: 2 cups flour or groats; 2 tsp. baking powder; 1 tsp. salt: 6 tblsp. shortening; about 3/4 cup milk. Heat oven to 4500 F while putting into a bowl the flour or groats, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening. Make a well in the center and pour in 1/2 cup milk. With fork, mix lightly, quickly. Add more milk to form dough, just moist enough to leave sides of bowl and cling to fork as ball. Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead gently. Lightly roll dough out from the centre about 1/2 inch thick. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 12 to 15 minutes or until delicate brown.
             Serve hot. Biscuits with nutrition of the ages!
published 1977 in Nature Canada


Touch-me-not (Jewelweed) ~ Impatiens capensis

             So named because of its most striking feature which also gave the genus its scientific name: the seed pods burst at a touch when ripe. It might go unnoticed in the underbrush were it not for this and its attractive orange flowers. In addition to these showy flowers, the plant produces flowers which are very small and do not open but produce normal seed. Also called jewelweed "from the earring-like shape of the flowers, and the silver sheen of the undersurface of the leaf in water," according to a nineteenth century dictionary.
             Herbalists did not often prescribe this herb ~ they said it is a remedy for those "of an impatient, irritable nature." It produces strong reactions of nausea and vomitting when taken internally. Yet, according to Weiner the decoction "has been found valuable in jaundice and dropsy."
             Several of the tribes in North America treated poison ivy and nettle burns with the mashed stems and leaves, and the Blackfoot used them for rashes and excema, and other skin conditions. The juice is reputed to remove warts and corns. Research at the University of Vermont has shown it to be effective against some pathogenic fungi that causes a number of skin problems.

Tamarack (Larch) ~ Larix laricina

             Photo: the tamarack in its typical setting of spaghnum-moss-covered moist boreal forest land among black swamp spruce, after the needles have turned yellow. These drop off and the tree left bare in winter ~ like no other cone-bearing tree (thus it is an evergreen that is not ever green). The trees grow to 60 feet in height (though much taller specimen have been reported) and are fairly long-lived. Apparently the oldest recorded was dated at 371 years. It is found from the Atlantic coast to northern B.C. and north in the Mackenzie River valley to the limit of tree growth.
             Peattie wrote that "the Indians used the roots of Tamarack for sewing the strips of Birch bark for their beautiful canoes. The best roots came from trees in beaver ponds, for they were especially tough, pliant, slender, and elongated." The wood was for for centuries highly valued ~ wherever one of this species was found ~ for its tough, strong wood which is particularly useful for underwater applications.
             A decoction of the bark of this tree is said to be laxative, tonic, diuretic, and alterative, and is recommended in obstructions of the liver, rheumatism, jaundice, and some cutaneous diseases; a decoction of the leaves has been employed in piles, hemoptysis, menorrhagia, diarrhea, and dysentery, and externally in cutaneous diseases, ulcers, burns.
             Tannin can be extracted from the bark.

Vetch (Wild Sweet Pea) ~ Lathyrus ochroleucus

             Lathyrus is the ancient Greek name for a 'pea' or 'a pulse' (legume). Also called vetchling, it is the native counterpart of the cultivated sweet pea, and a climbing vine that twines about any other plant near it. When the pods are ripe, mice will pull the stems down to their level to harvest the peas.
             Many plants of this genus are eaten by livestock and have been used successfully in various parts of the world. Although no records of toxicity have been found for this plant, the seed of some species in this genus contain a toxic amino acid that can cause a severe disease of the nervous system known as 'lathyrism' if they are eaten in large amounts (although small quantities are said to be nutritious). Great caution is advised. Eating too much vetchling seed over long periods of time have caused epidemics back to ancient Greece, but cases in humans usually occurred during famines when people were forced to eat vetchling almost exclusively. After 10 days to 4 weeks, this can cause progressive loss of coordination, ending in irreversible paralysis. The seeds are cooked, and likewise the root which was used like potatoes.
             North American tribes used the vetch as a fodder plant for horses, as well as feeding leaves and roots "to put spirit into a pony just before they expected to race him," according to Huron Smith. Ojibwa people used the plant medicinally for stomach trouble.

Labrador Tea ~ Ledum groenlandicum

             The one shrub which may be expected first in muskeg is this common and widely distributed evergreen. The leathery leaves, dark green on the upper side and a rusty color on the lower, are used to make a pungent tea. It was a common beverage among all the tribes in Canada ~ and this use in the north gave the plant its name. Guillet described the settlers' preparation of the 'New-Jersey-tea' (probably L. groenlandicum), "cured by drying in the sun or an oven, after which they were rolled" which, when steeped, ". . . produced a liquid of strong resinous flavour" ~ the addition of a few drops of lemon improves the taste.
             The tea, high in vatimin C, is said to have a narcotic effect, so care should be taken by those unaccustomed to it. It is a stimulant especially useful in chest complaints. The leaves are used as a flavouring, as a bayleaf substitute.
             The strong decoction, as a wash, is said to kill lice and soothe the skin. The leaves are hung in the clothes cupboard in order to repel insects. The branches are also placed among grain in order to keep mice away. A strong decoction of the leaves, or a tincture, is used to kill lice, mosquitoes, fleas and other insects.
             Labrador tea was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints. In modern herbalism it is occasionally used externally to treat a range of skin problems. The leaves are analgesic, blood purifier, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and tonic. A tea is taken internally in the treatment of headaches, asthma, colds, stomach aches, kidney ailments etc. Externally, it is used as a wash for burns, ulcers, itches, chapped skin, stings, dandruff etc. An ointment made from the powdered leaves or roots has been used to treat ulcers, cracked nipples, burns and scalds. In all it has bee used as a birthing aid; blood purifier; diaphoretic; diuretic. It was taken by Indian women three times daily shortly before giving birth. The leaves contain tannin, and brown dye is obtained from the plant.

Bracted (Twinberry) Honeysuckle ~ Lonicera involucrata

             Although probably referring to a European species, Wilhelm Grimm called the Lonicera 'elf herb' or 'spirit leaf'. This stemmy shrub ~ three to eight feet tall and resembling a small poplar. It is easily recognized as the honeysuckle later in the season by its dull yellow flowers ~ borne in pairs, flanked below by two green leaf-like bracts. After fertilization these develop into twin inky-black berries when the wing-like bracts have changed to a deep red-purple. The entire plant was found useful in herbal medicine.
             The fruit was considered poisonous if more than two or three were eaten (though birds and bears eat them), but among the Blackfoot an infusion of the berries was used as a cathartic and emetic to cleanse the body, and in stomach and chest troubles. Coastal tribes used the juice as an eyewash for sore eyes, and the mashed fruit was applied to the scalp for dandruff. The berries were also used as a source of a purple dye.
             Leaves were chewed by women during confinement, the branches to make a medicine for mothers after childbirth. A poultice of the leaves was used for boils and sores (also for those of sexually transmitted diseases), and in decoction as an eyewash and a footbath. Among the Navaho the leaves were used as a ceremonial emetic.
             Bark in decoction was taken for coughs and applied to women's breasts to make milk flow, and in a footbath for aching limbs; the inner bark used as an eyewash. The bark was used for wounds, infections, and burns ~ it was known as 'burn dressing' among the Quinault.
             There was really no part of the honeysuckle that was not used: the buds were eaten in the spring, or bark rubbed on the body as a tonic for nervous breakdowns. The Nootka reported that the bark was eaten by whalers to relieve the effects of sexual abstinence. Roots, leaves, fruits, bark, sticks and twigs were used in sweats against arthritis and rheumatism.

