• Story by Joan Tylecki Greeley

Be Well: Roses and Other Unlikely Medicines


Just a few short generations ago, when life was slower, stopping to smell the roses was easier. The plantings brightening our homesteads and lawns weren’t t selected by landscaping companies but by millennia of traditional use by our foremothers and fathers.

Take granny s rosebush for example. She enjoyed a wildly fragrant species, none of this knock-out business of late. She would have known that it’s incredibly valuable to have on hand. Truly; it takes about 10,000 pounds of rose petals to distill just one pound of rose oil, which even today wholesales for $2,000 to $3,000. Why such a price placed on a plant?

Well, aside from their transportive fragrance and beauty, roses have long been reputed to nourish the heart and encourage the keeping of confidences. And, from a more physical perspective, the mild astringency from their tannin content means they can knit and tighten the skin surface.

Granny might have used rose’s combined strengths to help with night sweats resulting from depression, such as during a melancholic menopausal sheet-soaking. Then, as now, we might employ a spritz of rose, extracted in a little vinegar, to bring cooling relief.

Rose also was employed traditionally as a vinegar for headache caused by hot sun. In this instance, a rose-vinegar-soaked cloth would be applied to the forehead. Happily, rose’s astringency can be imparted to honey, making a delicious edible preparation for use on sore throats and mouth ulcerations.

When we employ astringency to tone and tighten local tissues, it helps firm them and contain their secretions. Granny would have known that this made rose a lovely facial toner, so she could have washed her face with rose tea. If she preferred, she would have been able to pick it up at the corner drugstore, because commercial rose preparations were commonly available then.

Thanks to their cooling, toning properties, rose water, rose vinegar, rose oil, and other plant oils were actually some of the original cold cream ingredients. Rose’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce redness and soothe abrasions and chapped skin, even inflammatory acne.

Crushed rose petals can even be a great first-aid application for scratches, scrapes, bites and abrasions. These astringent qualities apply to all skin, making rose helpful in tightening and toning the gastrointestinal tissues, too, so a cup of rose tea would have had value in mild cases of loose bowels.

This information might bring new appreciation for a plant you have probably very recently strolled by without a second glance.

Dandelion, a plant folks today work hard to weed out, would have been welcomed in our forefolks yards. This little powerhouse packs a medicinal punch in every part of its body. Their greens high vitamin and mineral content made them a frequent foraging choice for sautéing and use in salads. These same properties, when extracted at more medicinal doses, produce a tea capable of acting as a nourishing diuretic, comparable to some pharmaceutical diuretics, with the added benefit, because of the leaves high potassium content, of not diminishing bodily potassium levels, as many pill-based diuretics can.

Because of these fluid-moving properties, dandelion s leaves were also traditionally employed to help with rheumatic complaints. The leaves bitterness encourages digestive secretions and can act as a mild laxative. The root is also mildly laxative and supports liver function which enhances the body s natural detoxification capacity.

Knowing this, granny might have given you this tea to help with your acne. Its bitter root was often roasted along with chicory roots to produce a coffee substitute when necessary. Dandelion roots bitter flavor combined with mild liver/gallbladder stimulating action and prebiotic fiber content all work together to keep you regular in the morning.

Photos by Arden Haley

Collect enough of those prolific golden flowers in late spring and you can ferment a delicious seasonal wine. This common weed really offers us a tremendous amount of free medicine right in our own yards. While granny might chuckle as the author does at seeing dandelion leaves for sale in the grocery, she would have been familiar with medicinal dandelion for sale at the pharmacy. A bottle of dandelion root extract bottled according to United States Pharmacopoeia standards and manufactured by Parke, Davis & Co. sold at Marshall & Chipman s Drugstore in Georgetown, Del. between 1906 and 1940 suggests a dose of one-and-a-half teaspoons of dandelion tincture as a laxative tonic, hepatic stimulant and diuretic. You can still harvest and easily use this plant medicine yourself, but you’re not likely to find it for sale unless you visit your local community herbalist or health food store. Ah, for the days when our medicines came with fewer side effects.

Yarrow s delicate white umbels have graced kitchen gardens for millennia with good reason it’s a phenomenal first-aid plant. It can help staunch bleeding, ease pain, reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and speed skin repair. Quite a nice ally to have nearby. In times of illness, drinking a leaf tea, soaking in an infused bath, or applying tea-soaked compresses can help disperse and cool fevers.

Its bitter qualities can aid in promoting digestive secretions, while its aromatic components can help reduce gas, bloating, and spasm. The general consensus is that it’s a wonderful aid in toning overall uterine function, too. Its abilities to regulate and normalize blood flow and help improve spastic or lax muscle tone explain why granny would have used yarrow to both promote scanty and reduce excessive menstrual flow. This plant is native and can be found growing all over Delmarva, even along sandy paths down to the beach.

An ever-growing body of scientific literature suggests there’s every reason to believe these plants can work the same way for you as they did for your ancestors. If you plan to use these plants as our forebears did, please inform yourself on proper dosage, use, harvest and preparation techniques from an educated source you trust. Also, be certain to collect from areas not treated with chemical herbicides and pesticides those wouldn’t have been on granny’s plant medicines and they shouldn’t be on yours.

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