Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary
An abundance of wild, healthy super foods or natural medicines can be found in the northern boreal forest. In the Yukon, they’re often growing right outside your front door. Boreal berries are antioxidant-rich foods with medicinal qualities that are beneficial for our overall health, keeping us vibrant during the long northern winters.
BEARBERRY Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
It is the deep, green, leathery leaves of bearberry that have effective medicinal qualities. A tea made from the leaves makes an excellent mouthwash for gum infections or to clear up diarrhea. The tea can thin out excessive, sticky mucus brought on by bronchitis.
Bearberry leaves possess anti-microbial actions that kill bacteria in urine. A tea or tincture can help prevent the formation of (and assist in the removal of) stones from the urinary system and work as an antiseptic for urinary-tract and bladder infections. It’s also helpful in alleviating pain associated with menstruation and is a powerful tonic for the bladder’s sphincter muscle (said to aid with bladdercontrol and bedwetting problems).
CAUTIONS: Large doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Do not take for longer than two weeks at a time. Raw berries can be toxic if eaten in large quantities.
BLUEBERRY Vaccinium ovalifolium
Harvested in late summer, wild blueberries are delicious and prevent oxidative stress in the body that leads to chronic inflammation.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Consuming blueberries can enhance brain power. They can also prevent eye fatigue and slow down or even reverse eye disorders, such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Blueberries can also prevent the bacteria responsible for urinary-tract infections from attaching to the bladder wall.
Blueberry leaves (gathered before the plant goes into berry) can be used to treat gastrointestinal ailments, such as diarrhea and upset stomachs. All parts, including leaf and stem, may be useful for lowering blood sugar.
Topically, an infusion of blueberries can be used to prevent skin infections.
CLOUDBERRY Rubus chamaemorus
Cloudberries are high in water-soluble vitamin C and rich in antioxidants that prevent free-radical damage in the body and fight disease caused by oxidative stress. They can be eaten, used in tea or juice, or made into medicinal syrup.
The leaves are high in minerals and act as an astringent. They can be infused in boiling water as a tea for menstrual cramping and diarrhea. Topically, the leaves can be used as a compress or poultice for weeping wounds.
CRANBERRY Vaccinium macrocarpon
Highly antioxidant, wild cranberries contain high concentrations of flavonoids, such as quercitin, which can help lower blood-sugar levels and reduce symptoms of allergies, like hay fever. These chemicals are also found in grapes and red wine, both famous for being high in antioxidants.
Wild cranberry juice is touted for its ability to prevent bacteria such as E. coli from binding to the wall of the bladder and creating an inhospitable environment for bladder and urinarytract infections. The juice also helps prevent kidney stones from developing.
Eating cranberries can support heart and immune-system health. For heartburn or indigestion, try eating a handful of cranberries before your meal or include them as part of your meal.
Cranberries can be topically used in a poultice to soothe and heal cuts, scrapes, or abrasions. The berries are best gathered after the first frost. Use in moderation if you are prone to calcium-oxalate kidney stones.
HIGHBUSH CRANBERRY or CRAMPBARK Viburnum edule
As the name crampbark suggests, the inner bark can be decocted as a tea or tinctured to make an antispasmodic remedy, which can relieve cramping of the uterus, bladder, and stomach. It also helps heal spasmodic coughing and bronchial irritations, and can be used a gargle for sore throats and a rinse for gingivitis and loose teeth. When used in oil or topical preparations, such as salves and liniments, it aids sore-muscle pain, cramping, and spasms. Its mild diuretic properties help cleanse the kidneys, as well.
The aromatic and musty-smelling highbush cranberry is tasty and high in vitamin C, great for making juice, medicinal syrup, and jelly.
CURRANTS Ribes species
Eating currants or drinking the diluted juice helps treat yeast infections. Currants also have beneficial antioxidants that inhibit inflammation and help heal and keep the body healthy and free from rheumatic pain and gout.
Warm black-currant (Ribes hudsonianum) juice is beneficial at the beginning of a cold or flu and can be blended with yarrow to support the immune system.
Red-currant (Ribes triste) juice or tea can reduce fever and induce sweating. A tea infusion made from dried red-currant leaves is said to ease the symptoms of gout and rheumatism and can be used as a gargle for mouth infections.