Pineapple Weed ~ Matricaria matricarioides

             Also classed M. discoideaThis drab little plant was introduced from Europe. It has no real flowers, only yellowish disc-florets and abundant lacy foliage. Its common name derives from the strong odor the plant exudes when crushed. The genus was named from the Latin mater ~ mother, and caries ~ decay, because of its one-time medical use in affections of the uterus. In the case of the pineapple-weed this is repeated in the name for the species, strongly suggesting that it had special application in afflictions that plague women.
             This plant has rarely, however, been used in medicine, though it is classed as antispasmodic, carminative (relieving flatulence), galactogogue (increasing the flow of milk), sedative, and vermifuge. It has been used as a domestic remedy in a treatment for intestinal worms, and as a sedative.
             The school of pharmacy at Memorial University of Newfoundland reported it had for the first time identified nine compounds in the plants growing in that province.
             The flower heads ~ raw or cooked, are a tasty nibble. Dried they make a tea. Some caution is advised as some people may be allergic to this plant.
             Pineapple weed repels insects when growing and thus can be a gardener's friend as a companion plant. The dried flowers are used as a home insect repellent.

Fiddlehead (Ostrich) Fern ~ Matteuccia pensylvanica

             Other scientific names include M. struthiopteris var. pensylvanica, Struthiopteris pensylvanica, Pteretis nodulosa, P. pensylvanica. Frequently confused with the Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).
             This is one of some 100 000 non-flowering plamts which reproduce without bearing flowers. In folklore (according to Grimm), fern seeds ripen only between the hours of twelve and one in the midsummer night then fall off and are gone ~ and these seeds render one invisible; and all will go well within five paces of a sprig of fern fastened over the house door.
             "For fifteen centuries," wrote Himes, "Diascorides maintained undisputed authority in botany. His work became the oracle of physicians throughout the entire Middle Ages." Among Diascorides contraceptive potions was one employing "the roots of the brake or fern . . . , given to women." A fourth century medical encyclopedist, Oribasios, also thought this to be effective: "drink male or female fern root in sweet tasting wine," but he instructed this to be done "after coitus."
             The fiddlehead is best known as a tasteful seasonal vegetable dish ~ steamed and served with butter. The earliest vegetable to be harvested when snow may still remain in the shaded and low areas in the forest where they like to grow in large colonies. The rootstalks are also good, though rather woody, and need to be peeled and cooked with a roast perhaps for 30 to 45 minutes.
             The young fronds ~ raw or cooked, are used before they fully unroll. While manu consider these a delicacy, some consider them a 'famine food' when all else fails. M. pensylvanica is the preferred species to eat. However, it should only be eaten in moderation as all ferns contain varying amounts of carcinogenic compounds.

read: [Fiddlehead Farming] by albert, published in The Western Producer, 1977

read an article about fiddlehead farming in
Science Dimension of 1982
by clicking on the logo

Alfalfa (Lucerne) ~ Medicago sativa

             Alfalfa is probably North America's most important hay and pasture plant. Its name was indentified, according to the OED, by one Pedro de Alcala with the Arab word 'alfafacah' ~ 'the best sort of fodder' (though Lucas has it as 'Al-fal-fa' ~ 'father of all foods'. It has long been a staple forage plant. It spread from Media (Persia) to Greece during a war of about 480 BC, to Italy in the first century, thence to Spain with the Saracens in the eighth century, while the Spanish carried it to Mexico and other parts of the New World when they invaded in the sixteenth century ~ illustrating the odd byproducts of war.
             Also called lucerne, it is a common weed of roadsides and waste places. It is sometimes confused with the vetch, but does not produce tendrils and has corkscrew-twisted pods and leaves of three oval leaflets. Its flowers are a showy blue. It is a member of the pea family, and the seeds taste somewghat like the pea. These have been used to make a flour. The plant is very high in food value. It burrows deep into the ground with roots commonly ten to twenty feet long (in some reported instances reaching down 100 feet), seeking minerals. The whole plant should be consumed. Rodale reported that "part of the indigestible matter in alfalfa has the property of binding cholesterol to itself and carrying it out of the body."
             the following is from Plants for a Future
             Leaves and young shoots (raw or cooked) are eaten, though large quantities may cause the breakdown of red blood cells from a saponin-like substance contained in them. (These are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and are found in many common foods such as some beans; thorough cooking will remove most.) A very nutritious food in moderation, it is very rich in vitamins ~ A, B, C, K ~ and a good source of protein. The seed is commonly used as sprouts and can be ground to use as a mush, or mixed with cereal flours for making a nutritionally improved bread.
             It has medicinal uses as anodyne, antibacterial, antiscorbutic, aperient, diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, haemostatic, nutritive, stimulant, and tonic. The plant is taken internally for debility in convalescence or anaemia, haemorrhage, menopausal complaints, and pre-menstrual tension. A poultice of the heated leaves has been applied to the ear in the treatment of earache. It is used to encourage the clotting of blood, is valuable in the treatment of jaundice.

Sweet (yellow) Clover (Melilot) ~ Melilotus officinalis

             Both white (M. alba) and yellow sweet clover have escaped from cultivation, are very common on roadsides especially, and often classed as weeds. When a plant species is termed 'officinale' it generally means that it has been adopted in the pharmacopia as an ingredient for medicinal preparations.
             The tall, bushy plants have profusions of small pea-shaped flowers throughout most of the summer. "Water distilled from the melilot flowers," according to a nineteenth century Sporting Magazine, "has been held to improve the flavour of other substances." (Notably, Gruyere and Schabzieger cheeses.) Tea from these sweet blossoms make a pleasing drink. Dried, they were formerly much used in making plasters and poultices, and in salves and ointments. New England herbalists used sweet clover for patients with various blood disorders.
             Bishydroxy coumarin was extracted from spoiled sweet clover ~ it is anticoagulant and high a dosage may cause hemorrhage. A news report of a considerable time past announced that "proceedings of the Mayo Clinic mentions the discovery of a new chemical in Sweet Clover, which was traced to the eating of spoiled Sweet Clover, which led to the discovery. The Wisconsin Experiment Station has completed a seven-year study of clots lodging in the heart or lungs, and in thrombosis. The only practical remedy up to now has been heparin, a liver extract, whose drawback is that it often makes patients ill. Sweet Clover seems to have no such ill effects and the Mayo report states that it may replace heparin in general use."

Spruce ~ Picea species

             The most common and widely distributed trees of the boreal forest are the white spruce (P. glauca) and the black spruce (P. mariana). The white spruce has long been used as timber and stands an average of 80 or more feet high on a trunk of two feet diameter or more. The black spruce is smaller ~ often only 50-60 feet tall, and slow-growing. It is sometimes called swamp spruce in northern Alberta where it grows in sphagnum bogs and on the margins of swamps.
             When the spruces bud in early spring, just after the brown covering skin begins to sluff, these can be collected and dried to make a pleasant and invigorating tea. The northern peoples drank a decoction of young spruce-shoots in spring, which early settlers found effective in checking signs of scurvy.
             "Many shall haue more Spruce Beere in their bellies, then wit in their hedds," one Ashe wrote in 1591, and thereby lies a tale of the ale that was for long made in great quantities. In 1706 was written: Spruce Beer is "a kind of Physical Drink, good for inward Bruises", and a History of New Hampshire of 1792 noted that "the black spruce is used only for spruce beer. . . . In some of the new towns a liquor is made of spruce twigs, boiled in maple sap." Later, in 1834, Modern Domestic Medicine was able to say of it: "Spruce beer is a powerful diuretic and anti-scorbutic, and is a wholesome beverage for the summer." 'Indian' spruce-beer was taken hot and made by boiling the twigs and cones in maple syrop. Sap and pitch was also collected from the trees to make "the forgotten Spruce gum of the lumbermen."
             Because the wood is almost tasteless it was a preferred material for food containers. In fact, much of the tree was used for a large variety of purposes. The 1868 Report of the U.S. Commissioner of agriculture noted that "frames of canoes" were "covered with its bark, sewed with spruce or tamarack . . . roots, and the seams calked with spruce gum."
             The long, tough, pliable roots of the white spruce were used by various tribes for twine and thread to such an extent that fish-nets were sometimes made entirely of these. After the bark was peeled off, they were also a favorite material for weaving in basketry and hats ~ especially among the coastal British Columbia peoples

