I'm pasting in the article I wrote last September for the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative on native herbs (so that I can find it)! Please make note of the timeframe (mid-fall):
NATIVE PLANTS provide a beautiful, hardy, drought resistant, low maintenance garden landscape while benefiting the environment. Native plants and wild flowers, once established, save time and money by eliminating the need for watering, fertilizers, pesticides, and lawn maintenance equipment. Consider these facts:
* Native plants help reduce air pollution.
Forty million lawnmowers consume 200 million gallons of gasoline every year. One gas-powered lawnmower emits 11 times the air pollution of a new car for each hour of operation.
* Native plants and wild flowers provide shelter and food for wildlife.
Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources. Mowed lawns are of little use to most wildlife. In my garden, we frequently disturb goldfinches feeding on the native prairie coneflowers, right in the middle of town.
* Native plants promote biodiversity and stewardship of our natural heritage.
In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Native plants and wild flowers are a part of our natural heritage. Natural landscaping is an opportunity to invite the birds and butterflies back home.
Many natives are medicinal in addition to ornamental. Here are four familiar native plants and wildflowers that you could grow.
Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a native tree that is widely used ornamentally in yards. Locally, it grows wild throughout the Waterloo Nature Area, where its springtime display is glorious. It’s finished flowering by July, but in May and June it is covered with its distinctive large white flowers, each of the four petals looking as though notched at the tip with a paper punch. When an oval leaf is broken and gently pulled apart, the “latex” in each of the deep veins will stretch between the halves. Like that of willow and poplar, the inner bark or root bark of dogwood has pain-reducing qualities. Twigs of dogwood, when chewed, fray into a hairy “toothbrush” which can be used in a pinch to clean the teeth. The bitter scarlet berries, when soaked in brandy, make an effective digestive tonic to settle a sour stomach (they are otherwise dry and inedible).
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is still flowering along creek banks in our area. It’s delicate, oval, medium green, slightly toothed leaves resemble the darker ones of the familiar garden-center Impatiens plant, also known as “Bizzy Lizzy.” It grows about 3-4 feet high, with showy, red-spotted cornucopia-shaped orange or yellow flowers, which hang from a slender stem. Jewelweed is also known as “Touch-Me-Not,” because the seedpods in the fall burst when touched, scattering the seeds and cork-screwing the opened pods. The stems and leaves of jewelweed can be crushed and applied to stings and bites, as well as poison ivy and other rashes, to relieve the pain and itch very effectively. Some people believe that a tea of the leaves will prevent poison ivy. Folk wisdom is that, wherever there is a poisonous plant (like poison ivy), the remedy (like Jewelweed) naturally grows alongside it.
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a beautiful 3-4’ tall plant with foamy white flowers that is just past full bloom right now. Characteristic are the pairs of long, quilted, pointed green leaves that are joined around the stem. Its popular name "boneset" is derived from its well-known property of relieving the deep-seated pains in the limbs that accompany colds, fever and rheumatism. Boneset is one the best remedies for the relief of the symptoms that accompany influenza. It will speedily relieve the aches and pains as well as aid the body in dealing with any fever that is present. Boneset helps to clear the upper respiratory tract of mucous congestion. It may safely be used in any fever and also as a general cleansing agent. Another common use for its mild medicinal properties is to ease constipation. The cough of measles, common colds, of asthma, and hoarseness are also relieved by boneset. During fevers or the flu it should be drunk every half hour as a tea.
Another wild flower still in bloom is Goldenrod (Solidago family). The tall, branching yellow tops and toothy long leaves of goldenrod cover our roadsides and fields throughout the fall. Dry the leaves, preferably from plants not yet blooming, for medicinal use. Goldenrod is perhaps the first plant to think of for upper respiratory problems such as repeated colds, bronchial inflammation and catarrh. It is another useful plant in combination with other herbs in the treatment of influenza. For upper respiratory conditions, it may be used with Eyebright, Elder, Echinacea, and Boneset. The carminative properties reveal a role in the treatment of flatulence, tasty in combination with peppermint! As an anti-inflammatory urinary antiseptic, goldenrod may be used for bladder infections, cystitis, urethritis and the like. If you can find the Sweet Goldenrod (the only one of the family without toothed leaves), it makes a very tasty fall tea.
These familiar plants may be taken as a tea (pour a cup of boiling water onto l-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and leaves to infuse for l0-l5 minutes) or as a tincture (take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times a day).
When gathering plants from the wild, never take more than 25% of any group of plants. It is wise to ask permission and thank the plants -- it is said, only when permission is obtained will the medicinal properties be gathered along with the plant matter. Also be sure that you are in a pesticide-free area (more than 100 feet from busy roads) and not disturbing someone’s private property. Many loose herbs also are available for sale at the Ypsilanti Food Cooperative. They can be relied on to be fresh and ethically grown or gathered.