(Aralia nudicaulis)

A native woodland species found throughout Appalachia, this plant is not related to the tropical Sarsaparilla most people are familiar with, but it has many overlapping uses.

Description: The Aralia genus also contains Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), another Appalachian plant, and wild sarsaparilla is sometimes referred to as “little spikenard.” They are in the same family as ginseng, and like ginseng, the Aralias are normalizing to the metabolism and strengthening to the adrenals. Jamaican Sarsaparilla (Smilax regeii) is an entirely different plant that grows as a thorny vine in the Caribbean and Central America. Jamaican sarsaparilla and the smilax genus made its way into the European materia medica as a treatment for syphyllis and quickly became known for its blood-cleansing properties. To add to the confusion between these species, we do have another native woodland plant that grows around here called Greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia), that is related to this tropical sarsaparilla vine. Greenbrier is also used as a more direct substitute for true sarsaparilla. In this materia medica, we’ll be talking about the wild sarsaparilla of Appalachia (Aralia nudicaulis).

Actions: pectoral, diuretic, diaphoretic, alterative, adaptogen, vulnerary, stimulant

Parts Used: Root

Energetics: Cooling, Sweet, Dispersive

Uses: As an alterative, wild sarsaparilla has similar properties to “true sarsaparilla” (Smilax regeii) and both have been used to treat rheumatism, syphilis, inflammations of the skin, hormonal dysregulation, and diseases of the blood. Alteratives are often thought of as “blood-cleansers”, but this is a very vague way of understanding their action. As blood medicine, wild sarsaparilla is particularly suited for conditions where circulation is impeded, resulting in the accumulation of wastes. A syrup from the root can be useful for an irritating, mucus-producing cough or tuberculosis. Externally, fomentations of the root are useful for ringworm. As an adaptogen, wild sarsaparilla is balancing to states of sympathetic excess, when the fight-or-flight response is in constant alert.

Indications: hormonal excess, acne, sluggish cellular metabolism, gout, syphilis, blood infections/toxicity, rheumatism & inflammatory joint conditions, boggy lungs with irritation & excess mucus, skin eruptions, ringworm.

Preparations: Decoction, tincture, syrup, fomentation

Cautions: no side effects or drug interactions found.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.


(Viola odorata)

A common herb found in backyards, gardens, fields and forests, this lowly plant is often overlooked as medicinal, but don’t let its small stature or quiet disposition deceive you. It’s full of nutrients and makes a lovely spring potherb, tea, and is a soothing, anti-inflammatory & detoxifying tonic.

Actions: vulnerary, lymphatic, alterative, emollient, expectorant, mild diuretic & mild laxative

Parts Used: Leaf & Flower

Energetics: cooling, moistening

Uses: Vioilet flowers are rich in vitamin C and the leaves are packed with Vitamin A (carotene). The leaves affect the nerves, lungs, immune & reproductive systems, with a special affinity for the breasts. Violet supports lymphatic circulation and mildly enhances bowel, liver & kidney function. Violet has a long history of being used in cancer treatment, in combination with other therapies. On its own, violet has been known to help dissolve tumors, cysts and some cancers, especially in the breasts. It essentially dissolves hard masses while relieving congestion of the lymphatic glands.

Indications: Breast congestion, cystic breasts, lymphatic congestion, dry or spasmodic cough, red, itchy & inflamed skin conditions. Hippocrates recommended violet for headaches, hangovers, bad eyesight, and excess of bile. Pliny said they induced sleep, strengthened the heart muscle & calmed anger. They have been used in Arabic medicine for constipation, tonsillitis and insomnia.

Preparations: eat the leaves and flowers in a spring salad, use as an infused oil for breast massage. as a salve or poultice for topical relief of irritations to the skin, as an infusion for a nourishing & detoxifying tonic, as a tincture for its alterative action, or as a syrup for coughs.

Cautions: no side effects or drug interactions found.

Dose: Tincture: 1-2 ml 3 x a day; as an infusion, use 1 cup of dried herb to 1 quart water. Steep 4-8 hours, then strain. Drink 1-3 cups a day.

Homeopathic Use: for breathlessness & spasmodic coughs, whooping cough and breathing problems associated with anxiety. It is also for headaches with burning of the forehead & pain above the eyebrows and vertigo. A Violet person easily gets tense & over-excited. It particularly suits thin, nervous girls.