JUNIPER Juniperus communis
The warm and aromatic qualities of juniper berries aid digestion, expel gas, ease stomach cramps and indigestion, and stimulate the appetite. When brewed as a tea, the berries’ antiseptic attributes can treat urinary-tract problems like cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis, and vaginitis. They are also diuretic in nature, which promotes increased urine flow to clear the bladder, prostate, gallbladder, and kidneys of excess wastes like uric acid, which causes gout.
Its anti-inflammatory properties can ease pain of rheumatic conditions, painful joints, arthritis, sore muscles, and gout, as well as nerve pain caused by sciatica. In the latter case, the berries can be used as a tea, but for prolonged use it’s best applied topically as a poultice in a cream, salve, or bath.
Juniper berry is strengthening to the immune system and good for preventing colds and flus. If you do get a cold, the berry tea can be healing for the lungs. Its expectorant properties help clear excess phlegm, aiding with conditions like bronchitis and sinusitis. It’s also a good sore-throat gargle.
CAUTIONS: Berries can be irritating to the kidneys and should be avoided by those who have kidney issues. Do not consume during pregnancy. Use in moderation.
MOSSBERRY Empetrum nigrum
A mossberry-bark infusion can be brewed for colds and flus, diarrhea, and stomach problems. Decoctions of he root and bark have also been used for treating sore eyes and cataracts.
The berry was traditionally used by First Nations people to combat tuberculosis. University of British Columbia researcher Dr. Allison McCutcheon and her colleagues studied the effect of the mossberry and found that when ingested it inhibits the growth of mycobacterium tuberculosis. They also found the branches exhibited strong anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.
Mossberries act as a powerful antihistamine and can relieve allergy symptoms, inflammation, aches and pains, and symptoms of arthritis. They can also combat fatigue and anxiety.
RASPBERRY Rubus idaeus
Raspberries are tasty, and the good news is ingesting the berries acts as a blood tonic. The berries are antioxidant, anti-mutagen, and anticarcinogenic, which actively helps treat cancers of the breast, esophagus, skin, colon, prostate, and pancreas.
The dried leaves are famous for use as a women’s tonic for all stages of reproduction, from the first menstrual cycle to the last and beyond. A tea of the leaves helps tone and strengthen the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus, and can also regulate the menstrual cycle (relieving cramps, excessive bleeding, and preparing the uterus for conception).
Raspberry leaf is known for its relaxant and pain-relief properties and ability to speed the recovery process after childbirth. Due to its high vitamin and mineral content, raspberry-leaf tea is a beneficial breastfeeding tonic that aids in production of nourishing milk.
A leaf infusion is an effective mouthwash for inflammations such as ulcers, cankers, and bleeding gums. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats or to treat diarrhea.
ROSEHIP Rosa acicularis
Rosehips are high in vitamin C and bioflavonoids, so the berries are an excellent heart tonic. It is believed that rosehips stimulate production of red blood cells and can help prevent anemia because the hips are mineral rich with trace amounts of iron and B vitamins. Rosehip tea or syrup is a good remedy for hemorrhoids and varicose veins and may help regulate blood circulation.
The berries are best harvested after the first frost.
SOAPBERRY Shepherdia canadensis
Soapberries are abundant in the Yukon. Modern herbalism provides few methods, but Aboriginal people in the North have used this plant extensively as both food and medicine.
The berries have a layered flavour that is at first sweet and then bitter. They appear to improve digestion and can be helpful with constipation or to stop diarrhea. Drinking a small amount of the juice can treat digestive disorders. The berries can be eaten to treat high blood pressure. The berries and juice can also be applied externally to treat acne and boils.
Soapberry roots are anti-hemorrhagic and cathartic. Reportedly an infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis. A decoction of the stems or inner bark can be used as a stomach tonic and also to treat constipation and high blood pressure.
A decoction of the berries, stems, and roots can be used externally as a wash and rub for sore, aching limbs, as well as arthritic joints and skin sores.
STRAWBERRY Fragaria virginiana
Wild strawberries are packed with phytonutrients that are beneficial to our overall heath and wellness. The berries also have antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Because they are high in vitamin C, strawberry leaves can keep colds at bay. In a tea infusion, the dried leaves help regulate menstruation, calm morning sickness, and promote abundant breast-milk production, as well as acting as a mild nerve tonic.
As a mouthwash, the leaves and berries can alleviate toothaches and heal ulcers of the gums. A poultice made from fresh leaves can be used on open wounds, eczema, and psoriasis to accelerate healing. Iron-rich leaves can be added to teas, tinctures, tonics, or elixirs to help prevent anemia.