Bob Belas Photography Blog

Wildflowers: More than just beauty

In a recent blog, I mentioned walks with my grandfather and how he taught me that black birch bark has an aroma of wintergreen. This memory got me thinking about wildflowers and their use in alternative medicine. Sure, we all probably know about ginseng and other 'popular' herbal medicines, but do you know you don't have to go far to find other common wildflowers that are reported to have medicinal qualities? Fact is, until I did a bit of research, I didn't know that two plants -- Orange Jewelweed and Heal-all -- I see and photograph frequently have been used in herbal remedies for many years. Let's explore these two plants further.

Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Orange Jewelweed, also known as Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis), gets its name from its splendid orange and red dotted, slipper-shaped flowers that produce pendant seed pods containing projectile seeds that explode out of the pods when they are lightly touched. This floral gem can be found in wet to moist areas that have light shade to partial sun, with fertile soil, and is prevalent along the banks of rivers and streams. In the Baltimore area, the banks of Gunpowder and Patapsco Rivers are a great place to look for Orange Jewelweed. But, there is more to jewelweed than just good looks: this plant is also known for its skin healing properties. The leaves and stems of have a mucilaginous sap that is used by herbalists as a treatment for poison ivy, poison oak, and other plant induced rashes, as well as many other types of dermatitis. This sap also is reported to have fungicidal properties and has been used to treat Athlete's Foot.

Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)

Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), also known as self-heal, is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Similar to Orange Jewelweed, Heal-all thrives in damp soils in either full sun or light shade. It is very common in damp meadows in the Baltimore area. It is a small plant, with purple flowers at 90 degrees from each other. Heal-All is edible and medicinal, and has been used as an alternative medicine for centuries on just about every continent in the world, and for just about every ailment known to man, including sore throat, fever, diarrhoea, internal bleeding, and to alleviate liver and heart maladies. Like jewelweed, a poultice of Heal-all may be applied to irritated skin, as from stinging nettle. (This from Wikipedia.)

Among the chemical compounds found in Heal-all are camphor, oleanolic-acid, and rosmarinic-acid, which impart a pleasant aroma when the plant is crushed.

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I want to finish by saying that I do not recommend consuming any wild plant, particularly if you are not sure about the species or origins. Best to let them grow in the wild where they provide food for insects and animals, and can be enjoyed by all.

    Best wishes,