Harvesting sticky cup gumweed to banish coughs

Last year while hiking on the prairie with a friend, she pointed out a sticky, yellow plant that her grandmother gathered because it was a valuable medicinal remedy. After a bit of research, I learned it was sticky cup gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa, and has long been used to resolve those dry, annoying coughs that linger. Of course, I needed to add this to my herbal arsenal. 

Learning from the Native People

Grindelia is another example of how the Native People knew what plants to use, and when to harvest them, for specific ailments long before any of the European settlers. According to Montana Native Plants & Early Peoples by Jeff Hart, in 1863 a Dr. C.A. Canfield recorded its use as a way to treat a poison ivy rash, and by 1882 it was part of the United States Pharmacopoeia. Decoctions and infusions made with the flowers were used to treat poison ivy, as well as lung conditions, bladder and kidney infections, fevers, burns, and it was reportedly a mild sedative.

Grindelia has yellow flowers and sticky bracts
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Identifying gumweed

Grindelia is an attractive, multi-branched perennial standing roughly 2 ft tall. When it’s in full bloom, it is covered with brightly colored 1.5 inch wide daisy-like yellow flowers creating a vision you really can’t miss. The base of the flowers are the rough and sticky bracts that have a distinct medicinal odor from the amorphous resins. Even those without a tremendous amount of medicinal plant knowledge, they can tell there’s something good about this plant.

How to harvest and create a tincture

I didn’t harvest any of the flowers last year, but made a point to collect enough to fill a pint jar this season. As soon as I saw it blooming, I took advantage of a post-rain evening to snip off the flowers at the base of the bracts, paying particular attention to those not fully opened as the buds reportedly contain more of the resins. 

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To make the tincture, all it required was a rough chop of the buds and flowers before packing them in the jar and covering the whole amount with brandy. Some people prefer Everclear or vodka, but my friend, Jennephyr, always told me to use what I like. Brandy should be the ticket.  This will sit in a cool, dark area for at least a month, and hopefully I’ll remember to shake it occasionally to expedite the process. After the allotted time, it’s just a matter of straining out the flowers and administering it by the dropper full. 

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Keeping it on hand for other applications

I still might harvest more to keep on hand in order to make decoctions for the boys, although the fresh buds and flowers supposedly are more potent. But when dealing with these terrible coughs, it’s worth a try to see if anything helps. When I harvest the flowers, I’ll place them on the drying rack until throughly dry before packing them in jars. 

Grindelia is an example of a powerful medicine we have practically outside our door. Sometimes it’s difficult to take the time to harvest during the busy end-of-summer season when many projects are wrapping up, but it’s equally important to prepare the for winter season by ramping the herbal remedies in preparation for the cooty season ahead. 

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