OUR HOME & NATIVE PLANTS : PRARIES
FIELD GUIDE: THE PRAIRIES
Matter is celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday with a virtual trans-Canada road trip to explore our country’s botanical offerings! Part three in our ongoing series brings us inland:
PROVINCES: ALBERTA, MANITOBA, SASKATCHEWAN
Big sky and sloping plains define the landscape of the Prairies, punctuated by beautiful escarpments and valleys. While grasses primarily make up most of the original native vegetation, prairie flowers such as violets, daisies, bergamot, sunflower, Echinacea and crocus bring colour to the otherwise wheat-filled, golden fields of this undulating expanse, nicknamed “The Breadbasket of Canada”.
High winds combined with moisture-blocking Rocky Mountains to the west make the prairies generally an arid/semi-arid region. Without the mediating effect of the ocean, temperatures swing from -10 °C in the winter to 19 °C in the summer.
When walking a field, you’ll find…
Purple coneflower (indigenous):
Where found: open woods, fields, meadows, thickets, or cultivated in garden beds.
Uses: Native to North America, purple coneflower (Echinacea) has been used by indigenous peoples for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes, and has regained its importance because of extracts from its roots. The most important immune system booster of our times, Echinacea works by increasing our T-cell activity, thereby strengthening the body’s first line of defense against colds, flus, and many other illnesses. It is key in helping rid the body of both bacterial and viral infections, including boils and cold sores. Although potent and strong, it is safe to use on children.
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Where found: roadsides, meadows, and cultivated in garden beds and farmer’s fields.
Uses: This familiar, well-known annual is the only native plant to become a major agro-economic crop throughout the world. Traditionally, indigenous peoples used the flower as a tea for lung ailments and high fevers. Most well-known, however, is the extracted oil from the seeds. Emollient and nutritive, sunflower seed oil is rich in vitamin E and other essential and healthy fats. It helps protect the skin against sun damage, regenerates cells, and improves overall health of the skin.
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Where found: thickets, fields, meadows, edges of forests.
Uses: The infused leaves of bergamot have been used traditionally by indigenous peoples to relieve colds, headaches, stomach problems, and to encourage restful sleep. Its scented leaves were prized as perfume due to the plant’s subtle citrus overtones. In aromatherapy, bergamot is known to help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. It balances emotions, and stills compulsive behaviours.
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