Natural Medicine Growing in Oregon – 5 Plants That Could Save Your Life

Natural Herbal Medicine Growing in Oregon

Many people come to visit the Pacific Northwest looking for Herb, but as a Naturopathic Physician and Acupuncturist, I wanted to take a minute to highlight some other medicinal plants you’ll find in Oregon. Some of these plants have been used as traditional remedies over the course of many centuries while others are used in hospitals all over the world. Bear in mind, even common herbs may interact with medications or medical conditions that you might have so always consult a physician before using wild herbs on your own. CAUTION: one of these miracle-herbs is listed as an “Essential Medicine” by the World Health Organization because it saves so many lives every year; but if you took it outside of a hospital setting you’d almost certainly die, painfully. Can you guess which herb it is? Read on to find out.

NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

So without further ado, let’s learn about these fascinating plants that may be beneficial to your health and healing. You might notice a few of my favorite herbs on a stroll through a Portland neighborhood or see them growing out in the wild on a fun local Oregon hike. And, if you want to see how natural medicine can help you, contact me here to book an appointment at my Portland clinic.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia {Berberis} Aquifolium)

Like the name implies, these little berries look like small grapes, and guess what? It grows all over Oregon. This plant is so Oregon-Out-Of-Ten that it is the official state flower of Oregon. In my practice of naturopathic medicine here in Portland, I use Oregon Grape as one of my go-to medicinal herbs for treating certain bacterial infections because it contains the compound 5’-MHC; a compound known in modern pharmacology to potentiate antimicrobial effects. The bitter flavor of this plant can also be helpful in treating ailments of the gut and the liver. In Chinese medicine, the bitter taste is used to remove the heat and toxins associated with infections of the mucus membranes. This medicinal plant is usually given as a liquid tincture or encapsulated in pills.

CAN YOU EAT IT?

Oregon Grape berries are edible and are an ingredient (used in small quantities) in local native cuisine but the berries are generally mixed in with sweeter fruit. These berries can be made into jams and folk-wines but, due to their high tartness, require more sweetening than other berries. While the berries are extremely tart, it is actually the bark which contains the highest concentrations of anti-microbial compounds such as berberis. Do not use Oregon Grape as a medicine without the guidance of a medical professional.

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NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

WHERE TO FIND IT:

Oregon grape is found readily throughout the city in parks and neighborhoods, and also in the local forests. In the spring time the taller species (M. aquifolia) native to Oregon has bright yellow flowers and has 5-7 spiky leaflets. CAUTION: Oregon Grape is edible but they do look somewhat like the toxic Holly berries commonly used in Christmas Wreath. So, be sure not to eat Holly berries like the ones you see haphazardly glued to your grandmother’s Christmas wreath because those are totally poisonous. Anyway, back to Oregon Grape. The outer layer of the bark is used and so are the berries. Oregon Grape can be picked between July and August when they are a deep purple and blue color.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) is one of my favorite springtime herbs. Although this plant may be mistaken for a weed (nope, not that weed) herbalists often refer to it as the “King of the Nutritives”. The plant’s tender leaves are loaded with iron, vitamin C, vitamins A, B2, C and K. Nettles also contain flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory pigments that have been linked to many health benefits including reduced risk of cancer, allergies and heart disease just to name a few.
Nettles help boost the immune system, relieve allergies and promote healthy circulation. Nettles are also very helpful in cases of hormonal imbalances such as menstrual cramps and anemia. With a little research you can find creative recipes that incorporate stinging nettles into everything from herbal tea to a tasty stir-fry dinner.

CAN YOU EAT IT?

This herb is safe to eat once cooked and prepared, but talk with your doctor if you’re nursing, pregnant or on heart/blood-pressure medications. Also, wear gloves when picking or handling the raw leaves because (as the name implies) these buggers really do sting. In my practice, I recommend for many of my patients to eat nettles throughout the springtime in soups, in capsules and you can even eat them in nettle & walnut pesto!

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NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

WHERE TO FIND IT:

Nettles have light to dark green leaf and a stalky stem that can grow 3-8 feet tall. Nettles love sun-soaked areas with rich moist soil, so they are often seen growing in ditches, on the side of the road and along rivers and streams. You can find nettles on the side of many roads and highways but these may have been sprayed with chemicals or exposed to other pollutants. The best place to harvest fresh nettles is out on a local hike. This plant thrives in low elevations, making them very easy to access. One of my favorite quick to access areas is near the Sandy river delta. AGAIN: wear gloves folks… stinging nettle really do sting. It’s best to harvest them while the leaves are young, tender and easier to pluck. Also, the newly grown leaves offer the most nutritional value.

Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)

Sometimes the most beautiful flowers indicate the most poisonous plants. And, Foxglove is no exception. Although Digitalis Purpurea is the herbal basis for revolutionary heart medications, it is also a deadly poison. Foxglove is native to European countries but is commonly found throughout Oregon. Foxglove has bell-shaped purple, pink or white flowers that are found in the wild and in ornamental neighborhood gardens. The leaves contain powerful medicines known as cardiac glycosides called digitoxin, digitalin, digitonin, digitalosmin, gitoxin and gitalonin. These naturally occurring compounds are where the heart medication Digoxin/Lanoxin derives its potent heart rate slowing affects from.

CAN I EAT IT?

NO! Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea) is highly toxic to humans, pets and livestock. Although extracts from Foxglove are the active ingredient in lifesaving medications, the doses are measured in 1/1000th milligram increments and administered in a controlled setting. This plant and its dosage in particular needs to be prescribed by a physician trained in how to use this herb safely and properly for patients with heart arrhythmias.

