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Dandelion can be used to treat upset stomachs and other maladies.

It’s safe to say that Oregon is one of the greenest states out there, with trees and plants for literally miles and miles. But it’s a lesser-known fact that much of that greenery can actually be used medicinally. A recent study found that one-third of Americans use herbal medicine to treat certain ailments, but what is herbal medicine exactly? And more importantly, how effective is it?

Missy Rohs, a Portland herbalist, describes herbal medicine as “simply using plants for their healing properties.” “It doesn’t have to be fancy,” she explains. “It could be literally using the herbs in your kitchen cabinet, or using weeds from your backyard.

Rohs cofounded and teaches at the Arctos School, where Portlanders can learn all about herbalism and which plants work best. For example, the root and bark of an Oregon grape can be used for its antimicrobial properties. Even the ubiquitous dandelion can be used in teas to help an upset stomach

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Fresh yarrow leaves can be used to stop bleeding wounds.

Image: Dawn Endico

Rohs has harnessed the power of plants in some pretty unusual situations. “Last summer we were staying with some friends and they were taking care of a ferret,” she recalls. “I wanted to hold it… I laid down and it ran straight up and bit my nose. My nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, so I went out the front door and the first thing that I could think of that helps stop bleeding is yarrow. I picked a leaf and I applied it topically and it pretty much stopped the bleeding right away. It was really cool.”

But don’t go running straight to your garden just yet. Rohs advises taking at least one intro class on herbalism first. “One of the most important things if you start harvesting your own plants is that you have to know 100% for certain what they are,” she explains. “You never want to make a mistake.”

If herbal medicine is calling your name, check out the National College of Natural Medicine, the oldest accredited naturopathic medical college in the United States, or head to the Portland Herb School, which offers classes on the weekends.

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