Native Trees of Canada
Queen's Printer 1956






contorted shorepine from Mendenhall Studio

Pine ~ Pinus species

             Many species of pine make valuable timber, tar, and tur­pentine, and some have edible seed. Some thirty-five species of the genus are native to North America. The jackpine, banksiana, is the most common in the northern coniferous forest. Early settlers did not think very highly of the tree, perhaps because they could not cultivate the land successfully near the jackpines which often survive on poor soil.
             The pine tree, with all other evergreens, is often considered a symbol of fertility. Today, the cones are often used for various decorative purposes, or burned in the fireplace. Boiling the male cones of the jackpine for a short time to remove the excess resin makes them suitable for eating.
             The Lodgepole-pine P. contorta (the contorted pine) is common to the western provinces. On the coast it grows as a short, scrubby, often crooked tree; further inland, belying its name, it is tall, slender, and straight. Peattie noted this as follows:
             "A tree with as many distinctive characteristics as these (most of them on the grotesque side and quite unfitting the tree to be of any value as lumber) would.seem to be as sharply set off from other species as one could wish. And yet by insensible gradation, as you follow the Beach Pine away from the beaches into the high Coast Ranges, it ceases to be a contorted Beach Pine and turns little by little into the Lodgepole Pine, a timber tree tall and straight.
             "Lodgepole takes its name from the custom, among the Rocky Mountain Indians, of cutting the trunks into lengths 10 to 15 feet long, in the spring, and peeling off the bark. Then they would set out on their summer hunts, leaving the poles to season until fal1. By that time these would have become light, and easily dragged or carried by the women into winter camp. Owing to the growth habits of the tree, these poles were nearly the same thickness (or thinness) for their whole length. Such a pole 15 feet long may be only 2 inches in diameter and, when seasoned, would weigh only 7 or 8 pounds. Furthermore, it is extremely strong, stiff, and nearly impossible to split. When the red men wished to set up a wigwam these poles were arranged in a circle inclined inward to the top and there lashd together. On these poles were stretched the buffalo hide which made, the walls of the tepee.
             "Lodgepole sticks were also the favorite for the making of the travois, the litter or drag-sled which, in default of any wheels in the life of the Indians, were dragged by dogs or women. With a piece of hide stretched from the two poles, the travois became a platform to which bundles could be tied when the tribe was on the move. So great was the demand for poles of this particular tree that the Indians of the great Plains, who had no trees or only the unsuitable Cottonwood or Willow, went all the way to the Rockies to cut Lodgepole Pines, or bought them by barter.
             "When the first white settlers began to move into Lodgepole country, this tree, more than any other, was a boon to their immediate wants. Its pole-like trunks made it ideal for fencing corrals, and of it the pioneer built his sheds, stables, and sometimes even his cabin."
             Toward the end of the long winter months, when signs of scurvy were common among the early explorers, local inhabitants showed them various ways to combat this. In the spring, when the sap began to rise, the bark was taken off a Lodgepole-pine with a scraper. The fat ~ the inner bark ~ was then taken off in long strips. 'Eat of this ,all you want and it will take your pain away and you will feel strong and good,' the explorers were told. Americans also boiled the inner-bark as a food.
             The Kootenay-Salish of British Columbia often made canoes from the bark of the pine, like the better known northern birch-bark canoe.
             There are, in fact, a great many ways in which the pine may be used. For a refreshing tea, sometimes called hunter's tea, a few pine needles can be added to the usual brew. An aromatic tea can also be made from the cones. Herbalists said that jackpine needles may be cut up and then boiled until half the water has evaporated and the remaining mixture has turned a red colour; after adding some honey, it could be taken for coughs. According to the same source, the pitch of the jackpine can be applied to boils following which they will soon break.
             It was news to Europeans when in 1744 it was reported that "the Indians . . . cure all sorts of wounds . . . by the Inner bark of the Pinus. . . . They soak it so long in water as to make it soft & then apply it." The usefulness of pine-tar for this purpose is well known now, especially to those with a need for knowledge of veterinary medicine.
             The Chippewas, along with many other tribes, used the healing pine-gum in chest complaints, coughs, ulcers, venereal disease, to arrest inflammation, relieve pain, reduce swelling, and generally to aid the healing process of the affected parts. Various salves and ointments were made by many tribes of pitch mixed with grease and tallow, for boils, ulcers, and wounds.
             Present medical science recognizes medicinal properties in the turpentine and oil yielded by P. pumilio, the alpine pine. The bark of P. strobus, the white pine of North America, is antiseptic and is used in diarrhea and dysentery in fluid extracts. The oil of the leaves of the Scotch pine, P. sylvestris, is likewise recognized to have medicinal qualities. An extract is used as helpful in increasing the flow of urine and as an antiseptic. The young pine-cones are also beneficial to the functions of the kidney and bladder.
             Jacob Grimm recorded an old practice in Europe in which a person was to silently put three drops of blood into a split in a young pinetree before daybreak of the first of May, and close it with the wax from a virgin beehive. The person then was to cry: 'Give you good morning Madam Pine, here I bring you ------ so fine; what I have borne a year and a day, you shall bear forever and aye! Earth's dew may drench you, and heaven's rain pour, but ------ shall pinch you evermore!" The ritual was meant to cast ill "from marrow to bone, bone to flesh, flesh to skin."

Herbal of Apuleius, fifth century

Plantain ~ Plantago major

             The common plantain is, next to the dandelion, the most familiar and widespread weed in Alberta. With its leafy base squatting on the ground and its elongated flower-spikes, it is easy to recognize. Ancient tradition has its name deriving from 'wege-warte' (way-wait) as a woman waiting by the wayside for her lover and exposed to the tread (plantae) of travellers.
             Many curious qualities have been attributed to the plantain, but none so strange as by "those of Padua" who were said to "love women with little brests, which make their women use the juyce of Plantain to keep them from growing," as a travel book of 1617 stated.
             For many centuries, the fresh young leaves ~ mashed to a pulp ~ have been used in folk remedies for bites, stings, minor wounds, burns, etc. "The same is also highly recommended to give quick relief for the external rectal irritation of piles," noted The Herbalist. Both Chaucer in 1386 and Shakespeare in 1588 referred to its use for healing wounds.
             Crushed plantain leaves were considered effective as a poultice in lieu of surgical dressings by early settlers of Upper Canada. Plantain tea and ointment were recommended by the psychic Edgar Cayce. These "were to be made from the tender young leaves of the plantain plant, the ointment drying up warts or moles that become infected and sore, and run, the tea purifying internally." As a snakebite remedy it was used by Europeans and Americans alike since antiquity; the Herbal of Apuleius made mention of its effectiveness in serpent poisoning in the fifth century.
             One of the early European settlers of Canada wrote: "In pioneer days rattlesnakes were very numerous. . . . Numerous though the venomous reptiles were, only four of the Aldborough settlers were bitten, each saved by copious drafts of the decoction of a hoar-hound and plantain and pressing salted pork on the wound."
             The fibrous strings in the flower petals were extolled as a cure for aching teeth, and powdered root likewise used in toothaches; the seeds of the Old World species P. psyllium are imported for use as a laxative and, according to laboratory tests, another (P. lanceolata) contains a substance that prevents the bloos coagulating. (The species lanceolata and major are considered of equal value medicinally.

white poplar

black poplar

Queen's Printer
Native Trees of Canada
Poplar ~ Populus species

             At least one of of the native North American poplars can be found everywhere on the continent; the most populous tree genus in logged-over northern Alberta is Populus ~ the poplars white and black, and the smell of spring here is the fragrance of poplar-buds. Poplars are related to willows and yield salacin ~ well known in its chemical imitation aspirin, as well as populin which is used to treat rheumatism.

