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Medicinal Uses for Plants & Flowers

By Cindy Hill
Mint tea for a stomachache is a tradition medicinal plant use.

Long before modern pharmaceutical companies created synthetic medicines, people all over the world turned to the natural environment to seek relief from pain, cures for illness, and healing for wounds. While modern pharmaceuticals like antibiotics have superseded most traditional herbal medicines, medicinal uses for plants and flowers still abound, especially for treatment of the simple daily discomforts of life like an upset stomach or small kitchen burn.

Digestive Aid

One of the most common continuing medicinal uses of plants and flowers is in tea to aid in resolving digestive upsets. At least six species of mint (Mentha spp.) are traditionally used in the treatment of digestive troubles, reports Plants for a Future, a nonprofit research organization developing information on ecologically sustainable agriculture, including growing over 1500 edible plants at their headquarters in Cornwall, England. In the northeastern United States, dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) root tea has been used as a tonic for digestive problems as well as the treatment of constipation, according to the Brandeis University Electronic Field Guide to Medicinal Plants of the Northeast. In the southwest United States, the native Ohlone people used flowering plants such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides) for stomach aches and indigestion, according to an extensive report written by Chuck Smith of Cabrillo College on Ohlone medicine. Use of traditional plant and flower teas for digestive difficulties has not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, so consult your doctor before employing any remedy for an upset stomach.

Skin Conditions

Fresh onion (Allium spp.) juice is used to treat insect bites and stings, reports Plants for a Future. The juice of the orange-flowering jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) or a poultice of its crushed leaves can be applied to insect bites, nettle stings, or the rash from poison ivy. A poultice from the bark of the tamarack tree (Larix laricina) can be used to treat minor burns and sores, reports Brandeis University. The Ohlone people of the American southwest use an ointment of California wild rose flowers (Rosa californica) in oil to sooth sunburn, reports Cabrillo College. Water in which California wild rose hips had been cooked was also applied to scabbed-over sores to help them heal faster. Consult your physician before using any plant remedy for skin disorders, and do not take any of these traditional skin treatments internally.

Coughs and Colds

Plants and flowers are frequently used in the traditional treatment of symptoms of coughs and colds. Expectorants, or plants which help to break up a cough, include New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) and black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), according to Plants for a Future. Tea made from milkweed root also works as an expectorant, according to Brandeis University. The Ohlone people pounded the leaves of the narrowleaf mule ear plant (Wyethia angustifolia) to make a thick, lathery paste that was rubbed on the chest to ease coughs and congestion, advises Cabrillo College. Tea from the flowers of manzanita (Arctostaphylos columbiana) and elderberry (Sambucus nigra) was also taken to relieve common coughs and colds. Get physician approval before consuming any plants or flowers in treatment of any medical condition.


About the Author


A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.