A Guide for the Herbal Medicine Closet, by Heather F.

So you stock up on a year’s supply of medications. What then? There comes a tremendous sense of confidence when you know how to find and grow your own “medicines”. I have to begin with my very favorite herb and actually most common “weed”; though, weed is a dirty word in my vocabulary! You will find that most of the plants we consider nuisances are some of the most beneficial herbs for healing. This article has an emphasis on herbs for respiratory ailments.

Herbs You Can Find Growing Wild:

Plantain can be found virtually anywhere in the United States and every continent except Antarctica. And no, I’m not talking about the banana. Over 200 varieties and all equally potent. Long-leaf is the most common in the US. Plantain is a powerful astringent. Used by our ancient ancestors to heal–the bites of mad dogs, staph infection, snake bites and venomous creatures, bee stings, abscesses, boils, congestion in the lungs, the list goes on forever! We had what we believed to be an breakout of methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA) over a year ago, and using only plantain (external and internal), tea tree oil (external), and clove (internal) we were able to completely eradicate it! NO antibiotics, NO topical creams….and not a single breakout since. I would never want to be without plantain! Can also be used for earaches, and has been said to restore quite decayed hearing when it’s infusion is placed into the ears.
It’s Uses: expectorant, astringent, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, anodyne, styptic, diuretic, the list goes on.
How to use it: Direct Poultice: If you’re outside and you get stung by a bee, spider, snake, anything you want to pull the venom out immediately, grab a few leaves (it usually grows anywhere, though you may have to walk around a while to find it) chew them up in your mouth until they are nice and juicy J and then place on the area you want to draw the poison out of. You will be amazed at how quickly this helps with pain!! I am highly allergic to bees, and every year somehow I get stung. If I apply plantain asap, usually there is very minimal swelling, and very little pain.
Infusion: You have a chest cold and you need help getting rid of lung congestion. Gather a large handful of leaves and pour boiling water over. Let sit at least 30 minutes…the longer the better. Drain the liquid-this is what you drink. Sweeten if you need to. It also helps with lung congestion to make a poultice from the leaves and place on your chest for as long as you can bear to leave it on.
Tincture: Winter is coming and you want to store some plantain in your cupboard for that upcoming cold/infection. Of course you can dry the leaves if you want. However, a tincture is much more potent. Fill an entire mason jar full of the leaves, seeds, roots, and pour vodka until they are completely covered. Let macerate for 5 weeks, shaking the jar once a day, and keeping it out of sunlight in a cool place. Drain liquid out. For just external uses you can do the same thing with olive oil. And if you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute it for apple cider vinegar.

For identification, go here.

Elderberry can be found throughout North America. It prefers moist ground, so you will usually find it alongside creeks, rivers, and streams. An infusion made from the berries is an excellent remedy for cold and flu season. An infusion made from the flowers is a wonderful eyewash for conjunctivitis. Elderberry is absolutely wonderful for the respiratory system! A powerful immune-booster. Every time I feel a cold coming on I go straight to elderberry tea! Typically within a few hours I feel myself again!
It’s Uses: Leaves: emollient, vulnerary (topically), strong purgative, expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic. Flowers: diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory.
JWR Adds: Elderberry contains a cyaniad producing glycoside in that is particularly dangerous to small children. It also contains an alkaloid that is toxic in fruit that is not ripe, so beware of that as well. As with any herbal remedy, reserach it well before use!

Berries: Diaphoretic, immune-building, laxative, anti-rheumatic.
How to use it: Syrup: Place around 5 oz. Fresh berries, or 3-4 oz. dried berries in a mason jar, cover with boiling water. Allow to sit over-night. Drain out the liquid, and reheat slightly. Add about ½ c honey. Now you have your infusion. If you have it I add about 15 drops of grapefruit seed extract (GSE). It adds many benefits in aiding your immune system as well as preserving your infusion longer. Adults take 1-2 tablespoons every few hours, children around 2 tsp. Store in your refrigerator. Will last at least a month.

For identification, go here.