             The white poplar, P. tremuloides, has a special significance connected with the fact that the two sides of its leaves are different shades of green. Long ago, it became the tree of life: bright-green on the side of water, and a darker green on the side of fire. Peattie wrote that "Father De Smet, the early missionary to the Northwest, related that the coureurs de bois had a superstition that this tree furnished the wood of the Cross, since when it has never ceased to quake." It is also called the trembling aspen because certain atmospheric conditions cause its leaves to tremble on the flattened stalks and turn to catch the summer afternoon sunlight so the tree appears enveloped in a shimmering silvery haze. Oldtimers say this is a sign of rain or a gathering storm. As it trembles the rustling also gave it the name of 'noisy leaf', while in several other languages the local name translates to 'woman's tongue'. When the fruit is mature, it releases the seeds; bearing white boyant hairs they float through the air in great clouds and collect on the ground in clumps of white fluff.
             White poplar bark makes a universal tonic that is a urinary, diuretic, and stimulant (and may be akin to quinine as a febrifuge). Himes wrote that "when [Dioscorides] says . . . that 'the bark of the white poplar (P. alba) taken with kidney of the mule causes sterility', he is probably reiterating a popular superstition. The superstition that poplar could produce sterility persisted in the Middle Ages; and may even be accepted in some portions of Europe today" (1936). There are records of early settlers using an extraction of the bitter inner-bark for medicinal use. Thoreau was told by an Indian that it was good for sore eyes; Crees thought it a good remedy for coughs.
             Peattie also noted that ". . . whole logs of aspen have been cut for log cabins; the Mormon pioneers made furniture of it in Utah, and its white wood recommended for kitchen utensils of their wives. But, though weak in many senses, it is also tough, like willow ~ tougher far than most Pine; so from early times it has been used for barn floors and fence posts, corral posts and siding, and the stalls of horses, for it stands up against the kicking and gnawing of horses without splintering." The trunk was used in the Lesser Slave Lake area ~ and presumably elsewhere ~ by the Cree to make dug-out canoes. Kelly saw them in 1910 at Grouard, "shapely and cranky, [bearing] witness to the skill and patience of the Indian and halfbreed owners in whittling out poplar logs."

             P. balsamifera, the balsam (or black) poplar is, with the trembling aspen, the other most common in this region. The Herbalist noted that "the bark and leaves long have been used in some countries for medicinal purposes, because of their balsamic and soothing qualities. Externally as a wash for cuts, scratches, burns."
             The Herbalist (Meyer) has much to say of the buds, which "should be collected in spring, in order that the fragrant, resinous matter with which they are covered may be properly separated in boiling water, for upon this their virtue depend. . . . The balsamic juice is collected in Canada in shells, and sent to Europe under the name Tacamahaea. Alcohol, or spirits, is the proper solvent. the Populus Balsamifera is generally confounded with the Populus Candicans, from whose buds we get the virtues known as the Balm of Gilead; but it is much the superior tree for medical purposes."
             When the buds are eaten they are valuable in coughs resulting from colds. They "must be soaked in alcohol to dissolve the resin before they can be used as a tea." Simmered in olive oil (with beeswax added to make it less viscous) these make an excellent salve or ointment that stings an open wound but is wonderfully clearing to the sinuses and heats the skin. The Ojibwa stewed poplar buds in bear fat to make an earache salve, and many other tribes used the balsam-poplar in dressing wounds and sores.
             The Balm of Gilead name originated in the assumption that this is the substance mentioned in the Bible as found in Gilead. The earliest known sort was the aromatic substance consisting of resin mixed with volatile oils, exuding naturally from various trees of the genus Balsamodendron, and much prized for its fragrance and medicinal properties ~ esteemed as antiseptic and vulnerary.

Warm your feet by a fire ~ of Poplar  

Oak-logs will warm you well, that are old and dry;
Logs of Pine will sweetly smell, but the sparks will fly.

Birch-logs will burn too fast, Chestnut scarce at all;
Hawthorn-logs are good to last ~ catch them in the fall.

Holly-logs will burn like wax, you may burn them green;
Elm-logs like to smouldering flax, no flame to be seen.

Beech-logs for winter time, Yew-logs as well;
Green Elder-logs it is a crime for any man to sell.

Pear-logs and Apple-logs, they will scent your room,
Cherry-logs across the dogs smell like flower of broom

Ash-logs, smooth and grey, burn them green or old,
Buy up all that come your way ~ worth their weight in gold

             "Fire is a capital article. To have no fire, or a bad fire, to sit by, is a most dismal thing," wrote William Cobbett in 1821. And when he exclaimed that "the next winter ought to be thought of in June," he did so from long experience.
             Most of the 'logs' in the foregoing traditional folk verse are exotic in northern Alberta where white poplar makes the best fuel, provided we heed Cobbett's advice and start thinking of the next winter in June or ~ better ~ in April break-up when the snows are slowly disappearning from among the trees. Days are warming with the sun's growing strength and working in the bush is a joy without biting and stinging insects, while frost in the ground allows travel on forest roads and trails that will be impassable in later months.
             Green poplar cuts like butter, the oldtimers say ~ and it splits as easily. That is the way to put it up: cut and split, stacked on some poles to keep it off the ground. In this way it will have all summer to dry, and when winter returns it will make a fine hard firewood.

             White poplar roots "grow hundreds of subsidiary shoots which, as the years progress, develop into decent-sized trunks. Accordingly, a single tree can extend over many hundreds of square yards of ground ~ or, in extreme cases, even farther. In Fishlake National Forest, Utah, there is a quaking aspen that has taken thousands of years to cover more than 100 acres and grow more than forty thousand trunks. This organism, which looks like a large forest, has been given the name 'Pando' (from the Latin 'pandere,' which means to spread)."

