Local herbalism: using the plants in the dooryard.

When I told the gentleman who installed our satellite internet that I’m an herbalist, he started singing the praises of Tahitian Noni Juice. Right. I told him I was sure the Noni Juice was very nice, but there were ten different just-as-useful herbs growing right by his feet in my backyard, and he could have them all for free.

See, exotic herbs with hyped-up marketing campaigns just don’t excite me. Who knows exactly what’s in those bottles anyway? And why should I give my money to big, sketchy companies when my backyard supplies just about all the herbs I could ever need?

Today I decided to go outside and make a list of the useful herbs that are growing wild right now within 20 feet of my house. The list was even longer than I thought: more than thirty very useful plants.

Here they are, with a use or two for each to give you an idea of what they’re good for. Keep in mind that many blogposts (books, even!) could be written on every one of these plants, so there is necessarily a lot left out. I just wrote the first thing that came to my mind about each one.

All Heal (Prunella vulgaris): incredible wound-healer and alterative.
Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.): valuable diaphoretic, nervine.
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): alterative, thyroid support, skin fungus.
Blackberry (Rubus spp.): an astringent when you need it.
Burdock (Arctium lappa): liver and kidney soother, resolves scaly skin.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria): sleep for babies, stomach-calmer.
Celandine (Chelidonium majus): liver and lymphatic stimulant.
Cheeses (Malva rotundifolia): useful mucilage-laden mallow, soothes everything.
Chickweed (Stellaria media): gentle, soothing alterative and lymphatic.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus): classic bitter digestive.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): elimination balancer, alterative, minerals.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): good for sneezing allergies, digestive and urinary soother.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea): alterative, depurative.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): another wonderful, soothing mallow.
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata): antispasmodic of the first order.
Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria): possible lymphatic.
Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum): respiratory stimulant.
Plantains (Plantago major & P. lanceolata): stings, wound healing (inside and out).
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana): strong lymphatic.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota): kidney stones, thyroid, and birth control too!
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): gentle lymphatic, alterative.
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis): traditionally used for mania!
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): traditional cancer herb, good vitamin c in salad.
Spiny Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper): cooling digestive tonic.
Strawberry (Fragaria spp.): gentle astringent, baby diarrhea.
Thistles (Cirsium spp.): liver and digestive tonic.
Violet (Viola sororia): so cooling, soothing, and comforting.
White Deadnettle (Lamium album): astringent, good for heavy menstrual bleeding.
White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia): bitter nervine.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella): tasty source of vitamin c, heals old wounds.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): sharp cuts, internal healing, alterative.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus): liver stimulant, laxative.

Well, not a bad materia medica, is it? Most of these plants grow in cities, too. Medicine all around, if you look for it. (Big herb companies don’t need your money anyway.)

A side note: I’m a space cadet. After I reminded everyone else about this blog party, I forgot about it myself until I saw Kiva’s post. Silly, I know.

What should our next blog party be? I promise to participate on time!


  1. Rie142 said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 10:12 am

    Ok so I am drawing a blank On some of the herbs you are saying they are good for an alterative. What is that? I can’t even think this morning. Thanks for all and any help.

  2. Kiva Rose said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

    Alteratives are generally herbs that have an allover helpful effect on the body, often emphasizing the metabolism. You can think of them as whole body modulators. What the old timers call blood cleansers.

    Argh, satellite, just pray you’ve got better service than me (hughesnet). Slow, undependable and just plain weird.

    Nice to see so many lovely weedy plants in your list! and so many underused (for medicine) plants too.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

    Thanks for the question, Rie.

    I really should have linked to a definition of alterative, it’s just that I haven’t been able to find any online that satisfy me.

