Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary
Matthew Watson General Store, in Carcross, is a destination for tourists and locals alike. As one of the oldest stores in the territory, there are lots of curios. Stepping through the door and onto the old wooden floor is like going back in time.
I like to go not only for their yummy ice cream in their homemade waffle cones, but also to look at all the antique medicine bottles lining the shelves behind the wooden counter—bottles that would generally be found in an old-time apothecary. The collection is impressive—from Gin Pills for the Kidneys, Jayne’s Liquid Vermifuge to rid the body of worms, styptic powder to stop bleeding, and Dr. A.W. Chase’s Catarrh Powder to help with excess mucous in the respiratory system.
Each fading label, tin box, or coloured bottle is as interesting as the next. These elixirs, tinctures, and dusting powders are tangible reminders of when simple un-proprietary botanical ingredients were the norm, home remedies were the first line of action, and people frequented the local apothecary for simple remedies that could cure what ailed them.
One remedy that really intrigued me was the Gin Pills, manufactured in the early 1900s. These pills are made from ground up juniper berries, which is said to rid the kidneys of excess wastes, like uric acid, which causes gout.
JUNIPER (Juniperus communis)
Juniper is warming, spicy, and antiseptic. It’s also well known for helping heal urinary-tract problems such as cystitis, urethritis, and prostatitis. Juniper berry is a diuretic and promotes increased urine flow, which in turn helps clear the bladder, prostate, gallbladder, and kidneys of excess wastes. Its anti-inflammatory properties ease the pain of rheumatic conditions, painful joints, arthritis, sore muscles, and 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 berries aid digestion, expel gas, ease stomach cramps and indigestion, and stimulate appetite. In laboratory testing, juniper has been shown to lower blood-sugar levels. It also strengthens the immune system and is good for preventing colds and flus. If you have a cold, the berry tea can be a healing ally for the lungs. Its expectorant properties help clear excess phlegm, aiding with conditions like bronchitis and sinusitis. It is also a good sore-throat gargle.
Juniper berry is considered a purifier of the blood and an overall system cleanser. By removing acid and toxic wastes from the body, it helps reduce overall susceptibility to disease.
Northern First Nations have used juniper as a survival food and know it is “good medicine” with powerful healing properties for cleansing the body and the spirit. They use juniper to keep away infection, as well as to treat arthritis and stomach aches.
That said, juniper berries can also irritate the kidneys when used excessively and should be avoided by those with kidney disease or problems, and the berries shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.
YARROW (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow is a powerful topical wound healer that can stop bleeding immediately. Its analgesic properties help with pain relief, and its antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties keep wounds free of infection. It can also be used topically for eruptive conditions like measles, chickenpox, or insect bites.
Yarrow can be used fresh and dried. Powdered yarrow in your herbal firstaid kit or pantry is a good idea for accidental cuts.
Yarrow styptic powder helps stop bleeding from cuts and wounds, so it’s good to have in your herbal apothecary collection or first-aid kit. You can apply the powder directly on a wound, put it in a poultice or wash, or make it into an ointment.
o Yarrow Stop-the-Bleeding Styptic Powder
1) Powder dried yarrow in a blender.
2) Strain powder through a sieve to remove any lumps.
3) Pour into a dark glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label and store in a cool area.
Yarrow also makes a wonderful tincture. Tinctures are very concentrated and last a long time, so you won’t have to make them every year. Tinctures don’t take up much room, so they’re convenient to take travelling and good to include in an herbal first-aid kit.
Tinctures are different from teas in that water is not used to extract the properties of the plant. Alcohol—like vodka or apple-cider vinegar—is used as a solvent in tinctures to remove a plant’s medicinal properties. The process of extracting the constituents from the plant is called “maceration.” Tinctures are applied internally under the tonguefor quick absorption. However, some people find the taste too strong and prefer to add tinctures to juice, water, or tea. I also like adding tinctures to food preparations such as soups, sauces, dips, and to my morning smoothie. People who prefer not to ingest alcohol can add the tincture to a steaming hot cup of water or herbal tea—the hot liquid will cause most of the alcohol to evaporate.
Yarrow tincture or tea aids a fever. It also eliminates toxins and promotes perspiration, thereby helping break up a cold or flu. Yarrow is an immune stimulant and acts as a mild expectorant helping get rid of excess phlegm. Ingest yarrow tea or tincture the minute you feel a cold coming on—it may help to stop the cold from taking hold. If you have cold extremities, yarrow tea promotes warmth and circulation throughout the body and will warm up your hands and feet.
o Homemade Tincture-Make your own tincture from local botanicals.
1) Break up herbs into a jar.
2) Pour vodka or apple-cider vinegar over the herbs until they’re fully covered with liquid.
3) Cover the jar with a lid. When using vinegar, use a lid made of plastic, as metal will rust when it comes into contact with acid. If you don’t have a plastic lid, place a plastic or wax paper barrier between the lid and the jar.
4) Label your preparation.
5) Place out of direct sunlight and let steep for several weeks.
6) When your preparation is ready, strain through a piece of cheesecloth, wringing out the cloth to get every last precious drop. Compost the spent botanicals.
Making your own herbal remedies will bring you back in time to when life was simpler. Dedicate a shelf in your pantry to a selection of your favourite Yukon botanical preparations. These will help prevent and heal minor health ailments that you may face during the long, cold winter.