Many folklore remedies have been debunked over the years, but some medicinal plants have proven to be very effective. Foxglove, for example, gives us the important heart drug digitalis, and the opium poppy has given us a wealth of pain killers. Plants with medicinal qualities have been used by humans for thousands of years.
The black willow tree (Salix nigra) is a fast-growing tree that can reach a height of up to 65 feet. Leaves are lance-shaped, green and of variable sizes. Plant a black willow in full sun or partial shade in soil that won't dry out. This tree has been used medicinally as an astringent and source for salicylic acid in aspirin (inner bark), and as an ache, fever and inflammation reducer (bark).
The foxglove plant is from the Scrophulariaceae, or figwort, family, and botanically named Digitalis purpurea. It can get three to five feet high, with purple, pink, white, cream, yellow or lavender tubular flowers on a spike. Blooming is from spring to summer. Plant a foxglove in moist acidic soil in partial shade. Propagate via seed in summer or fall. This has been used medicinally as source of the drug digitalis, a heart medication; the leaves strengthen and regulate a heartbeat.
The opium poppy is from the Papaveraceae family. Its botanic name is Papaver somniferum. It is a fast- and easy-growing annual that can get three to four feet tall, with three- to six-inch-long bluish-green leaves. Flowers are four inches wide, bowl shaped and in the color palate of red, purple, pink, white and mauve. Plant an opium poppy in well-drained soil in full sun. Propagate via early spring seed. Raw opium is extracted from the sap that comes from the seed capsules when cut. These green capsules turn brown when ripe. It is the plant that the pain killers morphine and codeine are derived from.
The purple coneflower is from the Asteraceae/Compositae, or aster/daisy, family. It's botanic name is Echinacea purpurea. It is a perennial that attracts butterflies to the landscape. Clumps can rise three feet tall, with coarse dark green leaves and daisy-like flowers three inches wide. Purple brown centers and purple rays adorn the flowers. Plant a purple coneflower in full sun or partial sun in any soil. Propagate via root division or seed. Medicinally, this plant has been used for immunity boosting (roots and leaves) and to increase infection resistance. More than 200 medicinal products are used with echinacea extracts.
The Bolivian sunflower is from the Asteraceae/Compositae, or aster/daisy, family. Its botanic name is Tithonia diversifolia. It is a fragrant perennial that attracts butterflies. It can get 16 feet tall, with hairy 14-inch long leaves and three- to six-inch-wide blooms in fall and winter. The flowers smell like honey. Plant a Bolivian sunflower in full sun in well-drained soil, and propagate via stem cuttings or by seed. The plant is in trials for possible anti-malarial use.