Saturday, May 10, 2014
Also known as: crackerberry, scarlet stoneberry, dwarf dogwood, pigeonberry, dwarf cornel, puddingberry, squirrelberry, grouse berry
Parts used: berries, leaves, bark, root
Meridians/Organs affected: kidneys, skin, digestive, nervous system, lungs
Properties: antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, aperient (in large amounts), tonic, stimulant, nervine, anticarcinogenic, anodyne, febrifuge, analgesic, anti-venomous, cathartic, antispasmodic, hypotensive
Bunchberry is a member of the Dogwood family. It is an evergreen perennial that gets up to six inches high with six oval-pointed leaves which overlap in opposite pairs. It has white flowers that have four petals shaped much like an eye. The leaves have very distinctive parallel veins that contain a sticky latex like substance (seen when the leaves are torn). They bloom from April to June and can be found in moist, heavily-timbered areas all over the United States and Canada. The flowers are replaced by red, bunched berries that are edible but bland.
This plant has been used a great deal by the Native American Indians and it is really due to them that we have as much of the information on western herbs that we do. The Montagnais would make an infusion of the berries and use it for paralysis; the Malecites would use the whole plant to treat 'fits'; a tea was made from the root for colicky babies and many tribes used it internally or as a poultice to reduce the potentcy of poisons. In fact, one person related an experience of eating a mushroom that wasn't an edible variety and becoming very ill. That person ate a bunch of bunchberries and soon recovered. The berries have also been chewed and used externally as a poultice for burns; the berries also have been combined with other high tannin plants in a tea and used as a wash for stings and rashes caused by poison ivy; leaf tea is used for fevers, coughs and aches and pains. The leaves were also burned and powdered and applied to sores topically. Teas have been made from the entire plant and used for kidney and lung issues while the berries are considered to be anti-inflammatory and very useful for stomach and intestinal issues. When bunchberry was combined with wintergreen it was used for menstrual issues and bed-wetting. Fresh leaves were also used topically for bleeding.
Both the leaves and stems of the bunchberry are considered cathartic, analgesic and febrifuge. The berries are a good source of pectin which is a known tonic for the capillaries, as well as helping with water retention, spasms, inflammation, blood pressure issues and is anti-radioactive. Pectin also inhibits the production and/or spread of cancer. Bunchberry is, in fact, being studied for its potential use for cancer. As it is high in pectin the berries have been used to thicken fruit stews or berry sauces as well as being mixed with a host of other berries in pies, jams and jellies.
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