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees
translated by Jane Billinghurst, 2016


Cherry ~ Prunus species

             The only two cherries native to the Lesser Slave Lake area (and Alberta) ~ the choke-cherry, P. Virginiana, and the pin-cherry, P. pennsylvanica, are sometimes confused with each other. The white blooms of both species make these tall shrubs conspicuous in the spring ~ the pin-cherry blooming April-May, and the choke-cherry May-June.
             The pin-cherry fruits are a bright red. They are feasted upon by birds and are, in fact, sometimes called bird-cherries. For humans they make delicious jellies and pre8erves. Dried, the fruits of both species can be used for flavouring and in baking.
             The fruit of the choke-cherry (P. Virginiana) is a black, juicy berry that has pucker power; "it takes an Indian to eat choke cherries with a straight face," wrote Peattie. To the Navaho this is a sacred plant; its wood is used for making prayer sticks, and because black is the color symbolic of the North, the black fruits are an important part of certain Navaho dances and chants. The Plains Indians too held it in esteem. The whole community was busy in, the "black-cherry-moon" gathering and preparing the fruits while they lasted. Camps were pitched in groves of this tree and, since it was impractical to remove the tiny pits from the flesh, the whole fruits were pounded up in a mortar and made into small cakes baked by the sun. Dried cherries were kept as a sort of pemmican by the Dakotas.
             P. Virginiana is used medicinally in extracts, infusions, and syrop as a tonic and sedative for the digestive system. It is also a common ingredient in cough mixtures. The inner­bark of the choke-cherry is a narcotic and a stimulant, and has been praised in various writings as a good remedy for jaundice, fevers, worms, consumption, abdominal cramps, for measles and for colds.

Wintergreen ~ Pyrola species

             The Common Pink Wintergreen P. asarifolia is the most widely distributed, though others (elliptica, uniflora, minor, secunda, virens) may be found less frequently. If it has been well-covered by snow during the winter, the leaves ~ which grow close to the ground ~ will reveal themselves fresh and green when the snow melts. Hence its name. The scientific name is from the Latin for pear because the shape of the leaves resemble those of that fruit tree. The delicate, beautiful and fragrant flowers cluster along a stalk reaching four or six inches from the moist humus soil in which it likes to grow.
             As early as the sixteenth century an authoritive herbal noted that "Greene Pyrole is also good to be layde vpon woundes, vlcers, & burnings", and John Josselyn echoed this a hundred years later: "they are excellent wound herbs." All of the species have been employed in sudorifics, astringents, and nervines in coughs and diseases of the breast as a pectoral.
             "Wintergreens were used as a stomachic by the Onondagas. Mohegans steeped the leaves of P. eliptica (sic) and used the liquid as a gargle for sores and cankers in the mouth. The Montagnais boiled the roots of this species for a drink taken for weakness and 'back sickness'." (Vogel)
             P. rotundifolia was used, among other purposes, as a vaginal douche.
             The whole plant of the pyrola is used and "applied with profit as a poultice to bruises, bites of insects, etc. The decoction will be found beneficial as a gargle for throat and mouth irritation, and as a wash for the eyes." (Meyer)

Buttercup (Crowfoot) ~ Ranunculus species

             Most of the Ranunculus species are found in wet places, and the generic name derives from the Latin rana: 'frog'. Those with divided leaves are also called Crowfoot, but the common species with yellow flowers are popularly know as buttercups. About twenty-five are found in Alberta, the most common of which are the tall-buttercup, R. acris, the water-crowfoot, R. circinatus, the creeping-buttercup, R. cymbalaria, and the celery-leaved buttercup.
             The photo is of the last, R. sceleratus (celery-leaved) ~ which is sometimes called the cursed-buttercup because of a very bitter juice that causes severe intestinal inflammation when eaten by grazing animals. Mrs Grieve noted it is "one of the most virulent of native plants: bruised and applied to the skin, it raises a blister and creates a sore by no means easy to heal. When chewed, it inflames the tongue and produces violent effects. Even the distilled water is intensely acrimonious, and as it cools, deposits crystals which are insoluble, and have the curious property of being inflammable. Yet if the plant be boiled and the water thrown away, it is said to be not unwholesome, the peasants of Wallachia eating it thus as a vegetable. When made into a tincture, given in small diluted doses, it proves curative of stitch in the side and neuralgic pains between the ribs." Aleuts are said to have slipped "a shot of buttercup juice into an enemy's drink, in the belief he would then waste away and die."
             R. acris, introduced from Europe is one of the most common. Its leaves were crushed by the northern Cree and the odor inhaled to relieve headache. As its name indicates, it has an acrid taste and shunned by grazers.
             R. circinatus is almost wholly submerged in water from which its leaves absorb carbon dioxide instead from air as is usually the case with plants. The interior structure of its stems is such as to cause the plant to collapse in a shapeless heap when removed from its element. White, showy flowers are the only parts out of water, enabling insects to pollinate them.

the prickly rose by albert


Rose (Alberta wild rose) ~ Rosa woodsii

Coming Up Roses
Wherein a beautiful but humble plant provides fruit for one's labour.

             The wild rose, Alberta's floral emblem, can be found growing almost everywhere, and is probably the most familiar and best-loved of all the wild flowers.
             Roses are found in temperate regions throughout both hemispheres. All the roses of the antipodes, South Africa, and the temperate parts of South America have been carried there by cultivation.
             Prior to the latter part of the 16th cen­tury, only four species of roses were known in the western world. An important addi­tion was made around the year 1800, when four fine China roses were introduced which had been cultivated in Chinese and Indian gardens for many centuries.
             The birthplace of the cultivated rose was probably northern Persia, on the Caspian, or Faristan on the Gulf of Persia. Thence the rose spread across Mesopotamia to Palestine and across Asia Minor to Greece. From there it was taken to Italy where in Roman times it was extensively used.
             The actual number of roses indigenous to Western Europe and North America is a subject open to dispute among botanists ~ authorities do not agree on nomenclature and some make them into many species.
             More than ten thousand roses are known in cultivation. These lovely plants evolved ~ like all domesticated plants ~ from the wild. Rosa woodsii is a typical wild species, and may therefore represent an archetype. It is a low shrub , 2 to 6 feet high. The stems are armed with straight or slightly curved prickles, often broad and flattened at the base. The flowers are large and showy, generally pinkish and fragrant. The fruit is a red berry­like hip.
             Almost every part of the rose has been used by people at one time or another. Rose confection from the petals of the red rose is used to make bad tasting medicine more agreeable. An "eye-water for weak eyes" was made of one teaspoonful of laudanum, two teaspoons Madeira wine, and twelve teaspoons of rose-water. Modern medicine uses fluid extracts of the rose in treating diarrhea and hemorrhage. The dried petals are recognized as having the same medici­nal qualities although to a lesser degree, as well as being generally beneficial to the body. The petals make wild-rose jelly or jam, and they may even be dipped in batter and deepfried for an unusual treat. Rose honey can be had by crushing roses and adding them to warm honey. After the mixture has been left for a few days, the petals are removed by straining and the honey put in jars.
             After the petals drop in the fall, the fruit appears in the form of the familiar red rose­hips which are about the size of a marble. Many have heard that they can be made into jams, or, dried and crushed, make an excellent tea. But the fruit of the rose can be used in a variety of ways by the imagina­tive cook.
             Olaf E. Stamberg of the University of Idaho has written in detail about the vita­min content of rose-hips. He tells us that garden varieties of rose-hips are low in vitamin C, but that some of the wild roses contain astonishing amounts of vitamin C and A. Oranges contain only 49 miligrams of vitamin C per hundred grams, green peppers 150 miligrams per hundred grams. Wild rose-hips contain from 2,000 to 7,000 miligrams of vitamin C in each hundred grams of the fruit.
             Rose-hips have a much better flavour if picked after the first frost. Some people enjoy eating them fresh - right off the bush. Most often, though, they are collected and cooked lightly before being used in a varie­ty of recipes. Because the elusive vitamin C is easily lost, the best idea is to make an extract or puree of the hips. This can then be stored with a minimum loss of food value, and used throughout the year by the table­spoonful in fruit juices, salads, soups and sauces.
             To prepare an extract of the rose-hip, bring one and one-half cups of water to a boil for each cup of hips. Add the rose-hips and simmer for 15 minutes. Let stand in a pottery utensil for 24 hours. Strain off the extract, bring it to a roIling boil, add two tablespoons of lemon juice for each pint and pour into jars and seal.
             A rose-hip puree may be made as follows: use a pint of water for each pound of the fruits and stew until they are tender. This will take about 20 minutes. Then press the mixture through a sieve and the result will be a brownish-tinted puree of about the same thickness as jam.
             The Scandinavians make an easy to prepare soup from the berries. The hips are ground and boiled for ten minutes, strained and then again brought to a boil and thick­ened with potato flour (you can use soy-bean or whole wheat flour). About four level teaspoons of flour is prepared with two cups of cold water. The soup can be served hot or cold.

published 1977 in Nature Canada

                 The flowers of the domestic rose have been given a language of their own. The single rose is a symbol of completion, of consummate acgievement and perfection, and has been associated with everything that these qualities suggest: the Mystic Center, the Heart, the Garden of Eros, Paradise, the Beloved, the emblem of Venus, and many more.



