Here’s a list of some late summer medicinal plants I like to gather this time of the year. In addition to these plants I’m happy to be seeing the wild plums, crabapples, and pawpaws ripening.
Butterfly Weed, Pleurisy Root, Asclepias tuberosa
As an antispasmodic and expectorant the root is great for helping to clear chest congestion, hence the name “pleurisy root”. Also good for stomach issues and in remedying diarrhea. It’s sometimes combined with other diaphoretics like sassafras or dittany to reduce fevers. Caution should be taken with this plant as high doses can act as an emetic and purgative. Also, the plant should be harvested responsibly. Since you’re taking the root, only what is needed should be gathered and the rest left to go to seed.
Common Dittany, Cunila origanoides
Related to Oregano and Marjoram and can be used in similar ways. As an infusion it’s good for colds and to help open up the sinuses. Boiled strong it helps the body sweat and can aid in lowering fevers. Contains trace amounts of thujone, an active chemical also found in wormwood, mugwort, and yarrow, and may cause drowsiness or headaches. Use only in small amounts and with caution.
Goldenrod, Solidago genus
There are many different varieties of goldenrods, all of which have very similar medicinal uses. Topically the plant has traditionally been used in salves to help with sore muscles and arthritis. Internally it has traditionally been used as a diuretic to help bladder and kidney issues and to help break up “stones”. It is also a good diaphoretic that can help reduce a fever, and an astringent that can aid in remedying diarrhea. The flowers also make a wonderful yellow dye.
White-Leafed Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens
As an infusion, can be used to help treat headaches, stomach complaints, and colds. Brewed strong it can help to reduce fevers.
Spicebush, Lindera benzoin
The red berries of the spicebush have long been used as a substitute for cinnamon or allspice in mountain recipes. The leaves can be made into a pleasant infusion for colds and headaches while the bark can be brewed strong for fevers and chills. The leaves can also be used topically for skin irritations, rashes, and bites.
Sumac, Rhus glabra “Smooth Sumac” Rhus typhina “Staghorn Sumac”
The berries, which are ripening now, are used in a tasty beverage I’ve heard called “sumacade”. It’s lemony taste is quite pleasant, and the drink is high in vitamin C. The berries and bark are astringent and can be used as an effective gargle for a cough or mouth sores. A decoction of the bark can also be taken internally for diarrhea. In the Fall the red leaves can be dried and smoked to induce dreaming.