    To me, an alterative is an herb that supports the body in “altering” food and other substances so that they can be used in the body or excreted. So alteratives support the entire metabolic process, which includes the digestive system/liver, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, and the kidneys/urinary tract. Alteratives are pretty fundamental in herbal practice the way I see it. And as Kiva says, the old-timers often call them “blood cleaners,” but I think there’s a lot more to it than that. A whole blogpost. Or more. *Sigh.* So much to say…

    And Kiva, yes, satellite can be weird. We have wild blue, and most of the time it’s fine, except when it isn’t. And those times are usually exactly when we need it.

    And yay for the weeds in my yard, huh? Especially considering we mowed all summer to please our new landlord! (Of course we did leave a patch here and there where we could.)

  4. The Medicine Woman’s Roots » Local Herbalism Blogparty said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 8:27 pm

    […] Rebecca wrote about her dooryard herbs. […]

  5. Kiva Rose said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

    Oops, sorry to hijack your comments Rebecca, by answering the question. I do get carried away at times.

    Wildblue is reportedly slightly better, so cross your fingers.

    The blogparty is up now! Thanks for your great post, Rebecca.

  6. Rie142 said,

    November 4, 2007 @ 9:42 am

    Thank you both for all the information. I love Alteratives that work for the whole. Now I have a word for them. I am so new at this and just called them “all overs”.

    thanks again.

    We have regular DSL and it sucks too. We are on the fringe of coverage and it cuts out all the time. 🙁

  7. Kiva Rose said,

    November 4, 2007 @ 7:20 pm

    It could be worse, we could have to blog by smoke signals 😉

    What about a recipe based blog party this time? Like a cough syrup or a favorite winter tea? Or maybe one about how we stay in connection with the plants during the cold season?

    And I just wanted to say that I’m happy to host it again if no-one else has time or brain-space to do so.

  8. crabappleherbs said,

    November 5, 2007 @ 10:55 am

    I was thinking about winter recipes too.

    I’ll send an email out to the participants so far and see if we can get a bit more organized.

    (And don’t worry, Kiva, you didn’t “hijack” — I don’t mind having conversation in the comments.)

  9. Jan S. said,

    November 5, 2007 @ 5:19 pm

    Wow, that’s an impressive list! Most of them I know, but I am not to sure about the Sorrels and the Yarrow. I know I am a novice at this but is there a photo of them in this site somewhere? The listing on sorrel sent me back to this post. I will print this out check my Peterson’s Guide.

    As for satellite service, we just went with Wildblue as well, which is ok as long as the weather is not too severe. Better than dial up at least.

    Thanks for this list. I plan to take inventory next Spring and see what I have up here.

  10. crabappleherbs said,

    November 5, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

    Hi Jan.

    The category link for sorrel leads back to this post because it’s the only mention of sorrel in all my posts. There will be more at some point I’m sure.

    As far as pictures go, if you click on the latin name in the post, it will take you to Henriette’s Herbal, and she has pictures of a lot of plants (though not all).

    Another useful source for plant information (including ranges) is the USDA Plants Database, though they don’t always have pictures either.

    The Missouri Plants Database has nice pictures. And the Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide can be useful for small, neglected plants (though the whole purpose of that guide is eradication, bleh).

    Sometimes I just put the latin name of a plant in a google image search. That works too.

  11. Jan S. said,

    November 6, 2007 @ 9:48 am

    Thanks. Very helpful.

  12. rebekka said,

    November 15, 2007 @ 10:06 am

    I am really interested and trying to get into herbalism/herbal healing but am not sure where to start! Could you recommend a book for novices…something easy to understand and practical? Maybe not something too comprehensive and exhaustive just yet? 🙂
    Thank you!

  13. crabappleherbs said,

    November 15, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

    Hi Rebekka!

    Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is the one I most often recommend to people just starting out. It’s a pretty, friendly, well-organized book — a good reference, with nice pictures. It gives you herbal approaches to common ailments, and nice recipes too.

    If you want a more theoretical approach to herbal practice, Matthew Wood’s Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism is a really good foundation in vitalist energetics. (I think I would recommend this one more to someone who already has plenty of contact with the plants, and some experience using them.)

