Photo by Rachael Brugger
After we are through the holidays on the homestead and into the new year, it’s not necessarily a time of relaxation. Spring, summer and fall are filled with great physical activity, but winter is my time to catch up on that stack of magazines and books that have been piling up. I started reading this backlog of research right after Christmas and have gotten excited about some new plants.
Getting to Know the Locals
Each year as we begin to plan our garden, we try to get to know more of our native medicinals. This past week, I decided our plans need to include a patch of Nodding onions (Allium cernuum). Finding a spot in full sun with moist soil on our property will not be difficult. This beautiful plant is related to garlic (Allium sativum) and has similar growing needs and medicinal qualities.
The most common use for Nodding onions has been as a poultice on the chest for the relief of respiratory problems or the throat to soothe a sore throat. In the past we have used ginger for this kind of poultice, but as we try to plant more of our own medicine I’ve been looking for a less tropical alternative.
Nodding onions are cultivated easiest by digging up offsets and transplanting them. We won’t be buying seeds of these plants to get started in the garden this year, as we’re told they don’t germinate well. If you are looking for some Nodding onions for yourself it is best to find a local nursery that specializes in natives for your area. We all have a responsibility to get to know and replant our native medicinals but they must be sourced responsibly so that we aren’t damaging our natural areas to do so.
A Fresh Poultice
Once planted, a native like Nodding onions will spread on its own, providing years of fresh material for both your table and your medicine closet.
To make a fresh poultice, simply chop up any part of the plant, place it in an old cloth and apply it to the chest or throat. Of course, many other plants can be used to make poultices for other reasons. Poultices can be used to draw out infections or foreign bodies, relieve swelling, soothe arthritis pain, treat earaches, heal cuts and bruises, and more.
You don’t always have to use fresh plants for poultices. If you’d like to use dried plants, such as during the winter when fresh is unavailable, you simply need to soak the herb in oil or warm water before you apply the poultice to the skin. Always be sure to replace your poultice with fresh plant material often, especially if you’re using it as a drawing agent.
Hot or Cold?
The temperature of a poultice really depends on what you’re treating. If you are hoping to draw out something—a splinter or an infection—you want to use a hot poultice. If you would like to slow the blood or fluid flow to an area, such as when you need to reduce swelling, you want to use a cold poultice.