Honeysuckle If you can’t find  Elderberry near you, or the birds get to the berries before you can,  Honeysuckle can work quite nicely as a substitute. The flowers are traditionally used for bacterial dysentery, urinary disorders, eliminating toxins from the body, colds, fevers, flu, asthma, coughs, chest congestion, and laryngitis. It can be used as an external wash for boils, infected wounds, swelling, scabies, tumors, and rheumatism. The flowers have components that help to lower blood cholesterol, as well as being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-tuberculostatic.
How to use it: You can make a tea from the flowers. The berries, however, are toxic. So stay away from those. The leaves are fine as well, however the flowers are much more potent.
Tincture: Fill a mason jar with flowers, cover with brandy. Shake once a day, keeping in a cool, dark place, for around 5-6 weeks. Strain though a cheesecloth or a T-shirt, and you can add (but not necessary) 10-15 drops of GSE.
Syrup: The same way as the elderberry syrup, only fill the entire jar with flowers.

Mullein Is another of my favorites. It grows throughout the Northern tier and Eastern half of the United States. It is a strong, self-sowing biennial. You will find it particularly on road sides (though I wouldn’t gather mine here), waste grounds, pasture fences; it typically grows in poor soils, and even sandy soils. The leaves  are used for asthma, allergies, bronchitis,  coughs, croup, pulmonary diseases, mild sedative, antihistamine, swelling, pain, and the list goes on. The seeds  rapidly pass through the intestines and have been used successfully in intestinal obstructions. However, some say that with repeated use they can be toxic. They have a pretty strong narcotic effect as well. Dr. Christopher states that it is the “only herb known to man that has remarkable narcotic properties without being poisonous or harmful. Great painkiller and nervous soporific, calming and quieting all inflamed and irritated tissues.” They are also used in asthma and infantile convulsions. The Flowers are excellent for earaches and ear infections.

How to use it: Poultice from the leaves. Tear a few leaves pretty finely, pour just enough hot water to barely wet. When it cools enough to touch, apply to affected area.
Tea: Put one or two leaves in hot water and allow to steep for around 20 minutes. Remove the leaves, and sweeten if you need to.
Infusion: Gather the flowers every day (there will be new buds each day) and place in olive oil. Place in a warm spot, but not to where the sunlight is hitting it directly. What I do is place it either in the sun under a cardboard box, or in my car under a blanket or cardboard box. Shake daily and allow to infuse for about 3-4 weeks. Strain though a cheesecloth or old T-shirt. This is what you use for ear infections. Works like a charm!

Preserve the leaves by allowing to dry. Just KEEP THEM OUT OF SUNLIGHT. I cannot emphasize this enough. It applies to all herbs, and it is very important because the sun creates oxidation, which eventually leeches out all the minerals and nutrients in the herb.

For identification, go here.

Red Clover is absolutely powerful. It relaxes the nerves, and the entire nervous system. Can be used as a sedative. It has also been used quite successfully to fight cancer. It is a marvelous preventative for health problems, and a great wash for sores. It is especially good for pertussis (whooping cough), and it can be drunk freely. It is also wonderful externally for burns, sore, athlete’s foot, and ulcers. An anti-spasmodic and expectorant, also good for asthma.
How to use it: Tea: made from the blossoms. Place 4-5 blossoms in a cup of hot water. Steep for 20 minutes. Sweeten if desired.
Tincture: Fill a mason jar with only the blossoms (the other parts are not harmful, however, it is the blossoms that are the most potent), cover with vodka. Let sit in cool, dark spot for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through cheesecloth or old T-shirt.
Preserve the flowers by drying.

For identification, go here.

