Since the dawn of humanity, people have been using plants for their healing properties. Today, Canada is home to many plants that can help treat a variety of ailments. You can grow some of these plants in your garden, look for the dried versions in health food stores or harvest them (with caution) in the wild. Just remember to abide by the law when harvesting plants in the wild, since over-harvesting can threaten their future. For inspiration, here are 20 medicinal plants native to Canada — and what you can use them for.
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The biggest health benefits of American ginseng: immune boosting and energizing
American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius, is native to the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec. People use the root to strengthen the immune system and to get a shot of energy and mental focus, so it can help you fight sleepiness and look more awake without coffee. It may also help control diabetes. However, there are strict laws about harvesting American ginseng in the wild.
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The biggest health benefits of bearberry: treating UTIs
Bearberry or uva ursi, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is native to most of Canada, as far north as the Arctic Circle. An infusion made of the leaves can help treat urinary tract infections — UTIs — and people also use it to help with kidney stones, gallstones, gout and even gonorrhea. Traditionally, a salve made of bearberry and fat was used to treat skin ailments and wounds.
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The biggest health benefits of bethroot: aiding in childbirth and relieving menstrual disorders
Bethroot, Trillium erectum, is native to the woodlands of southern Quebec and the Atlantic region. Another name for it, birthroot, tells you what its main use has traditionally been. An infusion of the root can been known to help induce labour, and it may help control bleeding and menstrual disorders, especially very heavy flow.
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The biggest health benefits of clubmoss: treating urinary and kidney disorders
Clubmoss, Lycopodium clavatum, is native to woodlands across most of the country and you’ll likely see it along the way as you hike to one of Canada’s must-see waterfalls. Traditionally it was used to stop bleeding and to treat fever, headaches and postpartum pain. Nowadays, it’s mostly used for treating urinary and kidney disorders. It can also help relieve stomach upsets and skin conditions.
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The biggest health benefits of black cherry: relieving coughs
Black cherry, Prunus serotina, is native to the southern parts of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The bark made into a tea or syrup is good for relieving coughs and lung ailments like pneumonia and bronchitis. Black cherry can also help relieve pain and diarrhea.
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The biggest health benefits of bloodroot: relieving respiratory ailments and skin problems
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is native to the area around the Great Lakes as well as parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Traditionally, the Ojibwa would mix a drop or two of juice from the root with maple sugar to make a throat lozenge. It’s also used to treat coughs and respiratory ailments. Applied topically, it can relieve skin problems such as eczema. However, bloodroot is toxic and you should only use minute amounts as prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional.
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The biggest health benefits of evening primrose: skin conditions, fatigue and weight loss
Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, is native to Canada from Nova Scotia to Alberta. The Ojibwa traditionally used poultices made of the leaves to treat bruises. Nowadays people use the oil from the seeds to treat skin conditions, fatigue, arthritis, nerve degeneration and a host of other ailments.
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The biggest health benefits of cranberry: treating UTIs
Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon is native to most of Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic egion. Its juice is one of the most well-known remedies for UTIs: both in treating them and preventing them. Cranberry can also help treat kidney and bladder stones, incontinence and prostate problems.
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The biggest health benefits of dandelion: treating liver problems, joint complaints, anaemia and skin conditions
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is native to most of Canada and there’s a good chance you’ll find it growing at one of the many amazing Canadian camping spots. Commonly regarded as a weed, this plant has many medicinal uses. It is a strong diuretic and can help treat liver problems, joint complaints, gout, arthritis, anaemia and skin conditions such as eczema, acne and psoriasis. Some people also use a tea made of the root or leaves to detox.
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The biggest health benefits of heal all: treating wounds
Heal all, Prunella vulgaris, is native to the eastern parts of Canada and to British Columbia. It goes by many other common names, most of which reflect its properties as a healer of wounds. In addition to helping treat burns, injuries, bruises, bites and skin inflammation, it can help for sore throats, hemorrhoids, bleeding and excessive menstruation.
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The biggest health benefits of juniper: diuretic and antiseptic
Juniper, Juniperus communis, is native to most of Canada. The berries don’t only give gin its distinctive flavour but have diuretic and antiseptic properties too. They can help treat a variety of ailments, including cystitis, gout, arthritis, rheumatism and stomach upsets.
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The biggest health benefits of hops: relieving stress and insomnia
The hop plant, Humulus lupulus, is native to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the southernmost parts of the Prairies. Hops are a common ingredient in beer, but can relieve stress and insomnia all on their own, without the hangover. Simply put some dried hops in a sachet under your pillow. It will help you fall asleep fast, especially if you do the right things during the day too.
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The biggest health benefits of lobelia: treating respiratory ailments
Lobelia, Lobelia inflata, is native to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and the southernmost parts of Quebec and Ontario. It’s used mainly for treating respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis.
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The biggest health benefits of partridge berry: calming properties
Partridge berry, Mitchella repens, is native to the eastern part of Canada. If you’re breastfeeding, you can apply a salve containing partridge berry to help ease sore nipples. Partridge berry also has calming properties and can be used as an astringent skin tonic.
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The biggest health benefits of kelp: treating thyroid issues and promoting weight loss
Kelp, Laminaria digitata, is native to the cold waters of rocky shorelines along the northern Atlantic Ocean, including those of Canada’s Atlantic region. This seaweed is especially known for its high iodine content and can help stimulate an underactive thyroid.
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The biggest health benefits of Seneca snakeroot: treating respiratory ailments
Seneca snakeroot, Polygala senega, is native to New Brunswick. One of its traditional uses was to treat snakebite. Nowadays people use it mainly for treating respiratory ailments like bronchitis, asthma and coughs. You can also gargle with it to soothe a sore throat.
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The biggest health benefits of skullcap: relieving stress
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora, is native to Canada from Manitoba to New Brunswick. People use it primarily for its calming properties. It can help treat stress, anxiety, insomnia and tension headaches. Some people also use skullcap to help treat anorexia nervosa. With substance abuse being one of the most common health concerns in Canada, skullcap can also aid in withdrawal from alcohol, tranquilizers and barbiturates.
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The biggest health benefits of stinging nettle: treating allergies and inflammatory conditions
Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, is native to most of Canada. It has many medicinal uses. It can help relieve conditions associated with allergies, including hayfever and asthma. Another common use of nettle is for treating inflammatory conditions like eczema. Stinging nettle can also help ease gout, kidney and bladder stones and rheumatism.
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The biggest health benefits of wintergreen: stomach upsets and pain
Wintergreen or teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens, is native to the eastern parts of Canada. It can help relieve stomach upsets and colic. Wintergreen is also a common ingredient in ointments and liniments for relieving muscle and joint pain, so it’s handy to keep in your gym bag for those fitness classes to try with your friends. You can also use wintergreen liniments to relieve sciatica, colds and headaches.
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The biggest health benefits of cascara sagrada: relieving constipation
Cascara sagrada, Frangula purshiana, is native to the southern parts of British Columbia, including Vancouver Island. An infusion of the bark makes an effective laxative. It can also ease hemorrhoids, colitis and liver problems such as jaundice.