Carla and Stephanie, teachers at the Austin-based Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, led our eager group on an early evening plant walk in the Muller Development in East Austin.
I’ve posted the brief comments they made about each plant, to the best of my ability. Please note that many of these plants have fantastic medicinal qualities, but if you’re new to herbal medicine you should take care to learn more about the plants, the preparations and uses, before diving in. Just as you wouldn’t take a prescription medicine without understanding how it’s used (or get it from a professional), you shouldn’t just pick a plant that you just learned and know just the basics about, and start chowing down on it.
Mahonia trifoliolata (Berberis trifoliolata, Mahonia trifoliata)
This is a great plant to use for the gastric system, and all parts of the alimentary canal. Agarita contains berberine, the same constituent in goldenseal. Usually roots and woody parts are used medicinally, although leaves are also effective. Agarita berries are edible as well. Local herbalists consider this to be one of the best local plants to use for a variety of illnesses, and would have it in their top 10 useful herbs.
In the agave family. The root contains saponins, which can be used to make a form of soap. These constituents are precursors to cortisone and can help with inflammation. The root is edible and can be roasted like a potato. The leaves can be used to make cordage.
Prickly or Wild Lettuce
Latuca verosa and Latuca serriola
Similar in appearance to dandelion but leaves tend to be more upright, and there are prickly spines on the leaf spines. The leaves are edible and can be used raw or cooled. They are very astingent, and bitter, stimulating digestion. Latuca Verosa – called lettuce opium. Has the lobed/toothed leaves. Serriola – less of a toothed leaf. Taken internally, the herb causes secretions from mucus membranes, the latex in stems has a relaxing effect, but care should be taken if used internally in significant quantities or in an herbal preparation because it can cause cardiac issues.
Sonchus oleraceus and other spp.
Another dandelion look-alike, although this plant grows much larger than dandelions in Texas. It has spikes on leaves, and multiple flower stalks, both traits also unlike dandelions. Leaves are edible as raw or cooked greens, and flower buds are delicious sauteed in bacon fat.
Red seed plantain
All species of plantain have similar qualities and can be used medicinally. Leaves of plant have parallel veins which is unlike look-alike plants and can be used to distinguish it. Often grows in disturbed soils, can take a lot of abuse.
Plant can be used topically. Amazing for tissue regeneration. Best for insect bites – you can chew up leaf and put the pulp on a cut or fire ant bite. in dried, powdered form plantain is great in a facial scrub or mask for acne. A plantain poultice can help to pull out splinters. Psyllium husks = plantain seeds. Also called “plant for life.”
Looks like so many other things. Not really medicinal. Be careful. Althogh edible, some look-alikes are very poisonous. Makes burrs. Grows up in a stalk.
Very safe to use. Typically flowers are used medicinally, and evening primrose oil contains fatty acids that are especially good for women, relieves menstrual cramps.
Tree with small yellow flowers; thorns. In Mimosoideae subfamily, with similar leaves, and is considered a legume. Bean pods can be ground up like mesquite beans, with similar results.
Looks a bit like lantana (Lantana camara and spp) but leaves are different. Verbena leaves are fern-shaped, and look like nervous system, while the lantana leaves are oval. Verbena is a good nervine and can help promote calm and relaxation.
(thanks Sam Coffman for corrected identification)
It tends to grow in places that are disturbed or where there is a lot of human activity. In Austin it is prolific on the greenbelts and on the hike and bike trail. Protective of other plants. Don’t touch, but surely we don’t have to tell you that. It also tends to make blog writers break out into song when least expected.
No immediately known medicinal or edible properties. Just a cool plant we found as we wandered around.