Raspberry ~ Rubus strigosis

             The large bushy wild raspberry is probably the most common of the raspberries and is abundant especially on the borders of woods. The light, sweet, red berries have been a constant food of everyone who encountered them and have helped many an explorer and trapper stave off starvation.
             Tea made from raspberry roots was given by the first Americans to children with bowel trouble. The leaves, roots, and fruit of the raspberry have all been used in dysentry ~ some 500 Oneidas were treated with Rubus roots and cured of this disease by their physicians, while their English neighbours "fell before" it, as was reported in 1857. Leaves are rich in sodium., and a tea made from them will act as a stimulant, or can be used as a gargle for sore throats, as recommended by herbal doctors. Taken three times daily in ever increasing doses during the last three months of pregnancy, it was said to render labour shorter and easier. Raspberry syrop, especially of R. idoeus, was used as a drink in fevers. The berries are laxative and a refrigerant. Root-bark and leaves are astringent. A leaf decoction is an excellent remedy in diarrhea; combined with cream it will suppress nausea and vomitting.

             "As pretty raspberry [wine] as ever was tipt over tongue," can be made from the berries. "Raspberry vinegar, a drink popular among early settlers, is still considerably used in Canada. It is not, of course, a vinegar, but was made by letting raspberries stand twenty-four hours in vinegar, draining off the liquor, and repeating the process a second and third time, when the vinegar is sufficiently infused with raspberry juice. A pound of lump sugar was added for each pint of juice, the stone jar of liquor was placed in a pot of boiling water, and after ten minutes' boiling it was bottled. The flavour was best when the bottles had stood in a cool place for several months, and only a little was needed in a cup of water to make a palatable drink. It was found that the use of the poorer grades of sugar made an inferior, though cheaper, drink."

             Mme Jehane Benoit's Cookbook has a recipe for raspberry vinegar using six qauarts of raspberries, one quart of cider vinegarm and sugar as needed:
             "Mash 2 quarts of the raspberries in a earthenware bowl or jar ~ don't use metal. Pour the vinegar on top, cover and let stand overnight.
             "Wet a jelly bag by dipping it in white vinegar. Place it over a bowl and pour in the raspberry vinegar. Hang the bag, letting the juice strain thoroughly. over 2 more quarts of the raspberries. Cover and let stand 24 hours.
             "Repeat the straining over the remaining 2 quarts of berries. Cover and let stand overnight.
             "Strain the whole through the wet jelly bag until all the juice is extracted. Measure the juice by cups and add an equal amount of sugar. Bring to a fast rolling boil while stirring, and boil for 3 minutes.
             "Pour into bottles, cover and store in a cool, dark place ~ it will keep from one season to the next. To serve. use 1/4 cup of raspberry vinegar to 3/4 cup of water or soda poured over ice cubes." ______________________________

Western Dock ~ Rumex occidentalis

             The genus Rumex has many plants which are used for food or as medicine. (It is closely related to garden rhubarb.) A manuscript of 1398 said, "al manere Dockys heele smytynge of Scorpions." Root-extracts of the yellow-dock, R. crispus, are taken to be alterative and arresting hemorrhage and diarrhea, and is tonic. It has also been employed externally and internally on various diseases of the skin.
             The western-dock (R.occidentalis) and the sheep-sorrel (acetosella) are closely related and so common that few people bother to give them a second glance, and consequently often confuse the two. Even the old herbals seem to have trouble, as when Gerarde speaks of the "Soure Docke called Sorrel". The sorrel does have a sour taste; it was cultivated for culinary purposes. Recipes using sheep-sorrel are found in many old cookbooks, especially in Europe where this plant had a renowned reputation. The leaves of the western-dock are refreshing when eaten raw, and may be substituted for those of the sorrel. The root, which is rich in iron, was used by the Plains Indians to get a yellow dye.
             Fred Bruemmer told that "Eskimos in Canada and Greenland love to eat the leaves and stalks of sorrel, which looks like miniature rhubarb and has a tart taste. In Greenland they eat it with meat or blubber, and when mosquitos bite, to ease the swelling and the smart."
             In Europe, the common-dock (R. obtusifolium) was well known as a popular antidote for nettle stings ~ a charm was uttered to aid the cure of rubbing dock leaves on the smarting part: "Nettle in, dock out; Dock in, nettle out; Nettle in, Dock out; Dock rub nettle out." The phrase "in dock, out nettle," became a proverbial expression for changeableness and inconstancy.

Arrowhead ~ Sagittaria cuneata

             The arrowhead is found in the mud or shallow waters of snall ponds and slow-moving streams. The lance shape of the leaves gave the plant its common name although these leaves may vary greatly in shape and size according to the level of the water. The underwater tubers are today used only by ducks and a number of shorebirds as food, bur ar one time these tubers were an important food source for some tribes.
             When wintering at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805, Lewis and Clark noted that it was the Indians' "chief vegetable food, and was never out of season." Later they observed women collecting the roots: "She takes one of these canoes into the pond where the water is as high as the breast, and by means of her toes, separates from the root this bulb, which on being freed from the mud, rises immediately to the surface of the water and is thrown into the canoe."
             They were boiled like potatoes or roasted in hot ashes. After boiling them, some tribes sliced, then dried and stored them like apples.


Often, in spring, red-wing-blackbirds conceal
in a amall area hundreds of nests among the
branches of young willows at the edges of ponds
and marshes.



