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Wednesday
Sep122012

Cheery New England Aster

Where has the summer gone? Where have I been??? It’s been a very busy summer of adventure and harvesting. I have several litres of fresh plant tinctures quietly macerating and becoming my medicine in my home. My apothecary was quite depleted, so I had a lot of herbs to collect…and still do! It’s soon root season and I’ve got lots more herbs I need to harvest!

This past weekend I harvested Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, or New England Aster (NEA). I use the herb of this plant which consists of the upper 20 – 30% of the aerial parts, harvested early in its flowering period in late summer. The root has also been used historically, but I only use the herb.

Every plant has its particular nuances when it comes to harvesting and processing and NEA is no exception. It’s one of those easy to harvest but grueling to process plants.

NEA grows in open fields and enjoys lots of sunshine. The day I harvested was beautiful and sunny, and the field was ablaze with the gold of goldenrod and the purple of NEA – gorgeous! I slowly meandered through the field carefully selecting plants in perfect flower. It was so lovely and relaxing. I felt awesome! And then the processing began…Hours of carefully striping the gazillion side branches of its leaves and flowers to get enough plant material for 2 litres of tincture. By the end my fingers were black and sticky with resin and the sun had gone down ages before. Wow, what a study in patience! But that is the lot of the wildcrafter – perseverance, stamina and lots and lots of patience. But what a wonderful, rewarding life! I feel so rich after my herbs have been processed and excited to share the medicine with my clients.

NEA isn’t a well-known herb and you’d be hard-pressed to find it in an herbal, but it is an amazing healing plant. It is used primarily for conditions of the epithelial membranes, respiratory, nervous and cardiovascular systems. It is also a primary emmenagogue and can be used for female reproductive system conditions such as PMS, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea. It is has anti-inflammatory, antiulcerogenic, astringent, demulcent and vulnerary properties and is used for inflammation of the mucus membranes of the body such as sore throats, gastric and duodenal ulcers, colitis and leucorrhea as a douche. Historically, it was used internally and externally as a remedy for eruptive skin diseases and rashes caused by poison ivy and poison oak. It is used for conditions of the upper and lower respiratory system such as sinusitis, hayfever, asthma and dry, tight coughs. As a nervine it is used for stress-related conditions including anxiety and tension headaches. It also has depurative, cholagogue and lymphatic properties and is good for chronic rheumatic and inflammatory skin conditions. Because of its nervine, relaxant properties, this is a great plant to use in a detox formula for someone with stress and anxiety. For cardiovascular conditions it is used for poor peripheral blood circulation, varicosities and hemorrhoids.

There has been some scientific research out of Germany on NEA’s antiviral and anticancer properties. Of course, this study involved isolating certain chemical constituents which has little to do with the action of the whole plant, but there is a lot more this plant has to offer us than it is currently being used for, for sure.

Though this plant is gentle and tonic, is should not be used with pregnancy because of its emmenagogue properties.

I had a bit of the herb left over after making my tincture, so I’m drying it now to add to my ‘heal-all’ ointment that consists of whatever plants I have gathered that are excellent for external wounds, abrasions, bruises, cuts and rashes. I usually use fresh plants to make my oils, but because NEA has mucilaginous properties I’m wilting it until it’s almost dry to prevent my oil from spoiling.

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