The following is a guest post entry into our Survival & Preparedness Writing Contest.
The beauty of Echinacea is equal to its value medicinally. The intense purple daisy-like flowers outshine most flowers in the herb garden. Even the Monarch butterflies find it attractive. Tall and impressive, this perennial plant’s natural habitats are the prairies and dry plains of North America, mainly in the U.S.A., from southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, down into Texas. At one time, the untouched meadows that covered much of America, were carpeted with Echinacea, commonly called Purple Coneflower, Black Sampson or Kansas Snakeroot. The Native Americans were wise to its medicinal abilities, and used it for snakebites, fevers, and infections. The Cheyenne, Comanche, and other tribes used it for many ailments, including toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis, coughs, and blood and lymphatic diseases. It was used by the Dakotas as a veterinary medicine for their horses. Today it is used for fighting bad colds, upper respiratory and sinus infections, and the flu. One of America’s most popular herbal products, it is considered a full-spectrum anti-microbial, in that it is effective against bacteria(including strep and staph) and viruses. It apparently does not work by killing the germ itself, but rather, by boosting our own immune systems. Although not scientifically proven, there are anecdotal reports about the use of Echinacea.
People who begin taking the extract at the first sign of a cold, often to their surprise, find the cold has disappeared, usually within twenty-four hours, and sometimes after taking the extract only once. Research in Europe indicates that Echinacea does stimulate the immune system. This occurs when the polysaccharides present in the plant, (complex carbohydrates which convert into sugars),stimulate the T cell lymphocytes, which in turn increases the production of interferon. This interferon activity protects cells against viral and bacterial infections. Research in 1957, showed that an extract of Echinacea caused a 22% reduction in inflammation among arthritis sufferers. Echinacea also contains an essential oil which has been tested in the treatment of tumors. Echinacea’s antibacterial properties can stimulate wound healing and are of benefit to skin conditions such as burns, insect bites, ulcers, psoriasis, acne and eczema. It has also been used in homeopathy treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome, indigestion, gastroenteritis, and weight loss.
Growing Echinacea is easy, a tough little plant that can take the heat of the desert as well as the high altitude, chilling region of the great Rocky Mountains. While several species are available, Echinacea purpurea is easier to grow and more productive in bulky, leafy material and flowers since it is a much larger plant than angustifolia. Purpurea has fibrous roots as opposed to angustifolia which has a long tap root. Echinacea pallida is reputed to be similar medicinally to angustifolia (some even say better). It has a long tap root which is usually paler in color than angustifolia and is taller with long droopy petals. Echinacea likes full sun or light shade in hotter climates, while it can grow in fairly poor and dry soil it will do best in a fertile well drained flower bed. You can sow the seeds directly or start them indoors in pots. When seedlings are established, you will want to thin or plant them to 18″ apart, as they can spread quite a bit. In zone 6 they grow stunning blossoms in just four months from seed! It thrives in drier gardens than most other plants so is a good plant for that hot, dry spot. Do water it to establish new plantings but once established, it can thrive on its own. Echinacea does not like heavy clay soils or constantly damp soils. It also does not compete well with weeds. The easiest method of increasing these plants is to divide the clumps. It self-sows prolifically in my garden and I dig it up and transplant it where I want it or share it with my friends. The part of the plant that contains most of the medicinal value is the root. When eating the fresh root an unusual tingling, numbing sensation occurs in the mouth and increases saliva flow. This anesthetic-like effect is also present in the seeds when sprouted. It is a good indicator as to how fresh the Echinacea preparation is. For medicinal use you should dig three year old plants. Roots should be harvested in autumn when the potency of active constituents is the greatest.
For a beautiful plant that has many uses, culinary, cosmetic and medicinal, you can’t beat Lavender. But in the appropriate climate, lavender is a long-lived perennial with a typical productive life of about 10 years, although plants have been known to live 20 years. Written records of the use of lavender for medicinal purposes date back as far as 60AD. It is thought that the name of the plant comes from the Latin “lavare”, to wash, since the Romans used to bathe in lavender-scented water. They found it refreshing, and it was in this role that the herb was to be valued for many centuries to come. A dab of lavender water on the temples was considered the ideal treatment for the fainting. Legend tells us, that the Romans brought lavender to Britain. It was a highly valued plant due to its healing, soothing and insect repelling properties. Lavender oil was also used for massage. Records show that monasteries used lavender medicinally and it was
listed as such, as far back as 1301. Lavender was often used during Tudor and Elizabethan times in the preparation of a wide variety of dishes and was a particular favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. She used it to treat her migraines. The palace gardeners were required to have lavender flowers available at all times which were used to make Conserve of Lavender (a mixture of lavender flowers and sugar) and sweet lavender tisane, a drink made with lavender flowers, boiling water and honey.
At one time lavender was virtually essential to the home medicine cabinet. It was used to relieve, among other things; headaches, fainting, hysteria, stress, insomnia, muscle aches, bug bites, rashes, colds, chest infections, rheumatism and flatulence. Many of the purported medicinal uses for lavender have, upon modern scientific testing, proven to be legitimate. Lavender oil does have antibiotic activity effectively killing many common bacteria. It is used to soothe and promote natural sleep.
