Medicinal Native Landscapes
by Samantha Curran
Native plants are much more than just pretty land growth. Landowners and occupiers can create self-sustaining landscapes that not only provide beautiful scenery, but also productive medicinal aspects.
One of the most compelling motivations to integrate native medicinal plants into the landscape is their multi-layered advantages. Benefits include animal habitats, ecosystem services, social and cultural value and wellness for people in the form of herbal remedies such as teas, various kinds of honey, poultices and tinctures.
Native medicinal plants are perennial and often drought and deer resistant. Fewer inputs of water and fertilizer are required to sustain them, and there is a reduced risk of the plants being eaten. Landowners looking to generate additional income may consider the economical advantages of growing medicinal plants because they require less space than many bushes and trees.
The following information about native plants may be useful for beginning herbalists and those interested in attracting pollinators to their gardens. Descriptions and explanations were found on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant database at Wildflower.org as well as MedicinalHerbInfo.org.
Aesclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) is a native Pennsylvania plant that offers multiple benefits. Medicinal applications of the aesclepias root include treating coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions.
It has showy flowers with vibrant sprays of orange that bloom midsummer; it is suitable to the challenges of urban soils because it is well-adapted for wet or dry conditions. It is also deer resistant, which is a critical consideration for landscape installations.
Aesclepias is one of the primary foods for monarch butterflies, a species that is facing challenges because its habitat is being destroyed in the United States. It also attracts beneficial insects to the garden that feed on pests.
Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea or Redroot) is a deciduous shrub with tiny white flowers that grows low and upright to approximately three feet tall, with deep, massive roots making it adaptable to harsh growing conditions. The dried leaves and twigs make a tea that was very popular during the time period of the Revolutionary War to relieve stress.
As an ornamental plant, New Jersey Tea provides good ground cover and will even grow on rocky hillsides. Birds and butterflies are attracted to it, and it is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees.
Monarda didyma (Scarlet Beebalm, Oswego Tea) is a popular perennial that is part of the mint family. Its scarlet red flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, and the leaves have a minty aroma. Medicinal uses include treating winter illnesses, respiratory conditions
and digestion complaints. It was named Oswego Tea because the Oswego Indians of New York used the leaves for a tea, and Beebalm refers to the crushed leaves used to soothe bee stings.
Eupatorium fistulosum (Joe-Pye Weed, Queen of the Meadow) can grow from two to seven feet tall, with domed flower heads that bear pink and purple flowers. It attracts birds, butterflies and bees and is an important source of honey. Medicinal applications of the root and flowers include diuretics and tonics that soothe and relax the nerves.
Education is important when considering the use of medicinal plants. Lynn DeVries, who continues to study and maintain the research her late mother, Joyce L. Herzog, RN, completed to create MedicinalHerbInfo.org, reminds us that herbs can be strong medicine. It is recommended that trained professionals monitor the use of herbs due to possible side effects, allergic reactions and contraindications with current medications.
Samantha Curran is a member of the team at Earthbound Artisan, a garden and stonework construction company that is fully committed to weighing the environmental impact of each action. For more information, call 717-507-6267, email [email protected] or visit EarthboundArtisan.com.