Meet seven deserving medicinal wildflowers to invite into your world.
An enchanting blanket of wildflower medicine adorns the continent. Carefully cultivated by Indigenous inhabitants for hundreds of years—often thousands—these blossoms, leaves, roots, and fruits generously cure the commonwealth in return. Each plant carries its own unique gift and healing stories. Deepening root systems and enhancing the health of the soil make these perennials and self-sowing annuals a wise investment for backyard and container gardens.
Indigenous Americans reference fauna and flora as a People. Through this lens, paradigms shift. Considering our plant neighbors a People requires a different type of relationship, one of reciprocity and respect, the necessary mindset to see the reciprocity as we tend to each other. Meet seven deserving medicinal wildflowers to invite into your world.
Part 1: Summer
A stylish mauve beehive shaped blossom, with a punk-rock spiky seed pod, perches atop a lanky stalk. Underground, a well-established root system builds bioactive compounds from elements in the soil called alkylamides. These compounds produce a tingly and numbing sensation on our tongue. Few plants create such a compound or are as effective at treating infections as Echinacea.
Dozens of tribes have recorded historical uses and cultivation methods for Echinacea. Eclectic Physicians of the 19th century, who learned botanical healing from Native Americans, used Echinacea for many ailments, including upper respiratory infections, inflammation, throats, coughs, toothaches, and even snake bites.
More than just medicine for humans, Echinacea is one of the biggest attractors for pollinators. They bloom from mid-summer to fall, providing ample nectar for the honeybees. Echinacea tolerates poor rocky soil conditions and thrives in full to partial sun. Sow them from seed easily, or buy an established start from a local nursery to grow your own.
A pocket of brambly canes armed with thorns protects soft silvery leaves and white flowers, which transform throughout summer into ruby raspberry fruits. Raspberry canes have been found in archeological dig sites that date back thousands of years in both North America and Asia.
So much more than tasty berries, Raspberry offers leaves and roots that are useful for a variety of conditions. Linked to fertility in many traditions, Raspberry invokes the energy of the blood, pumping through the heart carrying good nutrition and love throughout the body. An affinity to the blood and its vessels makes consuming the fruit and drinking the leaf tea a wonderful women’s tonic. For ages, Raspberry has assisted in soothing labor pain, and easing contractions, muscle cramps, and nausea.
Like its close cousin Rose, its thorns and nourishing qualities remind us to protect the fruits of our labor. This patient attitude comes in handy when beginning to cultivate Raspberry, as the first year’s growth does not produce many fruits; brambles focus on establishing their lengthy stalks. The second year will be more fruitful. In the meantime, the leaves can be harvested for tea.
A prim apple-scented daisy-petaled flower sits atop a plume of light green lacy foliage. Chamomile does not originate in North America; it was brought by German settlers. Growing wild from North Africa into parts of Germany and Russia, this little flower has made quite a journey across continents and into backyard apothecaries. In South American healing traditions, Chamomile is called “Manzanilla” which means “tiny apples.”
This delicate flower imparts Motherly strength to aid sleeping and calm colicky baby tummies. Chamomile works on the digestive and nervous systems like a biochemical pinwheel, creating wide-ranging positive effects on conditions ranging from indigestion, diarrhea, and flatulence to anxiety, depression, and restlessness. It is applied externally to ease discomfort from chicken pox, diaper rash, and even eye infections.
Seeds are easy to sow—simply sprinkle them where you want them to grow, in a partially sunny spot and watch them thrive. The flowers will be ready by summer, but Chamomile dies back in the fall. It is technically an annual, but once established will re-sow itself and return for years to come.
Strong, sinewy deep green stems are adorned with leaves resembling a furry critter tail. Lance-shaped leaflets appear to hold up an umbrella of tiny white flowers. Yarrow has a global presence and can be found glittering on the beach shores and mountain tops of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Yarrow is used medicinally as an emergency tonic to stimulate healing and combat wound infections. These uses are documented in texts from The Odyssey to ancient Chinese medicine to the oral traditions of Indigenous Americans. Evidence of its use has been found in Neanderthal caves dating back 60,000 years. Yarrow’s ability to speak to the human body is fascinating. Active components within the flowering tops can stop an open wound from bleeding, diminish bacterial infection, and cool inflammation. Taken internally, Yarrow stimulates the immune system, can break a fever and relieve aches and pains caused by cold and flu symptoms.
Growing Yarrow is simple, as it prefers loosened rocky soils, but will gladly thrive in a well-drained ceramic pot. Nowadays, Yarrow comes in a variety of colors, but it is the heirloom white Yarrow that has medicinal value. It flowers from late spring to fall. It will be a spotlight in your summer garden that bees will love.
A sweet, juicy fruit bejeweled with seeds amid a deep green quilt of trifoliate leaves. Included in numerous Indigenous oral histories, Strawberry symbolizes love, happiness, and blessings.
Strawberry is considered among the most generous of the Plant People, with berries that relieve stress, quench thirst, and comfort us internally. Rich in vitamins and minerals, strawberry leaf tea is a tonic for our cardiovascular system and can help to alleviate upset stomachs, nausea, bloating, and diarrhea. Internally, it cools us down and eases inflammation. It has similar qualities to its relative the Raspberry, as it is also great support to blood vessels associated with women’s health.
Strawberries replicate efficiently and can be prolific in the garden or a container. They will enthusiastically take over anywhere you plant them.
Throughout summer, buttery yellow blooms form on fuzzy stems. Over 30 species of Arnica have been identified and are indigenous to mostly mountainous regions across the globe. Just two of those are used widely for medicine. Arnica chamissonis is the species originating from North America; Arnica montana, with origins in Europe, is the easiest to cultivate.
Ancient preparations seem to conclude that this gilded blossom is a paramedic arriving at the scene of bodily traumas from a bump on the head to an overstrained back. Arnica’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties trigger pain relieving processes as soon as its medicine is applied topically. Recently, Arnica creams have become popular for soothing strained muscles, healing bruises, and offering pain relief for conditions such as osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel. It can now be found in hundreds of commercial products. This has caused increased harvesting, decreasing the abundance of it in its natural habitats.
Cultivating your own Arnica and developing your own topical remedy is a great way to honor this plant and ensure its continued existence. Arnica grows easily from seed in moist soil with good drainage.
Violet arrives in many different outfits—indigo, yellow, ivory—delicate five-petaled flowers hinged above heart-shaped leaves. Violet’s sweet sacred fragrance has found its way to every continent with hundreds of varieties becoming the signatures of ancient cities and influential warriors.
Its medicinal uses are documented everywhere it thrives and usually include soothing irritated tissue and easing inflammation. Violet’s leaves are a natural source of salicylic acid, the base ingredient for aspirin. And spring leaves are particularly high in vitamin C. Taken internally, Violet’s properties activate lymphatic fluids to disband stagnation and alleviate congested tissues. All parts of Violet are useful, flower to leaf to root, and can be eaten fresh or dried and made into tea or syrup.
Blooms visit mid-spring to early summer. Violet loves a shady, partial-sun space in the garden or in containers and will easily self-sow, coming back each year.
NEXT ISSUE: “Wildflower Apothecary, Part 2: Fall” will describe how to prepare these seven medicines.