I live in a rural community, 6 miles to the nearest grocery store, but a handy pharmacy just opened about 150 yards from my house.
This place has a limited stock, but the price is right. Shown above is one of the specials in today’s grand opening: bloodroot, free for the taking.
Five years ago, I took a course in medicinal herbs at BotanoLogos School of Herbal Studies. We spent five weekends together. On Saturday morning we’d learn about the plants – identification and medicinal uses. In the afternoon we’d go out to identify them in the wild. Sunday we would harvest plants, and then make tinctures, salves and syrups from them.
From this short but intensive time, I came to love these plants of the Southern Appalachians for their rich healing properties. And some of my favorites grow right up the street, at the corner pharmacy.
To celebrate the first day of spring, I took a walk to see what wildflowers are in bloom despite the dusting of snow last night.
Wild geranium, also known as cranesbill, with its pointed pinkish flowers and many-divided leaves, is an all-purpose astringent for many kinds of discharges – diarrhea, bleeding ulcers, heavy menstruation.
Bloodroot, with splashy white flowers and distinctively shaped leaves, can be used to treat bronchitis and lung congestion; a salve of bloodroot is applied to burn off tumors.
Chickweed’s tiny white petals are delicate, and it is common as dandelions in many yards around here, but it is very useful for cuts and wounds as well as itching and respiratory irritation.
Violets, the regular old purple ones, are a cough remedy and have anti-inflammatory action; they’re also taken as a springtime seasonal tonic.
Trailing Arbutus, above, is an astringent and diuretic used for bladder and urinary problems.
This Rue Anenome, though mildly toxic, was used by Native Americans to treat diarrhea and vomiting.
Not far behind in the pharmacy’s restocking will be maidenhair fern, useful for sore throats and coughs, and later the black cohosh, a strong anti-inflammatory that also cools menopausal hot flashes.
The wild ginger leaves are starting to shine with their waxy sheen, the jug-shaped flowers tucked beneath them in the dirt; its roots can soothe an unhappy tummy, coughs, or menstrual cramps.
I have to be careful about harvesting these roadside plants. Our street is not at all busy – I doubt it sees 100 cars in a day – but still there is runoff of oil and other contaminants from the asphalt. So I only take from the uphill side of the road, never more than 10 percent of the patch, and only if I can’t find another place to harvest.
Today’s penny is a 2011, the first year I made bloodroot tincture.