Flower Essence: for profound shyness; suited for people who are delicate, sensitive and timid. Violet engenders a sense of warmth & openness.

Folklore: Violet has been grown commercially since Greek times. The blooms were sold in Athenian street markets. The Romans adored the flowers and used them to adorn the heads of poets, civic leaders and other officials. Both cultures wore garlands of violet to prevent drunkenness. It was also used in love potions.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.


(Stellaria media)

Ahhh, Chickweed. It’s such a refreshing sight this time of year. Its clumping, succulent carpets of bright green scream fresh new life after winter. It might be my favorite wild edible plant, partly because of its abundant accessibility, and partly because my body is so excited for a bite of fresh wild green nourishment this time of year. You can experience the full vitality of eating fresh greens by getting on your hands and knees, and taking a bite directly from the earth as if you were a rabbit:) It’s such a different sensation than eating even the freshest greens from the grocery store or farmers market. And this is what I unabashedly do when I first encounter this plant each year. I bow down and give thanks for this delicious & welcome gift.

Tastes/Energetics: cooling & moistening

Parts Used: aerial parts

Actions: nutritive, antiscorbutic, anti-pyretic, demulcent, emollient, vulnerary, pectoral, diuretic

Uses:  Chickweed is primarily used either internally as a nutritive herb with cooling and detoxifying properties, or externally as a soothing remedy for cuts, itching, or irritation. Chickweed contains saponins, soap-like plant chemicals that emulsify and increase permeability of cellular membranes, thus, increasing the absorption of nutrients, promoting the excretion of metabolic waste, dissolving phlegm, neutralizing toxins, and even weakening bacterial cell walls, rendering them more vulnerable. Chickweed also has a reputation for dissolving cysts, especially ovarian cysts, and some wise country women say it helps with weight loss (soap dissolves fat). Chickweed is very soothing to the bladder & kidneys and is used as a cooling diuretic for cystitis.

Indications: signs of heat (fever, infection, coughs with yellow, concentrated mucus, inflammations, any condition ending with “itis”), chronic UTIs, internal or external wounds (to draw out splinters or infection, reduce swelling & inflammation), rashes (including chickenpox, measels, diaper rash, bug bites, or poison ivy), pink eye (as a wash), internally to support weight loss or dissolution of cysts.

Preparations: Internally as a tea, tincture, or fresh plant. Externally as a poultice, salve, or wash.

Cautions: None cited in literature.

Dose: Tea: use 2 tsp of dried herb to cup of water: drink 3 ccups a day. Tincture: 60-100 drops (3-5 ml) three to four times a day.
Chickweed Pesto Recipe
2 cups chickweed
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
I TBSP lemon juice
3-4 oz hard cheese
3-4 oz nuts or seedsPlace chickweed, nuts & garlic in a food processor and blend until finely minced. Add the cheese, oil & lemon juice and process until blended. Transfer to a small bowl or tupperware & store in the refrigerator.Identification: Chickweed is out now, thanks to the warm weather & rain. You can often even find it growing under the snow. If you wish to harvest, remember to find a place away from the roadside & chemical sprays, and to harvest no more than 1/3 of what you find. I highly recommend that you get a field guide to help you with identification. It can be difficult early in the season, before the plant is in bloom. Here are some hints:The leaves of chickweed are small, ovate, oppositely arranged, and a little fuzzy. The leaves and stems have an almost succulent quality. This becomes more apparent as the plant matures. The stems are a little hairy, and if you look closely at the nodes, you’ll notice that these hairs change direction around each node. The flowers are also tiny and white in color. They appear to have 10 petals, when in reality they are 5 petals, each one deeply cut into 2 lobes. Happy Hunting!
*These statements have not been approved by the FDA. The information contained here is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.


(Turnera diffusa)

An aromatic herb (in the mint family) native to Central America.  The Aztecs used the leaves as a sexual tonic and stimulant and regarded it as the second most important herb for bestowing vitality, after chocolate. Traditionally the fragrant leaves were brewed as a tea and sweetened with honey to stimulate lovemaking.

