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Medicinal Plants of Central and South Texas
 
I am a firm believer in using the plants in my own back yard for my own medicine. By "my own back yard" I mean my local area, although my own personal back yard is filled with medicinal plants, as well. Said another way, "The plants that effect you most profoundly are the ones growing in your local ecosystem." And how could it be otherwise? As students often hear me say, "We are literally exchanging mutual mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with the plant world, every time we inhale and every time we exhale." The carbon cycle is the cycle of life that balances between animal and plant life. If the earth is a living creature, with a need for homeostasis (the same as a cell, or an organ system, or a body), then our own personal interaction with our local ecosystem is an integral part of that same balance. As a part of that balance, I maintain that our bodies and minds adjust and interact with those local plants better than with plants from halfway around the world. Whether you agree or disagree with my opinion, the fact remains that there is a huge herbal pharmacy growing in the San Antonio region. Since I live along the edge of the Edwards Plateau, I'd like to go through a couple of the plants commonly found right outside my door, and where better to start than my own back yard?

Back yard plant # 1: Agarita or Agarito... latin: Berberis trifoliata

Central Texas Medicinal Plants
Whether you call it agarita or agarito, this is an amazing medicinal plant of the hill country and south TX region. It is sometimes called "goldenseal of the hill country."
 
Break off a small stem and look at the inner part of the twig. See the yellow color inside the stem?

South Texas Medicinal Plants
 
This yellow color is caused by the alkaloid, "berberine." Anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-protozoal, berberine is one of the active constituents of this plant (but not the only one) that is part of the reason for its medicinal qualities. This same alkaloid is what made goldenseal famous for its highly effective use during the massive cholera epidemic in the mid 60's in Calcutta, India. Goldenseal was much more effective than any of the antibiotics being used. Agorita root is not nearly as well-known as goldenseal, but can be used in any situation that goldenseal would be used for, and probably just as effectively. In addition, the berries are edible and make a delicious jelly.
 
Back yard plant # 2: Ashe Juniper or Mountain Cedar... latin: Juniperus ashei

Austin Medicinal Plants
 
Not a cedar, although it is called "mountain cedar," this is the tree that has received a lot of undeserved bad press for decades. It is commonly called "invasive" because it was a hardy plant that was able to grow back after all the overgrazing damage and erosion caused to the area around the turn of the 19th-20th century by poor land management and severe drought. The juniper is a native to this area, with its wood being used in Spanish missions dating back before the 16th century. This tree has been recently vilified by city councils who are often egged-on by profit-hungry developers. Developers who love to clear-cut the juniper and mar the pristine landscape with cookie-cutter mcmansions while making their millions and leaving an infrastructure mess for everyone else to clean up in their wake. So... "cedar fever" (allergy to the male pollen), urban myth about this being a non-native, invasive, water-hogging tree, and the ubiquity of the tree in the hill country, make it a plant that is completely under valued as a valuable habitat for wildlife, a superb wood for outdoor construction and a medicinal plant.
 
The parts of the juniper that can be used are the berries from the female plant, and the needles from either female or male trees.

San Antonio Medicinal Plants
 
The berries are a diuretic, and useful in treatment of urinary tract infections as a urinary antiseptic. They must be taken in small doses, and caution must be used, as they are very potent and can become toxic over time. Juniper berries are also used as a flavoring for meat marinade in some recipes, and contain vitamin C. The needles can be used in steam-inhalation therapy as part of an herbal formula that helps open upper respiratory tract and clear mucous during a chest or head cold, or flu. For chest congestion, I often use a formula of wild rosemary, lantana leaves and juniper needles, all from the back yard, simmered for about 15 minutes in a big pan with the lid on. Take off the lid, place a towel over your head as a "tent," and hold your head over the steam to inhale the herbal effect.