A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs

A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs


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This guide is the most complete work ever written on the medicinal plants of western North America. It offers the best information in the world on the current popular and traditional uses of the nearly 500 species covered, much of it available for the first time. More than 530 color photographs illustrate the plants and their flowers, leaves, and fruits. The descriptive text combines scientific, ethnobotanical, and cross-cultural information, making this field guide unique. An index to medical topics is helpful for quickly locating information on specific ailments. Symbols next to the plant descriptions provide quick visual warnings for poisonous and allergenic plants. Organized by flower color for fast identification, this guide is an essential aid to appreciating native plants and the wild areas they inhabit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780395838075
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/18/2002
Series: Peterson Field Guides Series
Edition description: None
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

With more than 40 years of experience in the herbal field, Steven Foster is author, co-author, and photographer of seventeen books. He lives in Eureka Springs Arkansas, in the heart of the medicinal plant-rich Ozarks.

Roger Tory Peterson, one of the world's greatest naturalists, received every major award for ornithology, natural science, and conservation as well as numerous honorary degrees, medals, and citations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Peterson Identification System has been called the greatest invention since binoculars. These editions include updated material by Michael O'Brien, Paul Lehman, Bill Thompson III, Michael DiGiorgio, Larry Rosche, and Jeffrey A. Gordon.

Read an Excerpt

Miscellaneous Showy Flowers
BUNCHBERRY Leaves, roots, berries

Cornus canadensis L. Dogwood Family

Low-growing, spreading perennial, 3–8 in., often forming large colonies. Oval leaves in whorls of 6 beneath showy “flowers” (bracts); veins arch from leaf base toward tip; margins entire. Small, greenish white flowers tightly clustered above 4 large, white, petallike bracts; May–July. Fruit scarlet, single-seeded. Where found: Moist, cool forests, meadows, bogs. Alaska to Idaho, Mont. south to N.M., nw. Calif. eastern N. America.

Uses: American Indians toasted the leaves, then sprinkled the powder on sores. Berries were a snack source, dried and stored for winter; also chewed to treat insanity. Leaf tea drunk as a strong laxative and to treat paralysis. The Paiutes mashed and strained the roots and used the liquid as a wash for sore eyes. Tea of the whole plant was taken for coughs, fevers, and tuberculosis. Tea from roots, leaves, and berries was drunk for fits. A root tea was given to babies for colic. Bark tea drunk for body pains.


Mesembryanthemum crystallinum L. Carpet Weed Family

Multibranched, bumpy-stemmed perennial, spreading along ground; to 24 in. high. Leaves succulent, alternate, flat, ovate to spoon-shaped; margins wavy. Flowers stalkless in leaf axils, showy, white to red- tinged, with many stamens and 5 linear petals; Mar.–Oct. Bumpy fruit opening when moist. Where found: Saline soils near coast, bluffs, disturbed sites, coastal sage scrub. Along the cen. and s. coast of Calif. to Ariz.; Baja Calif., Mexico; S. America, Mediterranean. Alien (South Africa).

Uses: Historically, physicians used leaf juice to soothe inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory or urinary system; to treat painful or difficult urination and involuntary urination. In Europe the fresh juice has been used to treat water retention and painful urination and to soothe lung inflammation.

Related species: M. edule L. (Carpobrotus edulis [L.] N. E. Br.), or Hottentot Fig, a common escape in California, is used externally in S. Africa for burns and thrush and internally for dysentery.

Warning: High in oxalates, potentially toxic in high doses, especially in flower and fruit.


Viola canadensis L. Violet Family

Perennial with short, thick rhizome and slender stolons; to 10 in. Leaves heart-shaped or oval on long stalks; tips pointed; margins toothed. Flowers solitary from leaf axils. Petals white above, purple beneath, yellow-centered; bottom petal dark-lined, spurred; side petals hairy at base; Apr.–July. Pod splitting into 3 valves. Where found: Moist to dry woods. Ore. to ne. Wash., Idaho, Utah, Ariz. Rockies from Mont. to N.M.; eastern N. America.

Uses: Native Americans used a root tea for pains in the bladder region. Externally, a poultice was used to treat skin abrasions and boils. In European traditions violet species were listed as soothing and softening for coughs and colds, urinary tract ailments, and skin conditions.

Warning: Roots of most if not all violet species may induce vomiting.

Table of Contents

How to Use This Book1
General Organization1
Identifying Plants2
Conservation and Harvesting10
A Final Word of Caution13
White or Whitish Flowers17
Yellow Flowers96
Orange Flowers150
Pink to Red Flowers153
Violet to Blue Flowers186
Green to Brown Flowers222
Woody Vines365
Ferns and Fern Allies371
Grasses and Grasslike Plants380
Photo Credits396
Life List404
Index to Plants415
Index to Medical Topics433

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