Tastes/Energetics: aromatic, warming, slightly stimulating, but also relaxing

Parts Used: leaves & flowers

Actions:  aromatic, nerve tonic, aphrodisiac, antidepressant, carminative, reproductive tonic, diuretic

Uses:  Traditionally used for stimulating sexual appetite, treating erectile dysfunction & enhancing orgasm in both sexes. Strengthens the central nervous system & eases the emotional stress, damiana may helpful for mild depressive or anxious states. Also helpful in treating irrational fears. Alkaloids could have a testosterone-like action. As a carminative, it eases colic, dyspesia, & upset stomach.

Indications: impotence, low libido, poor digestion, cough, melancholy and sadness, weak nerves in the reproductive organs, sexual debility due to nervous exhaustion, incontinence, chronic prostatic discharge

Preparations: as a tea, use 1 tsp damiana with ½ tsp spearmint and ½ tsp rose petals for an invigorating yet calming nerve tonic. Often used in smoking mixtures. It also makes an incredible liqueur!!!

Cautions: Damiana may interfere with the absorption of iron. Avoid large doses during pregnancy.

Dose: Tea: use 1 tsp. per cup of water and drink 3 cups a day. Tincture: 10-30 drops 1-4 x a day.
*These statements have not been approved by the FDA. The information contained here is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.

Yellow Dock

(Rumex crispus)

Tastes/Energetics: bitter, sour, astringent, cool, dry

Parts Used: primarily the root, but leaves can be used externally on skin irritations

Actions: bitter tonic, alterative (blood-purifier), mild laxative

Uses: A compress soothes skin eruptions & infections. It is especially soothing to nettle stings and poison ivy rashes. A decoction can be useful for treating diarrhea. Conversely, small amounts of yellow dock infusion or tincture can relieve constipation. It is a gentle, safe laxative that strengthens the colon. Yellow Dock helps to liberate iron stored in the liver and is often used in blood-building formulas such as our blood-building syrup. As an alterative/blood-purifier, yellow dock supports the body’s detoxification processes, making it useful in cases of acne, allergies and cancer when signs of “bad blood” or toxic blood are present. It is traditionally used as a spring tonic to rid the body of the excess baggage of winter, especially if you had an extra merry holiday season!

Recipe for Iron-Rich Syrup:

  • 8 Tbsp. dried yellow dock root
  • 4 tbsp. dried nettle leaf
  • 4 tsp. orange peel
  • 4 tsp. fennel seed
  • 5 cups filtered water
  1. Add herbs and water to pot.  Mark the water level and simmer until liquid is reduced by ½.
  2. Strain the herb material, reserving the liquid.
  3. For each cup of liquid that you have remaining, add 1/4 cup honey & 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses.
  4. Use funnel to pour syrup into clean bottles. Label and refrigerate. Keep up to 3 months.


(Passiflora incarnata)

This month we are featuring Passionflower, a beautiful and supportive nervine. Stop in and try some of our locally grown passionflower from Sacred Roots Herbal Sanctuary.

Part Used: Dried leaves & stems

Tastes/Energetics: bitter, sour, cooling

Actions: nervine, anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic, anodyne

Uses: Passionflower calms the nervous system, improves mood and relieves anxiety. Passionflower is one of our favorite herbs for supporting sleep. As a sedative and hypnotic, it helps with the transition into sleep. It also quiets a racing mind and helps to break circular and repetative thought patterns that may be keeping you up at night. Its ability to tone down mental chatter makes it an ally for those who are incessant thinkers and chronic worriers. As an antispasmodic, passionflower is useful in any condition of muscle or nervous contraction or over-stimulation. It has been used, for example, in Parkinson’s disease as well as menstrual cramps, seizures, hysteria and nervous twitching. It can also calm nerve pain, such as the pain that accompanies shingles.

Contraindications: do not use concurrently with pharmaceutical sedatives.

Folklore: Passionflower’s unique floral arrangement inspired early Christian missionaries to appropriate its distinctive morphology as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. The 3 pistils represent the holy trinity, while the 12 petals represent the disciples. Passionflower’s corona resembles purple and white striped threads, which emerge in a beautiful crimped pattern. This visual conjures the feeling of a frayed and excited nervous system and serves as a reminder of its ability to calm & center our scattered & frazzled nerves.

Don’t forget that winter is the season for rest, and we should all be cutting back on our projects and surrendering to sweet slumber. Think of passionflower to help you align with the calling of the season.