Montana winters seem especially harsh if you find you and your family fighting constant waves of illness. However, there is relief to be found outside of the drug store. A number of plants that grow around Montana can be used as natural remedies. If you plan on foraging for these plants, please take only what you need.
Cedar is incredibly high in Vitamin C but can be toxic in large quantities because of the presence of thujone. Cedar tea is made by harvesting the ends of green branches (the older brown parts are not harmful but will make the tea more bitter). The branches are boiled in water for 15 minutes to clean the toxins, then boiled in a fresh pot of water for 5-10 more minutes. The water will turn an amber color and the flat needles will sink. You can sweeten this tea with pure maple syrup.
Be careful not to drink more than one cup of cedar tea per day, and don’t drink cedar tea every day. An average of three cups per week during the winter is the right amount to reap the benefits.
Elderberry Syrup is another immune booster that many Native people swear by. Elderberries naturally contain vitamins A, B, and C and stimulate the immune system. Confirming indigenous knowledge, researchers at Justus-Liebig University in Germany found that elderberries inhibited the spread of both influenza A and B viruses and repressed the growth of bacteria associated with upper respiratory infections. Elderberries not only aid in healing, but they also help to prevent illness before you begin having symptoms. Plus, elderberry syrup is not limited to a cough syrup substitute; it can also be used on pancakes.
You can buy elderberry syrup in health food stores or make your own:
Easy Elderberry Honey Syrup
2 c. dried elderberries
8 c. fresh clean water
4 c. raw local honey
Add elderberries and water to a pot. Cook for at least 20 minutes. Strain. Add honey until dissolved. Pour into clean glass bottles or jars. Refrigerate. Take 1 Tbsp. per hour for cough, flu or cold. Take 1 Tbsp. per day for immunity support. When you cook the elderberries, you may wish to add a cinnamon stick, 1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, 3 cardamom pods, or a couple of cloves. (These herbs are very warming when you have the chills, and add flavor as well.)
Pine Needle Tea contains 4-5 times the Vitamin C of fresh-squeezed orange juice and is high in Vitamin A. It is also an expectorant (thins mucus secretions), decongestant, and can be used as an antiseptic wash when cooled. Pine tea is made by removing the fascicle sheath (the brown part at the base of the needles) and steeping the fresh needles in boiling water for 5 minutes or until the needles sink. The needles can be cut into smaller pieces to release the nutrients and flavor. Different types of pines have different flavors and they can also be combined to increase the number of potential flavors. You can sweeten this tea with raw honey.
Echinacea varieties grow across the US, but can be purchased in extract form at most health food stores. The immune-boosting properties of echinacea are due to water-soluble polysaccharides. They act by sequestering the attacks of various microbes and allow the body to heal itself. Upon reaching an infected area, the polysaccharides have an immuno-stimulant effect, which results in the production of leukocytes (white blood cells). The resulting phagocytic action of the leukocytes effectively eradicates a number of infectious organisms. Because of this result, people with autoimmune diseases should avoid taking echinacea.
As its name implies, Bitterroot is extremely bitter. However, it is a powerful medicine that has been used for millennia for cold, cough, and other respiratory ailments. The root contains oils, including camphor, saponins, ferulic acid, terpenes, and phytosterols. Because of the range of properties, osha root is one of the best indigenous herbs for lung and throat problems. Additionally, the plant has numbing properties that can help alleviate a sore throat. The root itself can be chewed or its extract mixed with juice or water and swallowed. (However, I recommend a strong juice afterwards to counteract the taste.)
The uses of plants contained herein are not intended as medical advice. Mariah Gladstone, Montana Mountain Mamas, and any associates do not accept any responsibility for any adverse effects from the uses of any plants. Always seek advice from your physician before you stop taking any prescription medications.