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NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

WHERE CAN I FIND IT?

You can find the active medications derived from Foxglove in any hospital in the developed world. For foxglove growing wild, look especially in places where the land has been cleared a bit, such as along hiking trails or areas of land that have been cleared by forest fires. All parts of the plant can be lethal if ingested so this herb is definitely one to leave to the professionals. That said, if you find Foxglove out in the wild, you might take a moment to appreciate its beauty while reflecting on the irony of how this particularly poisonous plant has saved thousands of lives.

Devil’s Club (Oplopanax Horridus)

This spiky and dangerous-looking plant was traditionally used in native spiritual cleaning ceremonies. The Devil’s club was thought to offer protection and purification and clear away evil spirits. Today this plant is used in natural formulas to help with a variety of ailments including, arthritis, blood-sugar balancing, infections and pain relief. The herb can be very tonifying and can be used similar to the herb ginseng to help build up weakened bodies and support proper circulation. Once you see this plant in person, you will never forget it. It can grow up to 12 feet tall with stalks that have rows of thorns and broad maple-like leaves. These plants are sometimes cut away and thought of as a common weed of nuisance. Its bright red berries are nutrient-dense and are eaten by bears and other large animals.

As a naturopathic doctor in Portland Oregon, I like to use local plants in my formulas. I’ve had success with using Devil’s club in a drop dosage for patients who are having trouble with anxiety and boundaries in relationships. I have found Devil’s club to be very helpful for some patients prone to infections, diabetes or who experience complicated pain patterns.

CAN I EAT IT?

Devil’s Club is edible, sometimes. While bears consider Devil’s Club berries to be a delicacy, eating them as a human might not be advisable. Eating too many of the berries can result in nausea and vomiting. However, Edible Alaska recommends using the newly-sprouted shoots in soups, salads or sautéed and paired with salmon. Additionally, First Nation groups traditionally use Devil’s Club in ointments, poultices and consume it in a tea and appreciate the variety of health benefits associated with it. Devil’s Club roots and bark are colloquially referred to as “Alaskan Ginseng”.

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NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

WHERE TO FIND IT:

Devil’s Club can be found in shady, soggy areas from Oregon all the way up North to Alaska. Be aware that some localities may have limitations on harvesting wild Devil’s Club, so check local laws in your area before you go out Devil’s Clubb-ing. Always wear thick gloves and protective clothing while harvesting, as these spikes can dig deep into the skin and it will take hours of painful picking to remove them.

Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)

Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata)

Passionflower is by far one the weirdest, most exotic looking flowers I have ever seen. It’s not native to Oregon but you’ll see its distinctive vines growing in Portland area gardens. I remember walking in Portland’s SW waterfront area near John’s Landing when I happened to glance at this flower from the corner of my eye. It was the beginning of June and the flower was just starting to bloom. With delicate white petals and wispy purple feather-like filaments that radiate of the center in a crown pattern surrounding stigma and anther, everything about this flower seems to beckon bumblebees to drink its nectar. As my eyes followed the plant down from its flowers, I noticed fine green tendrils that seemed to reach out from thin vines. The plant’s striking uniqueness gives it an ambiance like some strange transplant from another planet. The Passion Flower left an impression on me, to say the least.

Today, Passionflower remains one of my favorite plants to see while walking Portland’s neighborhoods and parks. More than just pleasing to the eye, this flower has a long history of being used by Native Americans who introduced it to colonists. Some species of Passionflower have been found to contain natural MAOI compounds, which aligns with Passionflower’s traditional usage to treat symptoms of menopause, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure and anxiety. It is considered a very effective nervine, or nervous system tonic and I often use it in formulas for patients who are having trouble relaxing or going to sleep at night. Passionflower is usually part of a formula that helps balance and support the overall nervous system to restore, sleep and energy.

CAN I EAT IT?

Passionflower is considered safe for use in foods but may be unsafe when used in excessive amounts and should not be used when pregnant. Be sure to check out what variety of Passionflower you want to eat because not all varieties have the same effects and some may not be appropriate for consumption. Be sure to ask permission before harvesting from private property and inquire about pesticide and fertilizer which may be used on decorative plants. This herb may interact with certain medications so it’s important to consult a Doctor before using Passionflower medicinally.

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NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

WHERE TO FIND IT:

Although not native to the region, some South-American variants of the Passionflower hailing from the Andes Mountains grow well in Oregon’s temperate climate. As such, you’re most likely to find Passionflower in one of Portland’s many lush growing gardens or even just growing up someone’s yard fence. The fascinating flowers of the Passiflora often only bloom for a single day so seeing one in its full glory can be a rare treat indeed.

Plants have evolved with humans over the course of thousands of years. The food and medicinal value of each plant is unique unto itself. With experience, each plant’s qualities become nuances not unlike a personality. Experiencing the complex properties of herbal medicine has given me a much wider perspective on what it means to be healthy and what can help people heal. Learning about the flora that grows around us offers an opportunity for everyone to reconnect with times past and slow down our daily stress-filled lives by connecting with nature. Spending time outdoors and understanding local herbs is a wonderful way to stop and listen to what the natural world can teach us about life. Slow down, be present and maybe what we need to thrive is growing in our own backyard.

Namaste

Dr. Danielle Smith Anderson

dr danielle smith anderson ND LAc

BOOK AN APPOINTMENT

NOTE: The author, Danielle Smith Anderson ND LAc is a Primary Care Physician and Acupuncturist in the State of Oregon. Please speak to a physician experienced in herbs, your health conditions and any medications you take before using any herbal remedy. This article is not medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Dr Danielle Smith Anderson please contact her here.

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