Many beautiful species that are native to the Northwest will add color to your yard, attract wildlife, and double as natural remedies.

COURTESY CYNTHIA ORLANDO  - Nootka rose produces rose 'hips" that are a great source of vitamin C and provide times times that of oranges. Native Americans used a poultice of chewed leaves to relieve bee stings.
Looking to get out and do some digging and planting around your yard?

Some plants — often Oregon natives - provide not only beauty and ecosystem services like habitat, but health benefits as well. Here are a few good choices to help inspire this year's garden, and give you some new tools to improve your own health:

Wild rose (nootka rose)

This hardy shrub makes an easy addition to the landscape. It's not only fragrant and lovely, it's also a magnet for pollinators.

The reliable Nootka rose blooms from spring to mid-summer. It grows in part-shade to full-sun and can be pruned to stay within three to four feet in height.

When dried to make tea, the fruits ("hips") are a great source of vitamin C and provide 8 times that of oranges. Native Americans used a poultice of chewed leaves to relieve bee stings.

Oregon grape (berberis aquifolium)

Oregon's state flower, the Oregon grape, has berries that are thought to boost the immune system. These tart berries are best eaten when mixed with other fruit or made into jelly. An infusion made with the roots may be taken to treat a variety of stomach ailments.

{img:190692}Red flowering currant (ribes sanguineum)

This popular, dependable Northwest native is well-loved for its showy magenta flower clusters in early spring. It's an important plant for many of our pollinators, including Rufous hummingbirds that arrive from their winter grounds in Oregon about the time it starts to bloom.

Red-flowering currant prefers well-drained soil in a sunny location. It's berries are known to contain anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties; Native Americans ate them fresh or dried.

This plant may reach eight to 10 feet in height, so allow it plenty of room to grow.

Manzanita (arctostaphylos or kinnikinnik)

Manzanita, also called kinnikinnick, has charming evergreen foliage and small, white or pink springtime flowers. It features smooth, reddish-brown bark, soft hairy leaves and tiny berries that appear in late June.

A cider-like beverage can be made from the berries, and Native Americans used a poultice from the leaves to treat poison oak rash. Tea made from the leaves is used to treat urinary tract infections.

Highly drought-tolerant, manzanita prefers acidic, well-drained soil and full sun.

Mullein (verbascum thapsus)

These seemingly ordinary plants first form a dense rosette of leaves at ground level, then send up a tall, flowering stem. They're frequently found along roadsides and display cheerful yellow flowers for long periods of time.

Mullein has both anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. In its first year, the leaves can be harvested and dried to brew tea that's effective against colds and flu.

During its second year, its flowers are added to garlic-infused olive oil for drops that ease earache. Its dried leaves were smoked by Native Americans to ease respiratory conditions, including bronchitis.

Dandelion (taraxacum officinale)

Every part of the common weed we call dandelion is edible, including flowers, roots and young leaves. It's believed to support both liver and kidneys. Dandelion also lowers blood sugar levels, fights water retention and helps eliminate toxins.

Native Americans and modern-day herbalists drink tea made from the leaves to support healthy digestion. To make the tea, use 1/2 teaspoon dried dandelion leaves in one cup hot water; add honey, if desired.

Columbine (aquilegia)

A colorful, perennial plant and spring bloomer, columbine boasts striking spurred 5-petal flowers. Its bell-like flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These plants occur naturally alongside roads and in meadows, and can be found at many nurseries.

Tiny amounts of crushed seed mixed with water can reduce fever and relieve headaches; use only very small quantities of seed. Columbine seeds can also be crushed and mixed with water to create a salve for rashes, skin irritation and acne. Working with a trained herbalist is recommended.

California everlasting (pseudognaphalium californicum)

This modest, lovely plant is native to the West Coast from Washington to Baja, California. It features clusters of papery white flowers and leaves that smell like maple syrup.

