Medicinal Prairie Plants

By Rita Bober

Having studied herbs for over 15 years and learning about native plants through the Wild Ones of Kalamazoo, I recently brought together these two learnings when I read the book,

Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie by Kelly Kindscher. I already knew of some medicinal plants from the prairie like Butterfly Weed and Boneset. But it was wonderful to learn of many more plants in our prairie that had medicinal properties and had been used in the past by Native American medicine men and women for healing.

In his book, Kindscher, has an illustration of the prairie bioregion. He divides the bioregion into three north-south zones: the tallgrass prairie in the east, the mixed-grass prairie in the center, and the short-grass prairie in the west (in the center of the country). Southwest Michigan encompasses a tallgrass prairie mixed with forests. Some of us through the Wild Ones have seen these natural prairies that still exist amid the trees. Others have begun to make their own prairies on their property. Having a prairie filled with native plant species that evolved, together, over millennia is a great way to bring diversity to the land and better food and shelter for wildlife. It enables us to develop a way of life in greater harmony with the environment.

Why does it matter if some of these plants have medicinal properties? Hopefully, it will help establish their value as potential sources of future medicines if or when it would be necessary to depend on local plant medicines for our health needs. Historically, they have been used by the First People who populated this land. We can continue this practice in our own yards. Let us not forget our relationship with the land and build more wildflower beds and prairie spaces and eliminate more of our grass.

There are so many plants to talk about and since this is only an article, I have had to set a smaller amount of plants to discuss. Also I don’t want to include plants that are in danger of extinction or plants like milkweed that is used by Monarch Butterflies for survival. So I have chosen 15 plants to focus on explaining their medicinal uses. Many of these plants grow on our homestead. Hope you will think about planting them in your yard.

Alumroot: Heuchera richardsonii.

The roots were used by Natives on sores and swellings; especially effective for mouth sores (cold sores and canker sores in children). Grinding the roots into a fine powder, it was rubbed on the skin as a remedy for rheumatism or for sore muscles.

Bee Balm: Monarda fistulosa.

A tea can be made from the flowers as a remedy for fevers and colds. Chewed leaves were applied to soothe and cool insect bites and stings. Made into a tea, it was helpful in treating respiratory problems.

Black Raspberry: Rubus occidentalis.

Raspberries, blackberries and dewberries were commonly used by Natives for both food and medicines. A tea can be made of the root for diarrhea and stomachache. It was also drunk during childbirth to speed delivery. Also a tea was drunk for hemorrhaging and hemophilia.

Blueberries: Vaccinium augustifolium These berries are high in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and usable iron. They also provide Vitamins A, B, and C. They are good food for diabetes and also helpful for anemia.

Blue Vervain: Verbena hastate.

Make a tea with the leaves to treat stomachache. The root can be used as a remedy to clear cloudy urine especially for diabetics. The dried, powdered flowers can be used as a snuff to stop nosebleed. The tea is a tonic protecting against kidney/bladder stones.

Boneset: Eupatorium perfoliatum.

Boneset is a wetland plant. It has been used for a variety of ailments including colds, sore throat, fever, flu, chills, menstrual irregularity, epilepsy, gonorrhea, kidney trouble, rheumatism, and to induce vomiting. It’s most important use is to mend the sclerotic lining of bones when there is a crack or a break.

Butterfly milkweed: Asclepias tuberosa.

Also known as pleurisy root, eating the raw root helps with bronchial and pulmonary troubles (in small amounts it helps correct the buildup of fluid around the outside of the lungs and in the lungs as in pneumonia). It was also chewed and placed on wounds, or dried, pulverized, and blown into wounds. It can help to sweat out a cold.

Calamus: Acorus calamus.

Found in a wet meadow or at the edge of a pond or river, it is also known as Sweet Flag. Place a little piece of root in your mouth to treat a sore throat. It sooths inflamed tissue and helps with a dry cough. It inhibits the growth of certain bacteria. It is a ‘bitter’ which helps with digestion and heartburn. Chewing the root may help people who have diabetes.

Compass Plant: Silphium laciniatum.

It’s also known as Rosinweed. From the pounded root, a tea was made for “general debility”. Smaller roots were boiled and drank cooled as an emetic. The resinous sap was used as chewing gum and to cleanse the teeth and mouth and to sweeten the breath.

Culver’s Root: Veronicastrum virginicum.

Roots made as a tea used for its violent purgative effect. Some used the root to cure fits, constipation, and to dissolve gravel in the kidneys.

Cup Plant: Silphium perfoliatum.

Use as a smoke treatment, inhaling the fumes for head colds, nerve pains, and rheumatism. The root was used to alleviate vomiting during pregnancy and to reduce profuse menstruation.

New Jersey Tea: Ceanothus americanus.

Root used to cure snakebite; by boiling and then chewing it, it was a remedy for flux (abnormal discharge from the bowels). The red roots made into a tea for stomach troubles and for chest colds.

Seneca Snakeroot: Polygala senega.

A tea is made as a remedy for coughs, sore throat, and colds as well as snakebites. The boiled root is also used to treat heart trouble. Root cold infusions were used in diseases of the pulmonary organs. Also used along with other plants to promote the sweating process or to discharge mucus from the trachea and lungs. Used for female complaints and children’s breathing difficulties.

Wild Rose: Rosa arkansana.

Similar rose species are known to hybridize. Rose hips or roots were made into a wash to treat inflammation of the eyes. A hot compress of the roots was used to reduce swellings. A drink from the root was used by children for diarrhea. A syrup was made of the whole fruits to relieve itching anywhere on the body but especially for hemorrhoids.

Wild Strawberry: Fragaria virginiana.

A tea from the wild strawberry leaf was used to treat diarrhea. A tea from the root was used to treat stomachaches especially in babies. A tea also helps with gout and arthritis.

It is important to note that using herb plants as medicine is a learning process. While this article describes different medicinal uses of these plants, it is not permission to make medicines from them. When taking the roots for medicine, you take the life of the plant. I am not a medical practitioner. I cannot recommend these cures to you. The information is not a substitute for medical consultation.