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Plant Use: Healing Secrets of the Wild

As spring blooms in Colorado, many families are heading outdoors to hike, camp, and garden. What comes with the beautiful rocky mountains is a unique native plant presence. These plants offer more than just decor; they hold valuable medicinal properties.

Many native plants offer practical uses, from using tree dust as a natural sunscreen substitute to chewing leaves for wound healing. Moreover, discussing and identifying native plants with children will not only nurture a love for nature but also ignite an interest in science and botany. 

Maggie Gaddis, the Executive Director of the Colorado Native Plant Society, shares some insight into native plants and their various uses. So next time you’re exploring, whether you’re a day hiker, backpacker, or serious gardener, keep an eye out for these native plants. 

Disclosure: While these plants have medicinal properties, consuming or using them without proper knowledge can be dangerous, as parts of some plants are poisonous. Additionally, wildlife animals and insects rely on these plants for food and as their natural habitat. We do not encourage people to eat or use the following plants. 

Populus Tremuloides, Aspen Trees

If you rub the bark of an aspen tree, you will get a white dust on your hands, which you can then apply to your face as a substitute for sunscreen. Another unique aspect of an aspen is how it photosynthesizes.

“We don’t have a lot of deciduous trees in Colorado because of the harsh climate, but one way that Aspens have adapted to this landscape is that they can photosynthesize with their bark, not just with their leaves,” Gaddis shares. “Also, they’re connected in their root system, so they share resources across a whole group.”

Achillea Millefolium, Yarrow 

While you’re hiking and backpacking, if you get a cut, the Yarrow plant can be used because it has antiseptic properties that will help with the healing process. 

“You can take a leaf and chew on it a little bit, and then stick it on your cut, and that will help to stop the bleeding and also to keep it clean,” Gaddis shares. 

Rubus Idaeus Var, Raspberry

“You don’t want to harvest the berries because you’re sharing that resource with the wildlife, but harvesting the leaves is fine,” Gaddis says. “[The leaves] have a ton of vitamin C, and for women who are pregnant, raspberry leaf tea is a good thing to drink.” 

Prunus Virginiana, Chokecherry

“Chokecherries were an important food staple for many indigenous peoples of North America,” states the American Indian Health and Diet Project. “Chokeycherry tea was used to treat everything from anxiety to colds, diarrhea and tuberculosis. Berries were eaten to relieve stomach pain and aid digestion. A common remedy for head colds involved grinding and smoking chokecherry bark like tobacco.”

Typha Latifolia, Cattails

“One of the most important health benefits of cattail is its natural antiseptic property, which has come in handy for various cultures for generations,” states Organic Facts. “Various parts of

 the cattail have coagulant properties, meaning that they slow down the flow of blood and prevent anemia.”


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