Blackberry Is known to prevent fluid loss during dysentery. It is also well known for stopping gastric bleeding. Regular consumption of the berries (can make a tincture) can aid in killing off the free radicals that are linked with the development or heart disease and cancer. However, the leaves and roots are wonderful too! Absolutely wonderful for colds and flu. It is also used for fever, arthritis, gout, pain, and infections.
It’s Uses: Astringent, tonic, alterative, anti-emetic, hemostatic, anti-abortive, parturient (leaves).
How to use it: Tea from the leaves and woody part of the bramble is wonderful for diarrhea. Tea from the berries is wonderful for colds and flus.
Leaf Tincture: Fill jar with leaves and roots, cover with either cider vinegar or vodka. Process goes as all other tinctures. Used for fever, arthritis, gout, and diarrhea. Used topically for pain. 1 tsp./hour until fever drops.
Berry Tincture: Same as above, only with berries instead of leaves and roots. Used for colds, flu, and infections.

Herbs You Should Grow at Home:

Not that you shouldn’t be trying to grow any of the others. Red Clover, for example is an easy, important herb that you can and should be growing now. It’s in the other list, however, because it can easily be found in the wild.

Oregano is used for coughs and colds, degenerative arthritis, rheumatism, upset stomach, urinary tract infections, sore throats, infections, fever, vomiting, jaundice, and asthma attacks. It is an antiseptic, antiviral, and anti-microbial. Strong anti-oxidant.
How to use it: Tincture made from the leaves for coughs, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, infections, and sore throat.
Tea  3 cups of boiling water over 1 cup fresh leaves (or half cup dried leaves), steep 20 minutes. Take ½ cup three times a day.
Infusion Made with olive oil from the leaves is a powerful antiseptic externally.


Lobelia is probably the most vital plant that you should be growing. Especially if you or your child, or someone you know, has asthma. I have asthma and this is what I rely on for TEOTWAWKI. Inhalers will be hard to come by, and I know what a down hill slide asthma can be when you have nothing to treat it. Lobelia can be balanced by taking it with cayenne.
It’s Uses: Anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, emetic, bronchodilator, nervine (a Stimulant, in small doses, but a Relaxant, in large doses), diaphoretic, diuretic, cathartic, and astringent.
How to use it: Tincture: Fill jar with herb, and cover with apple cider vinegar. Lobelia’s components work the absolute best with apple cider vinegar. It is important that you don’t allow it to get too warm, either. The structure of lobelia is lost when it is heated even slightly, so take care. It only needs to macerate for two weeks.

The tincture can be used for such a wide variety of ailments. Such as asthma, croup, infections, boils, sedative, lockjaw, ringworm, hepatitis, and convulsions. It is excellent for convulsions. Can be rubbed on the body or placed in the mouth and the body will absorb it quickly, relieving convulsions. Rubbing the tincture on the shoulders of a restless child is wonderful for helping him calm down and go to sleep. It also helps to rub on the gums of a teething baby. Especially good for croup and respiratory ailments.

Preserve through drying.

JWR Adds: Be adviswed that Lobelia is poisonous in high doses.


Comfrey I would not want to be without this marvelous herb! A powerful allantoin and traditional healer. About a year and a half ago I had a complete humeral spiral fracture. Needless to say it was extremely painful, and I had been told that it would take at least 10-12 weeks for it to heal enough to have moderate use out of it. Everything I read, most sufferers from this break never had 100% use of their arm even after two years of healing and therapy. Not to mention the lingering pain they had on cold or wet days. After 1 week of healing I was able to begin applying comfrey poultices to the break (I had a removable cast). After only seven weeks I was able to remove the brace that supported my arm, and I had no pain! I didn’t even do physical therapy (other than daily push-ups in my workout regime). My arm is now stronger than it ever was, and I have no pain from it whatsoever!
It’s Uses: Mucilaginous, vulnerary, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, anti-psoriatic, astringent, expectorant, anti-tumor, cell proliferant, nutritive, and hemostatic. Amazing healer.
How to use it: Poultice made from the leaves applied to cleaned wound. Will heal extremely quickly. Even better if combined with plantain. The plantain removes the toxins, while comfrey heals.

Neither of the lists is by any means exhaustive. There are so many herbs I would love to write about, but these are some of the top of my list.

Remember, when dealing with herbs, you are being your own doctor, so be sure to:

  1. Do the requisite research.
  2. Identify the plants with absolute certainty.
  3. Label tinctures clearly with ingredients and dates prepared.