    If you would rather have a book that has detailed information on the use of individual plants, the basic one is still Maude Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (Volume I & Volume II). It was first published in the 1930s in Britain, so it leaves out a few American herbs and some that have come into use more recently, but this book is a classic, and if you’re interested in knowing about plants you’re going to buy it sooner or later. (It’s available online, too.)

    I’ve been thinking about starting a “recommended reading” part of this site. Maybe your question will motivate me…

  14. Cherie said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 9:24 am

    I stumbled onto your site quite by accident, I was looking for something to help with Rosacea due to stress. My Grandmother was an herbalist and your comments brought back wonderful memories of her TRYING to teach me something. I have gotten away from my roots but in the process of dealing with Thyroid Cancer and all the problems coming after treatment (Hair loss, my other wise healthly skin going crazy, stress, insomina to name a few) I have been looking at other ways to help myself that are not Pharmaceutical!

  15. crabappleherbs said,

    December 2, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

    Hi Cherie.

    Learning about herbs is great fun.

    If you haven’t found it yet, you might visit the “Herbwifery Forum” at http://herbwifery.org . I started it a little over a year ago as a place for grassroots herbalists to exchange information, and it’s grown into a really sweet little community with a lot of thoughtful discussion.

  16. susan said,

    December 22, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

    I came here looking for answers, I did find some how ever I feel like kicking my own ass for not listing to my Grandmothers See I do belive in the old ways but you absoulutely have to know how to apply thease herbs its like being a pharmasist kind of like my spelling lol what my be one mans cure is anothers posion. I am looking to cure mange in my cat herbaly any suggestions thank you Susan

  17. crabappleherbs said,

    December 23, 2007 @ 10:07 am

    Hi Susan.

    It’s not hard to learn about herbs yourself. If you’re worried about safety, start with the food-herbs, like chickweed and nettles and sow thistle and mustard and sorrel and violets, and, well, you get the picture. There are many more very safe and gentle herbs out there.

    As far as mange goes, I would check out Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s books. Her Herbal Handbook for Dog and Cat and Cats Naturally would be very useful.

  18. Ritsumei said,

    December 27, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

    I’m so clad that someone else asked about where beginners should go! This post – this blog – is so fascinating, but I really have very little idea how to start. I’ll have to look at some of those resources.

  19. crabappleherbs said,

    January 1, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

    Hi Ritsumei. Thanks for motivating me to work on those book recommendations!

  20. Kendall said,

    December 23, 2010 @ 10:12 am

    I know others have said this too but this is a really great list. I use many of the herbs listed here with great results. My husband is one of those who never could see the value of ‘all those weeds’ but he is finally coming around as he witnesses how they really benefit our family.

  21. bianka said,

    July 19, 2011 @ 11:19 am

    Can somebody please place some photos of the plants that have been listed with recognisable points please – I live in France and have so many things growing but don’t know if they are edible or not – 1st one is blueberry’s I have so many trees or bushes growing amongs trees edging my field but how do I know if they are the edible blueberrys or something else?

    I noticed that in the ginger pink tea one adds elderberries but it was pointed out that they are inedible until boiled so what is the action for adding this to the tea – raw from the tree? Every year I worry about picking my elderberries and now once again they are in abundance growing on what seems to be a vine like tree – no spikes – do I pick them ?

  22. ke6gwf said,

    September 5, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

    I hope one of you folks can help me, I am trying to find out more about Moth Mullein.

    My most trusted local herbalist has told me that he uses it the same as regular Mullein, and it is a lot more abundant around here, but I haven’t been able to find any usable info on the interwebs.
    http://www.henriettesherbal.com/plants/verbascum-blattaria doesn’t have any info on it.

    I would first like to know if it can be used as a substitute for Mullein, and if that isn’t the case, find out what it is used for!

    Thank you,

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