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Popular “backyard plants” can help relieve and heal minor scratches, burns and itches

Popular “backyard plants” can help relieve and heal minor scratches, burns and itches

Jewelweed. Photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
October 29, 2020

When you’re outdoors, you may not have a first aid kit handy for bug bites, skin scrapes or skin irritations. Luckily, common plants can relieve pain and help heal minor scratches, burns and itches. Here are a few examples.

Why choose a natural remedy over a pharmaceutical one?

First and foremost, if you have a severe rash or burn, you should see a doctor or apply appropriate medication immediately. These herbal plant options are for minor scrapes, burns and bug bites, and often only offer a temporary relief. 

Everyone's skin is different, but these natural remedies have been known for centuries to help soothe and heal the skin—and they have helped me many times while working out in the field. Administering these medicinal plants can save you time and money. Ointments and other medications for minor skin problems can be expensive and are often unnecessary. The no-cost plants I list below might be growing in your backyard right now!

Common Yarrow

Common yarrow (Achille millefolium) is a perennial herb found throughout the United States. This weedy species spreads quickly, and typically grows in disturbed soils of grasslands and open forests (that is, soil that has been changed from its natural condition). It’s a common plant of field edges, easily identified by its finely dissected leaves, fragrant when crushed.

Common Yarrow flowers. Photo by David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
Common Yarrow flowers. Photo by David Cappaert, Bugwood.org
Common Yarrow leaves. Photo by John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Common Yarrow leaves. Photo by John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Yarrow has been used for centuries to aid the healing process and promote healthy skin. Applied topically, this common plant is very helpful with rashes, burns and itchy skin. Rub the flowers and leaves together to create a mash (a “poultice”) that can be applied directly to the affected area. This promotes an effective, natural healing process. I add yarrow to my face and body lotions to help with dry, itchy skin in the winter. Caution: as noted above, everyone’s skin is different. In some, yarrow may cause dermatitis; always test a small amount first.

Jewelweed

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is an herbaceous plant in the balsam family. This native plant, which can have orange or yellow flowers, is commonly found in our region. It prefers semi-shaded, wet areas along forest edges, streambanks and wetlands. It gets it common name from the way that water beads up on its leaves, like glistening jewels. 

Jewelweed. Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
Jewelweed. Photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
Jewelweed. Photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
Jewelweed. Photo by Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
If you run into stinging nettle or poison ivy, look for jewelweed nearby. The sap from jewelweed can treat various skin rashes and help to soothe painful and irritated skin. You can crush the stem and rub the sap directly on the affected area. This will relieve the itch from poison ivy or stinging nettle. It’s also great for bug bites and hives and can reduce swelling almost immediately. 

Broadleaf plantain

Broadleaf, or Common, plantain (Plantago major) is a perennial plant in the plantain family. It originates from Eurasia but can now be found in almost every temperate region across the world. It is a common backyard plant that prefers sunny meadows and woodlands. Plantain is an indicator of compacted soil, typically found in spots that are frequently mowed or on paths and farm lanes

Broadleaf plantain. Photo by Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org
Broadleaf plantain. Photo by Robert Vidéki, Doronicum Kft., Bugwood.org
Broadleaf plantain leaf. Photo by Bruce Ackley, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Broadleaf plantain leaf. Photo by Bruce Ackley, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Broadleaf plantain is packed with nutrients that are excellent for skin care. You can apply a poultice of the leaves and stem to relieve bug bites, stings, scrapes and other minor wounds. Broadleaf plantain has antimicrobial components, so it is effective in preventing infections; it has also has been proven to hasten the healing of cuts and scrapes. 

Important Reminders:

Make sure when you are removing these plants, you don’t harm other native species in the process. Remember that everyone's skin is different; therefore, these plants are not 100% guaranteed to heal your wounds. However, these natural remedies do have a high success rate, and have helped me many times in the past. I hope you find similar success.