Non-food products manufactured with lavender oil include soaps, colognes, and other cosmetics. Very high-quality essential oil of lavender is required for use in the alternative health practice of aromatherapy. The stems or “straw” left after stripping the flowers can be burned like incense and have often been used as a means of deodorizing and disinfecting sick rooms. The other maladies that Lavender is reportedly helpful in controlling include such things as the control of dandruff and hair loss when included in shampoos. Many of these claims have yet to be tested scientifically but it is evident that many of the old uses for lavender were more than simply old wives tales. As a culinary herb, you’ll find contemporary recipes for lavender shortbread cookies and lavender ice cream.
Lavender loves the sun and hates to have its feet wet, so choose a position with good drainage and plenty of sun. In fact they will winterkill if the roots stay damp. They are great candidates for rock gardens. Select soil that is well worked, well drained and so loose you can dig it with your hands. Once established in a garden, lavender is a hardy and drought tolerant perennial. Lavender is better off with a little compost mixed into garden soil and small rocks are a boon. Heavy, wet clay is a disaster. And since lavender prefers what is called “lean” soil, compost should be coarse, mostly to break up clay and create drainage. Fertile, rich soil, the kind that vegetables crave, is not recommended. Most experts suggest purchasing the plant rather than attempting to grow from seed because germination is often spotty. Lavender likes a slightly alkaline soil so adjust accordingly. Space your plants so there will be plenty of room for airflow around the plant once it matures. Carefully knock the plant from its pot, spread the roots, and place the plant in a hole that accommodates the spread roots. Mixing a little bone meal into the soil mix below the roots will slowly release organics that promote both root and leaf growth. Roots should not be placed directly on the meal, but on a mix of soil and meal. If the stems are long enough, give the plant a little shape by pruning, this will start the stems branching. Prune your plant in the early spring to 2/3’s of its size. It seems drastic but this will stimulate new growth. Don’t be afraid to “give them a haircut” . They respond very well to being shaped because plants that are not pruned may have a tendency to fall open in the middle and sprawl. Harvest lavender as soon as it blooms- tie the branches together (rubber bands work well) and hang the bundles in a dry, cool room.
Commonly known as “medicinal tea tree”, it is a native tree to Australia, a particularly rare species indigenous to one small part of the world – the North East coastal region of New South Wales, has the ability to combat a broad range of pathogenic bacteria and fungi. The amazing therapeutic properties of the Melaleuca alternifolia leaves were known for hundreds of years by the Aborigines who frequented a lagoon where leaves from this species had fallen and actually created a ‘natural’ antiseptic bath. The oil made from Tea Tree has many applications, including cuts, burns insect bites and infections. Its germicidal action is apparently increased in the presence of pus and damaged tissue, and the oil is also effective in the treatment of Athletes Foot and other fungal infections. It’s effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including those that cause flu, colds, herpes blisters, shingles, candida, thrush, and chicken pox. As a bonus, it stimulates the immune system and increases the production of white blood cells. It is mostly used to treat mouth, urinary tract, and vaginal infections, but it hastens the healing of wounds, diaper rash, acne, and insect bites. It protects the skin from radiation burns, encourages the regeneration of scar tissue, and reduces swelling. The vapors of Tea Tree Oil added to hot water can be inhaled for the treatment of sinus, bronchial and throat infections. Tea Tree Oil dental care products have been found to give enhanced protection against periodontal disease and gingivitis. It may also be applied to control cold sores. A preparation that contains the oil is used to treat dry sockets. A tea tree oil shampoo, or any natural shampoo with 2% tea tree oil (10 drops to an eight- ounce bottle), will help to unblock clogged hair follicles, moisturize the hair and keep the scalp free of bacteria and fungal problems. Dry hair requires a gentle, non-detergent based product; a 2% solution of tea tree oil in a moisturizing shampoo will help to unblock sebaceous glands and encourage the flow of the body’s own moisturizing oils, while clearing away unsightly dead skin cells. For oily skin, a gentle tea tree oil moisturizing shampoo will help cleanse the scalp of bacterial and fungal irritations and help to disperse deadskin cells. The oil may be used to treat thinning hair and kill head lice.
Now for the bad news; tea trees are only hardy to zone 10, but will survive in 9 if given protection on frosty nights. They like full sun, and can stand heat,wind, poor soil, drought, and salt air. While drought tolerant, they will do better with moderate watering as long as the soil is fast draining. Tea trees can be propagated by either seed or cuttings. Germination of the seed of Melaleuca species is usually quite easy by normal seed raising methods. No special pretreatment is needed. Germination should occur in 14 to 30 days, depending on the species.
A common method used for germination of the tea tree is the “bog method” where the pot containing the seeds is placed into a saucer of water until germination occurs. This results in moisture reaching the seeds by capillary action and ensures that the seeds do not dry out. Propagation of the tea tree from cuttings is generally a reliable method. Cuttings about 75-100 mm in length with the leaves carefully removed from the lower half to two-thirds seem to be satisfactory. “Wounding” the lower stem by removing a sliver of bark and treating with a rooting hormone both seem to improve the success rate.
The oil is obtained through a steam process under pressure. A pressure cooker with a copper tube attached to the steam valve may be used. The distilled liquid must be allowed to sit so the oil can rise to the top. It can be skimmed off with a syringe or turkey baster. Keep in mind the home produced tea tree oil will not be as high of quality as what is produced commercially. Do not take the oil internally and remember to do a patch test on the inside of the arm to test for sensitivity.