Willow ~ Salix species

             There are some 450 Salix species in the Northern Hemisphere (they are absent or uncommon in tropical regions). Ranging from dwarf shrubs to trees, accurate identification is not easy as individuals will vary in response to moisture, nutrients, shade and wind, and hybridization between species also causes great differences.
             George W. Argus produced A Guide to the identification of Salix (willow) in Alberta (2008). Distribution based on maps published in Flora of Alberta (John Packer) indicate as many as a dozen identified in the Lesser Slave Lake region alone. These include discolor ~ the common pussy-willow, bebbiana ~ grey-willow, drummondiana ~ drummond's-willow, exigua ~ narrow-leaf-willow, myrtillifolia ~ booth's-willow, petiolaris ~ meadow-willow, pseudomonticola ~ false-mountain-willow, pyrifolia ~ balsam-willow, scouleriana ~ scouler's-willow, as well as others.
             To "wear willow", or the "willow garland", were old sayings that refer to the use of that tree as a symbol of grief for unrequited love or the loss of a mate; a "willow wielder" was a batsman at cricket. The frequent occurence of the willow in our language is no doubt due to the fact that the genus is so widely distributed.
             The bark and leaves contain salacin, which in its synthetic 'equivalent', well known as ASA or aspirin, has been reported by the Mayo Clinic as the most powerful painkiller ever developed. It is the single most useful treatment of rheumatoid artrhritis. The discovery of salacin is said to have come about from application of the once widely held theory that any endemic ill has its remedy nearby. Rheumatism being endemic in damp places, it was natural to seek the remedy close at hand. Hippocrates fifth century BC doctrine of "humours" rested on the assumption that the body was composed of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The proportions, or misproportions of these are what constitutes health and disease. The theory was abandoned only in the nineteenth century. Hippocrates prescribed salacin 2400 years ago, when it was extracted in raw form from the bark, to treat fevers, pain and inflammation.
             Americans, like the ancient peoples of the Old World, knew how to make use of the willow. Comanches burned willow stems and used the ashes in an eye-wash. Western natives used a species of willow in infusion for colds and asthma to induce perspiration. Willow leaves were steeped and the resulting tea drunk to relieve headache. The root-bark of the pussy-willow was made into a tea to stop bleeding.
             Aetos, a Greek physician of the sixth century, considered that "the burned testicles of castrated mules drunk with a decoction of willow constitute contraceptives for men." Another of Aetos' contraceptives was to "give the woman a decoction of willow-bark with honey to temper its bitterness. To be drunk continually." Musitanus noted this also when mentioning "borax combined with the willow drink, taken internally before or shortly after intercourse, is said to be an impediment to conception." Norman E. Himes added (in Medical History of Contraception, 1936): "Until relatively late times the German people believed that drinking willow tea made one sterile. This notion doubtless came down from the Romans. The German women thought, in addition, that if the tea was drunk boiling hot, it would drive away all desire for, and inclination to, unchastity."
             Willow-bark is also considered a nerve sedative, and is said to relieve ovarion congestion and irritation, which may be supported by the medicinal use of salacetol ~ willow vinegar, as an and genito-urinary antiseptic. A gargle from the tea of the bark is soothing to a sore throat, while it is said to be healing when drunk. Some species have been used in medicine in malaria and neuralgia.
             Bruemmer noted that the Eskimos at Bathurst Inlet considered willow-buds a delicacy: "There are ptarmigan in the valley. Willow buds and twigs are their staple winter food. When the Eskimos kill a ptarmigan, they slit open its gizzard, take out the partly digested buds and eat them. . . . They are extremely rich in ascorbic acid, the vital, scurvy-preventing Vitamin C. Willow leaf buds, picked just after they show green in the springtime, make a crunchy breakfast cereal when served in a bowl with milk and honey."

             "Wicker and wand chairs and cradles were to be found in the ordinary man's home during the Middle Ages," noted a voluminous History of Technology. "They seem to have been the work of basket-makers, whose technique was that of plaiting osiers, that is young shoots of the willow. . . Beds, mats, bottle-casings, bird-cages, beehives, lobster-pots, and baskets were all part of this craft, which was common throughout Europe."
             The twigs of the willow were much used for this purpose by many of the American tribes at an early date. The most primitive way of making wickerwork is the simple weaving in and out of the stiff twigs, over and under one another. It is similar to weaving with cloth except for the loom, whixh is not used in wickerwork. The ancient house of poles and brush was wickerwork, as were the windbreaks in the fields. Even later, when clay or stone houses were built, the support for the chimney hood, for instance, might still be wicker.
             Between 1200 and 1300 AD, the Hopi started to make the beautiful wickerwork trays that are still popular there. The material was usually sumac or rabbit brush, and other such shrubs. In Ojibwa wickerwork, contrasting colours were often secured by using willow that was gathered at different seasons, or by peeling some twigs and leaving the remainder green, or by the use of blighted branches.
             The best basket-willow are the peeled rods, or young shoots, that spring from well-established rootstocks or stumps. Willow may be propagated by setting cuttings about ten inches long in the early spring. The cuttings root easily in the moist earth, and within a few years have developed well-rooted stock from which rods can be harvested each year.

Bulrush ~ Scirpus validus

             Scirpus comprises a large genus of the sedge family. The common great-bulrush, often growing taller than a man's heighth, is a familiar sight along the shorelines of lakes and marshes the world over. Moses was found among the bulrushes by the banks of the Nile floating in a rush basket "made watertight with clay and tar". The Egyptian papyrus of that time was also made of it.
             According to Mrs. M. Grieve (1931), "S. lacustris, the Great Club-Rush or Common Bulrush, is used for making chair seats, mats and hassocks. . . . The roots are astringent and diuretic and were formerly employed in medicine, but are now no longer used,"

Goldenrod ~ Solidago gigantea

             From a distance, the tall slender stems of the goldenrod look like sticks of pure gold with clusters of golden-yellow flowers crowning them. Difficult to distinguish from one another, the goldenrod has some one hundred species of which most are American. Ten species of the genus Solidago can be found in Alberta. The generic name was taken from the Latin solidare, "tomake whole", in allusion to the reputed healing properties of these perennial herbs.
             Almost all of the goldenrods have some tonic or other quality. Particularly S. odora, named for its anise-like odorous leaves, which has cleansing powers that relieve gas and bowel pains. It is also a general stimulant and relieves nausea. The stout-stemmed S. rigida causes contractions. S. virgaurea, in addition to its more general qualities, heals wounds by direct application. The tea of the leaves of S. gigantea induces perspiration, and was a widely used native American herb-tea in colds and fevers. The roots were used in poultices to apply to boils and sores. A root tea was also used on burns and scrapes.

Cucumber Root (Twisted Stalk) ~ Streptopus amplexifolius
             Tthe below is from plants for a future in Cornwall ~ a database with copious references of over 7000 plants and more than 100,000 visitors each month:
             "Fruit - raw or cooked in soups and stews[105, 161, 172]. Juicy with a cucumber flavour[183], they are reported to be slightly cathartic when growing in certain areas only[183]. The fruit is laxative if eaten in large quantities according to another report[172]. The oval berry is up to 15mm long[235]. Tender young shoots - raw in salads or cooked like asparagus[177, 183, 257]. A cucumber-like flavour[172, 183]. Root - raw. It is sometimes used in salads for its cucumber flavour[105, 177, 183].
             "The fruit is cathartic[172, 207]. An infusion of the stems and fruit has been used to treat 'sickness in general'[257]. The plant is tonic[257]. An infusion of the whole plant has been used to treat stomach complaints and loss of appetite[257]. A compound infusion of the plant has been used in the treatment of spitting up of blood, kidney problems and gonorrhoea[257]. The root has been chewed in order to induce labour in cases of protracted delay[257]. A compound infusion of the root has been used as an analgesic in the treatment of internal pain[257].
             "The plant has been tied to the clothes, body or hair and used as a scent[257]."

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
             The tansy was once grown in the garden as a savoury, although the old herbals sajd the wild tansy has much more value. Because the flowers when dried retain their appearance, and its widespread medicinal use, it was often used as a symbol of immortality; Tanacetum is probably from the Greek for "immortality".
             Tansy is thought to have been originally brought from Europe. There the herb was widely used in medieval times, in herb teas which were said to be useful in female disorders, and in cakes, puddings, omelets, and the like, flavoured with juice of tansy that were traditionally eaten at Easter in memory of the "bitter herb" of the Passover.
             All parts of the plant have a strong aromatic scent and bitter taste, and were formerly much used in medicine as a remedy for ailments of the stomach. The flowering tops and leaves make an aromatic bitter and an irritant narcotic that have been used in malaria and hysteria. It expels worms and, in some rural areas of New England it was used in funeral winding sheets, presumably as a discouragement to worms.
             Drying the plant impairs much of its action. Modern medicine supports the findings of both American herbalists and their European brethren, who employed tansy in female disorders, in recognizing that it stimulates the menstrual flow. A tea made from the herb was also used by native Americans to induce abortions. It was greatly diluted as in overdoses it produces abdominal pain, vomitting, convulsions, and death.







Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
             The "dandelion-infested" lawn, a bane to suburbanites, is an urban myth or at least a misnomer. Better to call it a dandelion-blessed lawn. Mennonite farmers have cultivated them under sawdust to sell at market in the spring, although they say the natural green dandelion that is slightly bitter is much better. The fresh young leaves make delicious salads with hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon.
             There are a lot of recipes for dandelion wine; this from M. Jean Chancelet (come from France and walked from Edmonton with three oxen in 1910 to settle in the Lesser Slave Lake area):
             "The real stuff is made with the whole plant: roots, leaves, and flowers. Wash them good, pack them in a barrel or crock good and tight, pour boiling water on same. Next morning press the juice out, add yeast and buckwheat honey. Let ferment in a cool place, stirring each day till fermentation stops, and let it age for one year or more. That's about as good as port wine."

             The scientific designation of the dandelion is from an ancient word traceable through Latin and Arabic to the Persian talkh chakok, "bitter herb". Herbalists agree taraxacum root makes a bitter tonic and provides calcium; the herb is beneficial to kidney and liver, acting as a diuretic and providing magnesium and potassium.


An old popular song:
"I'm looking over a four-leaved clover, that I overlooked before. . . ," meaning, 'I'm in luck,'
and a common idiom is "to be in clover", meaning to live a carefree life of ease, comfort, or prosperity. This originally referred to the fact that clover is fattening to cattle.  


Clover, Trifolium species
             Clover has about 300 species; the highest diversity is found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, but many species also occur in South America and Africa, including at high altitudes on mountains in the tropics. The two most common clovers are the white T. repens and red T. pratense
             The flowering tops of the red-clover have "been regarded as an alterative by former generations and employed as an anti-spasmodic in some conditions, as in the spasms of whooping cough, but its virtues are now questioned."
             "Its former use in medicine has been as a component of salve or extract for all kinds of indolent sores and ulcers."
             Tea made from these sweet blossoms were much used by medieval herbalists; mixed with peppermint it was also a favorite European beverage. The fresh leaves were used by native Americans in salads, and the roots were said to be sweet and pleasant when partially dried and smoked, or rolled and dipped in oil. Settlers also mixed the powdered flowers with bread for use as a breakfast cereal.

by albert
Cat's-tail, Typha latifolia
             Without cat's-tails sloughs and roadside ditches would appear naked. The brown cylindrical spikes (their most outstanding feature, which make them instantly recognizable to even the most numbed inhabitants of the concrete jungles) are made of the minute, innumerable flowers of this marsh plant. Although it has been used primarily for decorative purposes (in winter bouquets, for instance, the food uses of this plant are numerous. Euell Gibbons, in one of his many books on wild plants, called the cat's-tail the "supermarket of the swamps", and points out that in May or June the green bloom-spikes make a superior vegetable when cooked. Later, a bright yellow pollen, "fine as sifted flour", is produced in great abundance, which makes a nourishing ingredient in pancakes and muffins. From fall until the spring, a fine white flour can be prepared from the central core of the root-stock for use as breadstuff or as a food starch ~ as it was used by native Americans. In the spring, the young shoots can be pulled from the mud and peeled, leaving a tender white part from six to twelve inches long which taste a bit like cucumber when eaten raw. The cotton or down from the ripe cat's-tail heads is very light, soft, and fluffy. It was formerly much used to stuff comforters and makes a good insulator.
             Native Americans used cat's-tail mats much like those made of bulrushes to cover the frame, and lining, the sides of wigwams and lodges. When the cat's-tails were fully grown, the women gathered those that had not gone to seed, wrapped them in bundles, and dried them in the open air. These were made into mats that were lapped over each other to ensure that the mat was watertight and warm.


Stinging-nettle, Urtica gracilis
For more on the [nettle]
see the article from 1974 above.





















Blueberry, Vaccinium caespitosum
             "Vaccinium, a Black-berry, a Bilberry, or Hurtle-berry . . ." the common blueberry is the most widely distributed species of a number of similar low shrubs found in Alberta. The fruit is famed for its delicious flavour, but "it is," wrote Henry David Thoreau, "a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted blueberries who never picked them." Dried berries will keep for years in tins and just have to be soaked like prunes before using.
             A popular folk-remedy was to have blueberries boiled up and the juice given to drink to little babies for colic. Blueberry-leaves are strongly astingent, and yield myrtillin, a substance which is known to reduce blood sugar as does insulin. The U.S. Dispensatory states that the name myrtillin "has been applied to a substance of unknown composition which was originally obtained from Vaccinium myrtillus. . . . The Blueberry leaf has been used as a folk remedy in the treatment of dia­betes for many years. Allen reports favorable effects in a number of cases of diabetes." A tea made of cut dried leaves will provide an anti-diabetes drink.
             Blueberry-fruits are purifying to the blood, "depending upon the blood fortifying minerals as calcium, iron, and phosphorus and one other, equally as important as these three, namely manganese. The latter acts as a catalyzing agent on behalf of the blood stream; that is, it helps to conduct into the blood stream the Blueberry's calcium, iron and phosphorus content, and thus enhance the assimilation of these minerals."

highbush cranberry 


Cranberry, Viburnum species
             When autumn approaches, the air in the northern Alberta forest is infused with the odour of highbush-cranberry (V. trilobum). It is a shrub that sometimes grows almost to a small tree. The lowbush-cranberry, or mooseberry (V. edule) is more common in Alberta, but rarer in the north. But neither of these members of the honeysuckle family are a true cranberry (nor even a berry at all), but stone-fruits containing a single, large flattened stone. The true cranberry (the bog-cranberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, of the same genus as the blueberry), is the cranberry of commercial growers, and of the heath family.
             Berry or cherry, they make excellent jellies. Dried, they may be used in cooking, baking, or for flavouring.

                          authors quoted above are not footnoted in a scholarly manner nor referenced, but can be easily
             found by anyone wishing to learn more by querying any search engine by name and 'plant' or 'herb'
             ~ and all of them are well worth studying further


spomsored and published by the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, an educational nonprofit based in Berkeley, California ( North Atlantic Books), 2015)

             I had to learn from the older people, plus when I was a little boy, I was the one to dig different herbs for the old ladies. They would show me which herbs they wanted. They would offer some tobacco, watch, and pray, while I collected the herbs. I would bring all the herbs to the old ladies who were sitting there cleaning them. They didn't go from one herb to the next, kneeling down; they were just sitting there. It was the same with my mom, my aunties, and some other old ladies who were the medicine men's wives. After a few years, I started to understand which herbs they wanted without them telling me, and which areas the herbs were in.
             My medicine bundle came from my great-grandfather, Moostoos, a famous medicine man who signed Treaty 8 for our area. The bundle was given to my father and passed on to me when I was about nineteen or twenty years old. At first I didn't want to use it, as I didn't want to be a medicine man. As the years went by, when I was around thirty, different medicine men knew they were going to die. Also some of the old ladies I had helped said they might not make it through this winter. So they started looking around; they couldn't pass their knowledge on to their grandchildren or their children because they were on drugs or drunk. They couldn't give it to them even if they wanted to. So they de­cided they had better give it to me.