By Janelle Eklund
I rushed around the house getting ready to spend three days at Silver Lake. It’s exhausting getting ready to play – hah!
The sunny blue sky day followed me to the lake. After a relaxing dinner we took a ride down the McCarthy road with cameras ready for any inspiring scene. As we drove by a marshy area I spotted tall plants with white flowers emerging from the water, their long stems blowing in the breeze. I’d probably seen it before but didn’t recognize it as Menyanthes trifoliate or Buckbean. Rooty type stems at the base came up from shallow water depths. From the surface of the water the stems grew tall ending with three clustered deep green leaves pointing toward the sky. A separate stem grew just as tall ending in furry white clusters of flowers. Pink buds at the top sat like the tip of a paintbrush ready to spread its color. The tips of each five petaled snow white flowers kept a hint of the pink from the paintbrush. Each petal was graced with white furry protrusions. Five stately stamens dotted in brown grew from the tiny yellow center of the flower.
There are other common names for this plant but I prefer the scientific name. Buckbean just doesn’t sound elegant enough for this beauty. The flowers transform into bean looking shapes, thus the common name. Menyanthes is Greek meaning “month flower” of which there is debate on whether this means the length of time it is flowering or a tea from it giving relief from menstrual pain.
When the plant is in flower the leaves provide for some good medicinal uses but it’s important to dry the leaves thoroughly before using - if used fresh they can make you vomit. A tea made of the dry leaves – one tablespoon of leaves to a cup of boiling water and steeped – and drunk over the course of a day provides relief from a variety of maladies. This brew is high in vitamin C, iron and iodine so is good for scurvy and tiredness. It will stimulate your appetite, get your digestive juices flowing, relieve water retention, and can act as a laxative. Use in moderation as large doses can induce that vomiting and give diarrhea. Infusing the dried leaves into salves helps with skin sores and sore muscles.
This plant is somewhat scarce so if using, only pick from big patches and then be frugal in what you do pick.
Sit with the plants before harvesting, ingest their essences and ask for permission to pick.
From my light to yours-
References: Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield. See her book for more details.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.