Modern medicine is wonderful when it comes to curing diseases and surgical procedures. Research and biochemistry have led scientists and medical professionals into areas that human minds didn’t know existed until technology use allowed the research. But with the caution of over use of some drugs, attention is returning to some “ancient” ways to heal some illnesses. These remedies have been used for thousands of years throughout the world, and knowledgeable healers were revered in every culture.
Most tried and true traditional healing methods involve plants. They are in nature, and many believe that nature offers the secrets to cure all human ills with discovery. Plant use for healing is complicated and healers need training in proper selection, harvesting, preparation, storage, and use of herbal components.
Some popular plants that may be useful in medicinal applications and can be grown easily at home are listed below. Please understand that this is not medical advice, only suggestions based on history and common knowledge. Consult a medical professional for all medical needs that are serious.
• Aloe Vera: (Aloe vera) is a great plant for many reasons. It is considered a succulent, meaning its leaves are thick and fleshy. Inside the leaves is a clear jelly like substance used as a topical ointment for skin irritations, cuts, and burns. Aloe Vera has a long and storied history with humans. It is depicted on the stone walls of Egypt over 6,000 years ago and was known as the “plant of immortality.” Typically it was a gift to pharaohs as a burial item. The exact distribution of Aloe Vera is unknown. However, it is thought that it originated somewhere in Northern Africa, the outlying islands such as the Canary Islands and possibly the Arabian Peninsula. From these areas it was spread by human cultivation to East Asia, Europe and finally the Americas.
Aloe Vera grows best in sandy well-drained soils. If you are going to keep it in a pot then make sure it drains adequately. If you go into almost any Health and Beauty section of a pharmacy, grocery, or department store you can see products made from Aloe Vera such as lotions, sunscreen and balms. Traditionally, in folk medicine, Aloe Vera was also used as a laxative when the dried juice called latex was taken orally. It likes sunny spots, but not too much sun. If you live in USDA planting zones 8-11, it is hardy in those climates. It is intolerant of frost or snow so it’s best to take it in when it gets cold.
• Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is a herbaceous plant which is actually a cross between watermint and spearmint. Originally indigenous to Europe it is now spread worldwide. Natively and in cultivation peppermint grows best in shady moist areas. In home gardening, it is best container grown as it spreads quickly due to its underground runners. Peppermint loves water as long as its soil is well-drained. The tops of the plants are usually gathered, the leaves and flowers, to be dried for use. Peppermint has likely been used for thousands of years for many common ailments.
According to research at the University of Maryland Medical Center, it is useful to cure headaches, stomach problems, anxiety, nausea, skin irritations, and menstrual problems. Several studies also suggest that peppermint can kill many types of fungus, bacteria, and viruses. Peppermint contains a large amount of menthol, the source of its healing ways. It is also reported to help relieve breathing problems.
• Garlic (Allium sativum ) is a member of the Onion family. It is best known for flavoring food and advised for warding off vampires and evil spirits. The clove of the Garlic is where the medicinal use comes from. Garlic is used for many heart and blood related problems. Garlic has been taken for medicinal uses for thousands of years and research has shown it does reduced hardening of arteries and other associated heart ailments. Other chemicals present in Garlic have been found to reduce cholesterol and even help prevent some cancers. Garlic contains a chemical called Allicin which is where some of its properties derive from.
Garlic is native to central Asia, but has long been used in Asia, Africa, and Europe (especially the Mediterranean Sea region). Garlic is quite easy to grow, especially in mild climates. In colder climates it is usually planted in fall and harvested in spring. It is also easily container grown. Garlic grows best in soils with high organic content.
• Sage ( Salvia officinalis) is a perennial shrub with medicinal and culinary properties. It is native to the Mediterranean region, but it has been naturalized to the rest of the world. It grows well in well-drained soils and is sun-loving. It is sometimes grown for a low ground cover as it reaches about 2 feet in height. Historically it was used for warding off evil spirits, similar to Garlic. It can be used as a tea to relieve a scratchy, sore throat.
It is useful for stomach and digestive problems. It has also shown promise in testing for Alzheimer’s patients in improving memory and learning. It can also be applied topically to reduce the duration of cold sores when combined with rhubarb.
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