After a long winter, the lushness of late spring has arrived, and it is breathtaking here in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves of plants are fully grown, flowers abound, and the rapid growth is astounding. Where snow, dirt, dead sticks and leaves rested, there is now flamboyant beauty and plant medicine.

As we swap jackets for shorts and t-shirts, curiosity about the local plant population is piqued. Whether it’s your backyard or a forest, let’s explore a few of my favorite wild medicinal plants.

Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa. This is one of my top three favorite trees of all time. The bark smells like vanilla to some, strawberry or chocolate to others. What’s not to like about that? Pick off the resin that dries outside of the tree on the bark; it’s known for its ability to kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi—truly an amazing trick of immunity. Plants can’t migrate from an area that might be affected by parasites, environmental damage, or fungi, but they do have immune systems, and they are amazingly talented at self-preservation.

Red Root – Ceanothus velutinus. Crushing the leaves produces a spicy scent that just says Pacific Northwest to me. The medicine is strong, and goes right to the blood and lymph as it stimulates the production of cells that make up the lymph pathways. It also aids in mitigating sore, swollen lymph nodes. The harsher the environment red root lives in, the stronger its medicine. More than a survivor, it’s a thriver. Think about how that would translate to you if you took in its medicine.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot – Balsamorhiza sagittata. Balsamroot has similar properties to echinacea, containing flavonoids and immune stimulating polysaccharides in the leaf stem and root. The root stimulates the loosening of congestion in the sinuses and lungs, and assists in clearing your airways. Additionally, it promotes immune function and white blood cell formation. The leaves, used in a salve or wash, will stimulate the healing of sores, ulcerations, mild burns, and fungal infections. One of the constituents in arrowleaf balsamroot is caffeic acid, an antioxidant which acts as a chaperone to help counteract destructive effects in tissues, promoting the repair of damaged proteins in cells. Notice how ceanothus and arrowleaf balsamroot can work together to strengthen both the structure and function of the immune system, respectively.

Arnica spp. Arnica excels at speedy healing of bruised tissue caused by falls, sprains and strains, or any outdoor activity that leaves you hunched over with aches and sore muscles. Harvest the flowers before they’re pollinated to insure strong medicine.

Please keep in mind, it’s important to be 100% certain of your identification before doing ANY harvesting. There are look-a-like plants in the wild, which can be confusing to both the novice and experienced. Knowing your plants is the difference between healing and harming. Research the intended plant before harvesting to make sure that you are harvesting the right plant for the right intent. Examine its habitat and your impact on the stand, and take only what you can process in one sitting. Plants that are sitting in a bag or basket on the porch awaiting processing are plants that are swiftly losing their medicinal and nutritional value. Happy harvesting! // (Suzanne Tabert)

Suzanne Tabert is a bioregional herbalist and director of herbal education at the Cedar Mountain Herb School, which offers workshops and programs, including plants walks, harvest intensives, and herbal medicine. Visit Cedarmountainherbs.com for more details.