Wild Arkansas

August 1, 2010

So many plants, so little time

Patrick investigating

Lactuca nine feet tall. The vibrant lavendar of the bull thistle, smart weed, jewel weed, flea bane, dog bane, sumac and few delights for the wildcrafters among us: chamomile, evening primrose and vervain among them.

Roaming the perimeter of Lake Fayetteville with Mr. Ethnobotany we only managed to traverse half a mile per hour–stopping every few feet to take photos and investigate our finds.

Though quite a few of the specimen we stopped for had already went to seed, there were just as many in full bloom or headed that way.

Patrick dug the root of a first year bull thistle as I looked on. It took a bit of work, because the thistle has a tap root much like the dandelion. This one happened to be a youngster, but I imagine if it had been older, it would have been next to impossible to uproot completely.

Bull thistle

The taste and smell of the raw root is quite distinct and brings to mind a time when we grew our own artichokes. The thistle is a relative of the artichoke, afterall.

The chamomile (Matricaria) we found grew close to the marina. Though I’ve seen plenty of photos of the plant, it was my first up close and personal encounter. You can tell a nerd by how excited they get over their first encounter with a much loved plant.

[Yes the heart leaps into the throat and there is a brief moment of wide-eyed wonder, corresponding to a sharp intake of breath.]

Toward the end of our walk, I realized I had stepped into a patch of Rhus radicans (poison ivy) and felt the stinging sensation creeping up my ankle. Patrick spotted some jewel weed, grabbed a handful and instructed me to crush it and use the juice on the infected area.

Voila! It worked. The pain immediately subsided, as did the itching and two hours later I had no rash.

Alas, the quick rise of temperature into the nineties dictated we stop early, though with the promise of another visit soon.


September 27, 2008

Blooming controversy

Filed under: echinacea, health, herbs, lactuca, natural healing — Tags: , , , , , — WildArkansas @ 6:51 am


In a 2005 study of Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) the New England Journal of Medicine found no “Statistically significant effects on duration, intensity or prevention of symptoms,” for the common cold.

In an analysis of the studies in 2007 by university of Connecticut researchers found that Echinacea on its own could reduce the risk of catching the cold by 58 percent and when combined with vitamin C reduced cold incidence by 86 percent.

The blooming controversy wages on. On one side are the skeptics handing out prescriptions for the latest Merck capsules, while on the other side are the herbal supplement and alternative health industry seeking validation.

It used to be so easy. When you had a cut grandma put a spiderweb on it. Or grandpa would tie a knot in a string and bury it for that toe wart. And it all worked just fine. No controversy included.

But Big Pharma has more than a few dollars resting on the body of study regarding world health. It wouldn’t do them any good if you can grow your own cold remedy in your backyard. And that’s exactly what millions of people are finally beginning to do.

In 1997, one study showed that at least 12 percent of the population was using some form of herbal supplement. That was a 380 percent increase from 1990 reports. Twelve years later (2002), the Health & Diet Survey reported that 73 percent of adults were using herbal supplements.


Part of the reason has to do with economics. If you go to the emergency room for flu symptoms the cost may run up into thousands of dollars. Go to the local herbalist and you might pay a hundred for a nice visit, a cup of tea and a bag full of herbs that will equal any pharmaceuticals you would have been prescribed.

Let me give a real life example.

I had an abscessed tooth recently and began taking 700 mg. twice a day of the Nature’s Way Echinacea. After two days the swelling was gone and the pain was reduced to almost nothing. If I had gone to an herbalist, I probably would have been given a Lactuca extract to go along with the Echinacea to knock out the pain immediately.

Though Echinacea has some pain killing properties, it takes higher dosages and a bit more time. Pain has a way of motivating us toward the most immediate effect. Lactuca can provide that. At one time the plant was used as an opium alternative.

Can it really be as easy as growing a few flowers? Can we really grow our own medicine?

Thousands of years of tradition says we can. It’s the FDA and health professionals who say it would not be a wise thing to do. Where would they be if you could heal yourself or the neighborhood herbalist treated you?

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