You could say that Jodi McKee’s love for plants and herbal medicine is a family matter. While her parents were avid gardeners throughout her childhood, McKee didn’t begin to truly explore the potential of plants until her own son began experiencing health problems.
McKee’s oldest son Alec, now 20, suffered from bad asthma starting at birth; as he reached age 5, his symptoms were getting worse and worse. After countless doctor visits and hospital stays, McKee decided to research other strategies. Eventually, she took an herbalism class in Minneapolis, and brought her son to visit the instructor. Those treatments did the trick. “He never had an asthma attack again,” says McKee. “After five years of asthma attacks, it was such a dramatic change in our lifestyle.”
The rest, as they say, is history. McKee dove into the world of herbal remedies, taking classes and reading up on the topic. She raised all three of her boys, now 20, 16 and 10, according to this natural, holistic philosophy, and last year sold her interior design business to pursue her passion full time.
Her own garden in Deephaven features a wide variety of plants, both native and transplanted, including quite a few that traditional gardeners might consider weeds. “When you don’t spray [herbicides] and leave some wild areas in your yard, you can use these weeds medicinally,” McKee says. “They’re usually really common weeds that a lot of people have,” like plantain, dandelion and creeping Charlie. “I like to grow remedies that are local to where we live; I think that makes sense for our bodies. I don’t have fussy plants; I don’t cover anything in the winter or prune anything.”
Some of McKee’s favorite native remedies include boneset, a wildflower that grows in Minnesota in wet, swampy areas that she uses for flu remedies, and plantain, a weed that can be found in almost any yard that functions as an herbal bandage. “Plantain is one of the first herbal remedies I introduce to people, especially to kids,” says McKee. “You can use it for bee stings, spider bites, slivers and more.” She mashes up the plant, applies it on the wound, tapes it down with medical tape, and lets the poultice sit for 10 minutes.
As she has explored the world of natural remedies, McKee has mastered using local plants to make salves, tinctures, teas and more. “My vision was to grow a whole apothecary in my backyard, and treat kids with what I have,” she says. “My kids hardly ever go to the doctor; when they get sick, I know how to treat them. I’m not a clinical herbalist—just a mom who does this in my free time.”
She doesn’t consider herself a professional, but McKee’s expertise in herbal remedies has garnered attention from her community. Her business, Inspired Living: Home, Body, Spirit, aims to help people incorporate the healing elements of the natural world into their lives. She sells her own remedies and holds workshops to pass on her knowledge to others. She started teaching classes last January, and has drawn large groups who are eager to learn about natural ways to care for their bodies.
Her first classes, held in her home, covered anything from herbs for winter ailments to healing teas. Many of her students are former interior design clients, friends and neighbors, whom she reaches through the grapevine of email and word of mouth. The classes are generally an hour or two in length and all participants leave the workshop with an herbal remedy to try at home.
The class structure varies, but McKee often starts with some background about the herbs they will be dealing with that day, and then will go around the room and check in with attendees as they test the remedies. McKee prefers to find remedies that suit each individual person. “My idea is to give people solutions that they can work into their lives—so I meet people where they are, and give them a few ideas about how to start using herbs,” she says.
McKee emphasizes the importance of paying attention to one’s own body. She knows from experience that, once she takes the time to notice how she feels before, during, and after applying a remedy, she can find solutions that truly make a difference for her own needs. “There’s not just one thing that gets it working; it’s a whole combination of herbal, diet and lifestyle,” she says. “Herbal remedies can support you in what you need, but if you’re abusing your body, they can’t help.”
She clearly has a knack for finding unique solutions for her pupils, and many of her students reach out to her after her class, seeking advice on what to buy when they’re at the grocery store.
Sharing these skills and information truly inspires McKee. As she delved into researching the history of herbal remedies, she found countless stories of women throughout history who passed along instructions for herbal healing, much like people do with family recipes. “These women were so smart, and knew how to use plants to take care of themselves and their families,” says McKee. “It feels really empowering to me to be able to treat yourself and use plants in a safe, effective way. I feel like we’ve lost this practice, and I want to bring it back and teach people how to use these materials that are so accessible.
“People think herbal remedies are too hard, too confusing, too expensive, or that they don’t work,” she says. “I think starting with one plant and seeing what it can do is an easy way to combat this perception. That’s what I’ve seen with people. Their first exposure to these treatments will crack open the door.”
Jodi McKee makes a chamomile tincture: After submerging the plant material in alcohol for six weeks to extract its medicinal properties, she strains the mixture through cheesecloth into a bottle.
Treating the Winter Blues
When the frigid temperatures and short days get the best of your health, McKee recommends turning to these herbal remedies. (Remember that even natural, herbal remedies can sometimes interfere with medications and existing conditions, so check with your healthcare provider before trying these at home.)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). A wildflower native to Minnesota. McKee uses a tincture made from the root to fight off influenza or similar viruses and symptoms like chills or deep aches. McKee recommends using a low dose (one to two drops of the tincture) when you begin to feel sick. “It works like a charm,” she says.
Calendula (Calendula officials). This is an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory herb. McKee purchases calendula at Shady Acres Herb Farm in Chaska each spring. “I make both a tincture and a salve from the flowers, and use leftovers in my winter cooking,” she says. She uses the tincture for lymph congestions like ear infections and chronic swollen glands. The salve is helpful as a wound, bruise or burn remedy.
Elecampane (Inula helenium). This perennial plant root’s expectorant, antiseptic and astringent properties can be used to create a tincture to make an effective cough syrup and to treat deep rattling chest colds. “This plant tastes like none other,” says McKee. “One of the active ingredients is inulin, an oil that is responsible for many of the healing properties, and has an unforgettable taste.”
Ginger. McKee prefers to buy ginger, which can be found in its younger form at the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis, or year-round in grocery stores. Ginger’s properties are antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and it can be used to complement any of the plant remedies listed above to treat cold and flu symptoms. “Ginger is a warming remedy and one of my favorites on those cold Minnesota days when you can’t seem to warm up,” says McKee. “It works by improving circulation.” To make tea with fresh ginger, peel a half-inch-long root, slice lengthwise and add hot water. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes, and add lemon and honey. “Ginger tea also works for nausea (including motion sickness or morning sickness),” says McKee. “It’s a great winter tonic to nourish and fortify the system.”
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). A native Minnesota shrub that grows in the wild. Elderberry’s properties are antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant. “This is my favorite herb for general cold and flu symptoms, and as a winter tonic,” says McKee. “It’s safe and effective and works great for kids.” McKee makes an elderberry syrup, tinctures and infused elderberry honey, and uses the dried berries in tea. She recommends buying elderberry syrup or concentrated elderberry juice locally at Lakewinds Food Co-op. Elderberry should be used at the first sign of a cold.
Learn the Lingo
Tonic: An herb that is generally safe to take on a regular basis (like elderberry, calendula and ginger).
Tincture: Liquid extract of herbs usually combined with an alcohol base (McKee uses organic vodka). Tinctures have a shelf life of 10+ years.
Tea: Infusion of plant material in hot water.
Salve: Infused herbal oil combined with beeswax to make a thick paste (McKee typically uses organic olive oil, since it is relatively inexpensive and easily available).