VIII: More than Weeds

Like dandelions in North America, some medicinal herbs found in Costa Rica are considered noxious weeds that need to be controlled.  Unfortunately, most people are just not aware of the medicinal wealth living just under their noses. Pay attention next time to what you pull up, it might just be what you need to heal your wounds or cure your insomnia.


Mugwort, Asteraceae: Artemisia vulgaris

Pharmacology: antiparasitic, febrifuge, emmenagogue, antiseptic, antimalarial, digestive tonic, uterine stimulant, nervine, menstrual regulator, and anti-rheumatic

Mugwort, a common sight in the English countryside, is most famous for its use as a “Dream” herb.  It is known to enhance dreaming, both in sleep and in Shamanic journeying and other trance work.  It is said to enhance whatever level of dreaming one is developed in. For example, if one can not remember one’s dreams, Mugwort will enhance and help the individual to develop this.  If one is at the next level of dreaming, cognitive dreaming: (being aware one is dreaming and being able to “manipulate” the dream at will) Mugwort will enhance this.  One common method of ingestion is to smoke the plant.  When added to foods, mugwort provides a somewhat bitter flavor to the item being seasoned, such as meat stuffings, dumplings and similar foods. Common in Asian food dishes, mugwort is blanched or stir-fried to be added to soups, salads, and a variety of rice dishes.  Known as ai ye in traditional Chinese medicine, it is commonly used to warm the uterus, stop uterine bleeding, pacify a restless fetus in cases of threatened abortion, and to stop itching in cases of tinea or eczema.

Anxiety and Depression: A weak infusion of mugwort has sedative properties that may quiet restlessness and anxiety, poor sleep.  Additionally, mugwort aids in treaging irregular menstruation, digestive discomfort, depression, muscle aches, and warts. 

Menses: Mugwort increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation for painful and irregular menstruation. A compress of the shrub has been used to help promote labor and assist with expulsion of the afterbirth.

Digestive disorders: A mild infusion of mugwort is useful as a digestive stimulant. Its antispasmodic action may relieve persistent vomiting, and has been used in the treatment of epilepsy. Taken as an infusion, mugwort is helpful in ridding the system of pinworm infestation.

External: Mugwort added to bath water is an aromatic and soothing treatment for relief of aches in the muscles and joints. The fresh mugwort leaf was rubbed over areas of exposed skin before walking into poison oak habitat. In a clinical trial, crushed fresh mugwort leaves applied to the skin were shown to be effective in eradicating warts.  Dried mugwort leaf also acts as a natural tinder, useful in holding a smoldering fire.


Peruvian Ragweed, Asteraceae: Ambrosia peruviana

Pharmacology: emmenagogue, depurative, disinfectant, emollient, stimulant, tonic, astringent

This common ragweed can often be found along riversides in Costa Rica growing wild.  The infusion of aerial parts of the plant has been used for stomach pain, intestinal parasites, spasms, gastritis, headache, heart pain, nervous breakdowns, fainting, high blood pressure and to induce sleep.  The dried root decoction has been used against epilepsy, intestinal worms, yellow fever, constipation, bleeding, to promote menstruation and clean toxins from the blood though pregnant women should not use the herb internally.  Additionally, a leaf infusion treats leucorrhoea. 

External: When prepared with sour orange and lemon, it can be used against fever by bathing with a decoction of the plant. The leaves cooked with salt treat back pain, and a decoction of the leaves in a bath has been used against allergies. For muscle aches, rheumatism and swellings, the whole plant is roasted in the pan or fried in oil and applied on the affected area.  The crushed leaves applied externally or sautéed is used to treat earache.  The plant macerated in brandy is used in poultice against rheumatism.

Leaf Infusion: for colic and gastralgia, to shed worms and insecticide, combats yellow fever, constipation, and menorrhagia.

Root infusion: relieves colds, flu and fever

Decoction of leaves and stems: are used as a disinfectant and emollient, it is also used for liver and gallbladder disorders as an emmenagogue; a decoction of the whole plant is

Árnica Falsa

Arnica, Asteraceae: Chaptalia nutans

Pharmacology: anesthetic, anodyne, anti-inflammatory

Much like the arnica (Arnica montana) we are familiar with in Western herbal medicine, this native herb is also excellent for reducing inflammation and pain after an injury.  The flower of the plant is purple and when mature produces a seed puff ball that resembles the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).   It is distinguished best by its leaves which are light green above, white below and slightly dentate.

External use only: The roots and leaves are good to wash ulcers, bruises, sore muscles, strains and sprains.  In the past, a root decoction was used as a vermifuge while a root and leaf decoction functions against ulcers.   This plant is poisonous so it is not recommended for internal use.

Tincture: soak handful of chopped leaves and flowers in 250mL of vodka, store in glass jar for 1 week before using.

used to wash the udder of cows when they are infected.

Fresh Juice from stems and leaves: is used against pleurisy and are used in washing hemorrhoids.


Sensitive Plant, Fabaceae: Mimosa pudica

Pharmacology:  sedative, anodyne, antibiotic, antimicrobial, anti-neurasthenic, antispasmodic, diuretic, nervine,

This low spreading herb is native to the neotropics but is now naturalized to many other parts of the world.  Its name in Spanish translates to sleepy head in reference to its habit of folding its leaves at night or when touched.  Various preparations of the leaves and roots promote urination, relieve pain, and have relaxing qualities to promote restful sleep in cases of insomnia for children and adults. Extracts of the plant have been shown in scientific trials to be a moderate diuretic, depress duodenal contractions similar to atropine sulphone, promote regeneration of nerves, and reduce menorrhagia.  Root extracts are reported to be a strong emetic to induce vomiting but also is used to treat asthma. Leaves crushed and applied locally relieves toothache.