Dried flowers of everlasting are used by Chumash Indians to make tea for treating cold symptoms: try 1 teaspoon dried flowers in 1 cup water until just boiling. At first sign of cold, drink plain tea without sugar at night.

Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)

Mugwort is a popular sacred plant used by Native Americans. It's placed at entryways and bedrooms to dispel bad spirits and promote peaceful sleep. It also treats hyperactivity. The dried herb is stitched into a small, star-shaped toy the child plays with. Mugwort can also be used to treat rash caused by poison oak.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium)

This native, hardy perennial has tightly-packed yellow, red or pink flowers that rise above clusters of ferny foliage. It grows in well-drained average-to-poor soil and will bring butterflies to your garden. Yarrow has been used by Native Americans as a poultice for wounds, and treatment for headache, toothache and stomach troubles.

Mulch after planting and water during dry spells of summer.


PHOTO BY KARAN RAWLINS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA - Northwest Indians used western redcedar's inner bark to make mats and baskets, and its wood to make bowls and spoons. The power of the red cedar was said to be so strong, a person could receive strength by standing with his/her back to the tree.Western redcedar (thuja plicata)

This large native conifer has attractive, aromatic foliage and fibrous red bark. It's an important wildlife tree in Oregon, providing habitat for chestnut-backed chickadees, towhees, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, squirrels, tree swallows and hummingbirds.

To grow, select a very large site with plenty of area and overhead room. Plant in full sun to light shade, and mulch after planting. While this tree is fairly low-maintenance, during its first growing season it needs water at least weekly.

Northwest Indians used western redcedar's inner bark to make mats and baskets, and its wood to make bowls and spoons. The power of the red cedar was said to be so strong, a person could receive strength by standing with his/her back to the tree.

Black cottonwood (populus trichocarpa)

These straight, tall, fast-growing deciduous trees are commonly found throughout the Willamette Valley. Their dark green leaves are ovate with finely-toothed margins, and mature bark is gray and fissured. They grow in several soil types including moist silts, gravels, sands, humus and loams.

They're often disliked for their tendency to blow down, the large debris they sometimes drop, and balls of fluff that descend every spring. However, they provide many important benefits, including vital habitat for deer, beaver, and birds like great blue heron. Black cottonwood is also a good windbreak and can be used for reclamation of urban wastelands. Plant in full sunlight.

Using the buds, a salve can be made to treat pain, wounds and skin trouble; also, a tea can be made from the bark to relieve menstrual cramps. However, only bark from a dead or fallen tree should be used.

Make sure to plant cottonwood well-away from structures and irrigation.

Pacific dogwood (cornus nuttallii)

This Oregon native is popular for its deep green oval leaves and large white "bracts" — often mistaken for petals — that are lovely and eye-catching. It prefers well-drained acidic soils; also, plant where trunk will be shaded from sun and regularly rake leaves and remove from site to help prevent anthracnose.

It is used by sapsuckers, woodpeckers, white-crowned sparrows and many other birds for food and habitat. Pacific dogwood also provides great fall color.

Douglas-fir (pseudotsuga)

The state tree of Oregon, Douglas fir is a fast-growing evergreen conifer with flat, soft linear leaves and pendulous cones. It's seed provides important food for chickadees, finches, squirrels, chipmunk and many other birds and mammals.

Plant in well-drained soil in full sun. Douglas fir can reach 40 feet to 300 feet in height, so choose a location with plenty of room, both all-around and overhead.

A tea high in vitamin C can be made from the new needles; steep needles in hot water, then add honey and cinnamon.

Plant availability

Most of the plants listed here can be found at nurseries, including native plant nurseries, in Oregon. You can also organize a plant exchange with other avid gardeners and nature lovers.

Many nonprofit groups offer plant sales to raise money during spring months, so watch for those.

Cynthia Orlando, recently retired from the Oregon Department of Forestry, is an arborist of Native American ancestry.