Recently, when visiting family at my grandmother’s home on the old country road where I grew up, my son was outside playing with my brother in law near the garden. He pointed out to his uncle a small scratch that he had obtained while playing on the playground at school. My son later told me that his uncle had showed him a very neat plant, and had broken off a tip of one of the thick leaves to reveal a gel substance within. He said that his uncle had rubbed the sticky gel on his “bo-bo” and was so thrilled that, only two days later, the scratch was almost gone.
The sparkle of mystery in my son’s eyes as he told me his story brought a smile to my face, and memories to mind. As a young girl, I can remember how wonderfully magical my grandparent’s garden was. It was full of beautiful flowers, herbs, and plants. A bridal wreath shrub grew, succulents thrived beneath the awning of the shed, and hydrangeas and peppermint herbs lined the side of the house. Wisterias grew along a re-purposed lattice fence next to lovely miniature azaleas. The whole scene was beautiful, bright, and so fragrant.
This also gave me the inspiration for this article. As many of you may have guessed, the plant that my brother in law showed my son was an aloe vera plant. I explained how helpful aloe vera gel is to our skin, and that this was the magic ingredient in the medicine I put on his skin when he gets sunburn.
Thinking on these events brought me to a similar time in my childhood. While playing in the garden one day, watching my grandmother tend her plants, she received some type of injury to her hand. I believe it was a cut. My grandmother, cool and collected as ever, showed her wound to my grandfather. I recall how tenderly he rinsed her hand beneath the water faucet. Then, he plucked the stem of a plant and showed me, as my brother in law showed my son, the gel within the leaf, and applied it to her wound. The idea of medicine coming from a plant’s leaves rather than a plastic tube from a store absolutely mystified me.
So, without further ado, I present to you five wonderful plants and herbs with medicinal properties.
1) Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that grows in tropical climates around the world. It is used for ornamental and medicinal purposes. The gel is found directly beneath the skin of the leaves. The juice contains antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral components. It also contains vitamins C and E. These properties stimulate collagen synthesis and aid in skin regeneration. Aloe is a natural anti inflammatory, and aids in cuts, burns, stings, acne, and damaged skin.
Peppermint is a hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint. It has a high menthol content. Mint leaves collected from the garden can be added to tea as it steeps. Mint tea is known for it’s stomach soothing properties. It aids in indigestion, cramps, nausea, and colic. Peppermint oil can also be used to soothe a sunburn, or joint pain from arthritis.
Calendula petals contain antioxidants that aid in the skin healing process by increasing blood flow to the injury site, and suppressing secondary infections. It aids in the healing of wounds, including burns, cuts, and rashes. In fact, calendula is commonly found in many creams and lotions commonly used for diaper rash, eczema, and other skin ailments. Straight from the garden, dried calendula petals can be infused with olive oil or coconut oil to use at home.
4) Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It gives off a tart, citrus scent like lemons. Lemon balm is a natural antiviral. When used to make tea, it’s great for fighting colds, flu, and fevers. It is also used to calm nerves and upset stomach, and to aid in headaches, as it’s properties naturally decrease blood pressure. Fresh leaves can also be crushed and applied to insect bites and stings. It acts as an astringent, and helps soothe and reduce swelling and inflammation.
5) Cotyledon Orbiculata, or “Pig’s Ear”
A less common succulent, pig’s ear is native to South America, and is used in traditional medicine to soften, and eventually remove warts and corns. The warmed leaves can also be used to treat boils and abscesses. The juice from the leaves has also been used to treat toothaches and earaches.
These, and many other nifty plants, can be grown and cultivated from your own garden for medicinal use. The next time you, or a child or grandchild cut your finger, you may want to reach for that whimsical aloe plant.