Ayurveda medicine: the root is bitter, acrid, cooling, aids in wound healing, and used in treatment of biliousness, leprosy, dysentery, vaginal and uterine complaints, inflammations, burning sensation, fatigue, asthma, leucoderma, blood diseases etc.

Tea: boil handful of leaves in 1L of water and sip 3-6 cups throughout day.

Poultice: boil root to produce a concentrate to make a poultice for toothaches.

Powder: Dry leaves in oven, grind in mortar. Sprinkle on food for nervous problems and insomnia.

Gotu Kola

Indian Pennywort, Apiaceae: Centella asiatica

Pharmacology: Tonic, antirheumatic, mild diuretic, sedative, peripheral dilator

Gotu Kola is a short annual herb that is used medicinally in India and Asia. It contains components called triterpenoids, which have been shown to aid in wound healing, strengthen the skin, boost antioxidants in wounds, and increase blood supply to the area.

Skins conditions: Based on these findings, gotu kola has been used topically for minor burns, psoriasis, prevention of scar formation following surgery, and prevention or reduction of stretch marks.

Stress and Insomnia: The plant is excellent in the treatment of insomnia, stress, mental fatigue, stomach ulcers, diarrhea, fever, syphilis, asthma, swelling in connective tissue, venous insufficiency or varicose veins.  It contains narcotic elements, agents that depress the function of the central nervous system, inducing sleep and lessening pain.  Beta-sitosterol, another active compound, provides strong blood purifying action, and can help to lower serum cholesterol levels.  It increases the volume of urine produced by the kidneys and thus being benefit for chronic and degenerative diseases.

Venous insufficiency: It treats venous insufficiency and swelling of the connective tissue, such as scleroderma, anklylosing spondylitis psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Precautions: It’s best not to use gotu kola for more than 6 weeks without talking to your doctor. You may need to take a 2-week break before taking the plant again. People with liver disease or history of precancerous or cancerous skin lesions should not used gotu kola.

How to use Gotu Kola

  • It can be taken as a fresh or dried herb infusion, as a powder, in capsules, or in a tincture (1:2 w/v in 30% alcohol).  In Ayurveda, it is boiled with a lump of butter to aid extraction of its lipid compounds.
  • As a general tonic, take 1-2g of powder a day.
  • For eczema, make a topical paste from 2 tsp of powder and 25mL of water.
  • For rheumatism, take 35mL infusion twice a day.
  • For poor memory, take 30 drops of tincture three times a day.

Interesting links:


Greater Plantain, Plantaginaceae: Plantago major

Pharmaology: astringent, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, hepatic

Greater plantain historically was used as a wound healer and snakebite remedy. Also known by the name Soldier’s Plant, it is a potent coagulant and was used as a wound dressing on the battlefield.  Due to these properties, people who take blood thinners or those prone to blood clots should never use plantain internally.  Greater plantain contains the cell proliferant allantoin, and is used as a replacement for hepatotoxic comfrey in herbal preparations (commercial product Solaray Comfree).  Traditionally it was also used to prevent uterine bleeding after childbirth and is reputed to have a calming effect on insect bites (flea, mosquito, horsefly, wasp).  Use fresh leaves to make a maceration for skin problems and fresh or dried leaves to treat colds, flu, sore throat, liver problems, and cough.

Infusion: steep several fresh leaves or 1-2g dried in cup of hot water. Drink 3-6 cups a day.  Use 15g of fresh herb to 2 cups water twice a day to treat diarrhea.


Green Shrimp Plant, Acanthaceae: Blechum pyramidatum

Pharmacology: stomach tonic, antiparasitic, febrifuge, antidiarrheal

This native to Central America is found along roads, open fields, and forested areas with partial shade.  It has flowers that form spikes with leaflets that resemble a French braid, hence its other name trencilla or braid.  Traditionally, it is used to relieve stomachaches, combat amoebas and other micro parasites that produce diarrhea and fever.   The herb is usually administered as a concentration.

Preparation: To prepare, boil a handful of leaves, stems, and flowers in 1L of water until reduced to 500 mL.  Drink small cups during day.

Dysentery: For acute dysentery, combine with 3 pieces of Simarouba glauca bark. For mild diarrhea, steep a handful of fresh leaves in 1L o f water for 20 minutes for minty tea.


2 Responses to VIII: More than Weeds

  1. CARLOS says:

    I have a plant which closely resembles the Gotu Kola plant ,but not sure ,since some pictures show different types of leaves,would like to get the true pic of plant >GOTU KOLA

  2. Felix Thalheim says:

    Your website: a beautiful exception on the internet – neat, simple, clear, motivating; thanks a lot.
    Now, allow me to let you know about two important herbal problem solvers, information you might like to include here on your site:
    1. Kerala farmers medicine for rhinitis/sinusitis, extraordinarily effective: carefully heat Mimosa pudica leaves in a light vegetable oil for 5 to 10 minutes, cool down, rinse. Apply directly into nose once daily, later once weekly, later once monthly. Cures rapidly acute and even persistent chronicle infections – a wonder in herbal medicine.
    2. Venezuela farmers medicine for pile: slice or crush portion of rhizome of common Heliconia spp. (e.g. Heliconia rodriguensis) and heat/fry in light vegetable oil. Apply oil to pile. I tell you: just another wonder in herbal medicine.

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