Medicinal plants often overlooked

2011-03-12T11:00:00Z Medicinal plants often overlookedBy Rachel Finney, The World Coos Bay World
March 12, 2011 11:00 am  • 


Sometimes helpful medicine can be right under your nose. Or more accurately, your foot.

Look below as you hike through the woods, set up camp or hunt - Oregon grapes, manzanita, horse tail and stinging nettles - you've seen them all, right?

But many outdoors enthusiasts may not know how helpful these plants can be when it comes to medicinal purposes.

Gina Davis, a forester for seven years who has worked for the Coquille Indian Tribe the past two years, has taken to learning about local, wild plants that can double as pain relief and ointments, among other properties.

"I grew up in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere," Davis said. "And my grandfather was full-blown Cherokee.

"For myself as a parent, it was important to teach them Native American history. Most are Native American concoctions."

And for her, she's also been trying to move away from the idea of Western medicine, she said.

Plagued with asthma, she now uses stinging nettles purchased from a health food store. Don't take the "stinging" moniker lightly - these are best left alone in the wild, as they cause skin irritations.

She said that medicinal uses in wild plants are often overlooked.

"What people don't realize is that most of the plants have medicinal or edible qualities," she said.

Her boss, Darren Cheley, who has worked for the Coquille Tribe for 11 years as a natural resource tech, said he certainly wasn't aware of how helpful plants could be.

"I didn't know about it, and I've lived here most my life," he said. "We've gotten more into Western medicine now that it's often overlooked."

There's a reason for that.

"They want instant results," he said.

But instant results won't be much help if an avid outdoorsman or woman has an emergency in the forest. That's where a well-researched knowledge on medicinal plants and how to harvest them can come in handy.

"If they were to get lost in the woods," Davis said, knowing how to harvest plants to help ailments could be important.

It's a part of wilderness survival that isn't often taught hand-in-hand with packing food, water and an extra set of clothing.

Manzanita can be used as an astringent and to treat urinary tract infections, Davis said, and Native Americans concocted a tincture to treat poison oak.

"Manzanita, I thought it was just an annoying plant," Davis said.

Oregon's state flower, the Oregon grape, is also helpful.

It can be eaten - though it's quite bitter - and a tincture can be made to treat pink eye.

"I thought people would not know that about our state flower," Davis said.

Horse tail, which can be found in damp areas and crowding the sides of roads, contains a large amount of silicon. Silicon is important to help regeneration of bone and connective tissues, and horse tail can provide the body with a supplemental source of silicon while treating a bone fracture or ligament injuries, Davis said.

Plus, many nature lovers may want to migrate toward natural methods of medicine, Davis said. But she warned that if you don't know how to harvest the plants safely, leave them alone.

"I don't recommend harvesting them on your own," she said. "There are a lot of aerial sprays. People may not know how to harvest correctly."

If you're interested in using local medicinal plants, she recommended asking health food stores. Or, you could self-educate with research, and keep a book with you as your travels take you away from civilization.

"If someone's looking to treat something that's not an emergency, go to a health food store," she said. "Before you go out and harvest, research."

And it's more than just helpful knowledge.

"I think it's interesting, too," she said. "There's just so much information."

Outdoors Editor Rachel Finney can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 237, or at

Copyright 2016 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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