Wild plants may provide remedies for many ills

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Cherokee Indians of the Southern Appalachians used hundreds of species of native plants to treat an array of infections, wounds, headaches, stomachaches, respiratory problems and other ills.

Colonial settlers learned from the native peoples how to concoct the herbal remedies, which became important for the settlers' survival. To this day, many people still use the centuries-old remedies to treat a variety of everyday ills.

To learn more, I went to Smithgall Woods State Park near Helen in North Georgia last weekend for a Botanical Preparations Class. We used the formulas handed down from past generations to make teas, poultices, pills, tablets and other medicines from several native plants that grow wild in Georgia.

Our instructor was Johnna Tuttle, an interpretive ranger at Smithgall Woods who has been making natural medicines from herbs for 15 years. "Many of the plants that grow all around us can be used to make tonics for good health," she said.

The first plant we used for such a purpose was jewelweed, a tall herb that grows along streams and in moist, shady woods. Johnna led us to a big patch of jewelweed just outside our classroom door. The plants were in full bloom with small, tubular orange and yellow flowers that are favored by hummingbirds.

Johnna said the jewelweed's watery juice is one of the best natural remedies for combating poison ivy rashes, bug bites, sunburns and other skin irritations. To make the medication, she blended several chopped-up jewelweed plants with some aloe vera, a little bit of water and drops of lavender essential oil. The resulting "goo," she explained, could be applied to the skin right away or stored in the refrigerator for later use.

During the day we also sipped a tea made from the spikenard plant (used for lung infections). We made a poultice from wild plantain (for bites and scratches), a syrup from elderberries (for inflammation and arthritis) and pills and tablets from ginger and mint (for relief of digestive problems).

Johnna emphasized, however, that the concoctions shouldn't be used as substitutes for expert medical advice and treatment.

In the sky: The moon will be first quarter Aug. 23, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Mercury is low in the east just before sunrise. Venus rises out of the east about three hours before sunrise. Mars is low in the west just after dark and sets in the west a few hours later. It will appear near the moon the night of Aug. 22. Jupiter rises out of the east about four hours before sunrise. Saturn is low in the west at dark and sets a few hours later. It will appear near the moon the night of Aug. 21.