Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Iowa boasts not only picturesque landscapes and welcoming communities but also a rich natural heritage. Among its hidden treasures are a variety of native plants and herbs, many of which have been used for generations by indigenous peoples and later by settlers for their remarkable healing properties. In this blog post, we’ll take a journey through the lush fields, forests, and gardens of Iowa to discover the therapeutic potential of its native flora. Of course there are more native medicinal plants in Iowa, but we’ll share about 4 varieties commonly-found around the state.

Embracing the Wisdom of Indigenous Healing

For thousands of years, Native American communities in Iowa relied on the region’s native plants and herbs for their medicinal benefits. These traditional healers possessed a profound understanding of the land and its gifts. Today, modern herbalists and holistic practitioners continue to draw upon this wisdom, integrating indigenous knowledge with contemporary practices.

Native plants hold deep cultural and spiritual significance to Iowa’s indigenous communities. They were used for food, medicine, and ceremonies for generations. To gain a deeper understanding, consider reaching out to local tribal organizations or attending cultural events where you can learn from indigenous elders and community members. Respect cultural sensitivities and ask for permission before engaging in any practices related to indigenous traditions.

Aloe Vera of the Prairie: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow, also known as Achillea millefolium, is a common native plant in Iowa’s prairies and meadows. Its feathery leaves and delicate white or pink flowers belie its potent healing properties. Yarrow is traditionally used for:

  • Wound Healing: Yarrow’s astringent and anti-inflammatory properties make it an effective natural remedy for minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
  • Fever Reduction: It’s known to induce sweating, helping to lower fevers during illnesses.
  • Digestive Aid: Yarrow can ease digestive discomfort and stimulate appetite.
Yarrow, with green leaves and white flowers is a native plant in Iowa.

The Versatile Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Jewelweed, or Impatiens capensis, is an often-overlooked native herb found in Iowa’s woodlands and along stream banks. Its nickname, “touch-me-not,” refers to the plant’s tendency to burst open when touched. Jewelweed is valued for:

  • Poison Ivy and Insect Bite Relief: Jewelweed’s soothing gel can alleviate the itching and discomfort associated with poison ivy, oak, and insect bites.
  • Skin Healing: It promotes the healing of minor burns, rashes, and skin irritations.
  • Oral Health: A tea made from the leaves can be used as a mouthwash to soothe sore gums.
Jewelweed with uniquely shaped orange red flowers and green leaves is a native plant in Iowa.

Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

Prairie's Golden Treasure: Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

Echinacea purpurea, commonly known as purple coneflower, thrives in Iowa’s prairies and open fields. This vibrant wildflower is celebrated for its immune-boosting and healing properties, including:

  • Immune Support: Echinacea is often used to reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu.
  • Wound Healing: It can be applied topically to help wounds heal faster and prevent infection.
  • Anti-Inflammatory: Echinacea may alleviate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Echinacea purpurea with pink-purple petals, a brown-red center, and green leaves is a native medicinal in Iowa

Medicinal Marvel: Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

Monarda, commonly known as bee balm, possesses a rich history of medicinal use. The plant’s aromatic leaves and vibrant flowers are a treasure trove of wellness benefits including:

  • Skin Healing: Bee balm has antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it valuable for soothing minor skin irritations and treating wounds.
  • Digestive Aid: The leaves and flowers can be used to prepare aromatic teas that offer relief.
  • Headaches and cold symptoms: Again, tea can be used to offer relief.
Bee balm sports unique light pink to purple petals, a stacking structure of flower heads, and green leaves.

Where to See Native Medicinal Plants in Iowa

Native plants and herbs can be found in various natural environments across Iowa. Many of these plants thrive in prairies, woodlands, and along waterways. To locate specific species, consider visiting local nature reserves, parks, and botanical gardens. (A personal favorite is Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City.) Additionally, you can engage with local naturalist groups or online forums where enthusiasts share their findings and tips on where to explore.

Regulations on Foraging Native Medicinal Plants in Iowa

There are guidelines for ethical foraging. It’s important to respect nature and the ecosystem. Be aware of any rules and regulations in public lands, such as state parks, and obtain necessary permits if required. Additionally, practice sustainable foraging by taking only what you need, avoiding rare or endangered species, and leaving no trace.

A wonderful resource can be found here: Foraging and Harvesting Indigenous and Wild Plants Best Practices (

Additionally, various organizations in Iowa are dedicated to preserving native plants and their habitats. You can get involved or support conservation efforts through organizations like the Iowa Native Plant Society and by participating in local restoration projects.

With foraging, proper identification is crucial. It’s recommended to learn from experienced foragers, herbalists, or botanists. Books and online resources can help, but hands-on learning is often best. Start with easy-to-identify species, and never consume a plant unless you are absolutely certain of its identity and safety for medicinal use.

Growing Native Medicinal Plants and Herbs in Your Garden

Many native plants and herbs are great for growing in home gardens. Consider researching the specific requirements of each plant in terms of sunlight, soil, and water. Local nurseries often offer native plant selections that are well-suited to Iowa’s climate. Ted Lare Garden Center in Cumming, Iowa, offers a selection of native plants and is always looking to expand the varieties customers want. Another great resource for finding native plants is: Iowa Native Plants Finder

Purchasing Native Plant Products and Herbal Remedies in Iowa

Reputable sources may include local herbalists, farmers’ markets, health food stores, and online herbal shops that specialize in sustainable and ethically sourced products. Always research the source and ask questions about the origins of the products.

Nurturing the Connection with Nature

As we explore the healing power of Iowa’s native plants and herbs, it becomes evident that our natural surroundings offer more than just scenic beauty. They provide us with a deeper connection to the earth and the potential for holistic well-being. Whether you’re foraging for wild herbs, planting a native garden, or seeking products made from Iowa’s botanical treasures, remember to do so with respect for the environment and an appreciation for the knowledge passed down through generations.

In Iowa, the healing journey begins in your own backyard, local parks, or nature reserves. By embracing the traditions of indigenous healing and integrating them into modern holistic practices, you can tap into the remarkable therapeutic potential of the land. These native plants and herbs are a testament to the enduring wisdom of Iowa’s natural world, waiting to nurture both body and soul.

So, the next time you take a walk in Iowa’s wilderness, keep an eye out for these healing wonders and remember the legacy of well-being deeply rooted in the heart of the Hawkeye State.

Additional Books, Workshops, and Resources about Medicinal Plants in Iowa

Some helpful resources include “Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands” by Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa, as well as “Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide” by Kelly Kindscher. (These books contain affiliate links; we may receive a portion of revenue from your purchases from Amazon, at no additional cost to you.) You can also explore the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website for educational materials.

Workshops and events related to native plants and herbal remedies may be offered throughout Iowa. Keep an eye on local event listings, botanical gardens, and nature centers for announcements, or join local herbalist and foraging groups on social media for updates.

Wildflowers and other plants of Iowa Wetlands book cover
Medicinal Plants of the Prairie book cover

Medical Disclaimer

The information provided in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

The content of this blog post is based on traditional and historical uses of native plants and herbs in Iowa and should not be considered as medical advice or recommendations for self-treatment. Herbal remedies can interact with medications and may have contraindications for certain medical conditions.

Individuals with specific health concerns or those who are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications should consult their healthcare provider before using any herbal remedies mentioned in this post or making significant changes to their wellness routines.

The author, Holistic Iowa, and Soul Bright Visionary LLC disclaim any liability for any adverse effects or consequences resulting from the use of information provided in this blog post. Readers should use their best judgment and consult with qualified healthcare professionals for personalized advice and treatment.

By reading this blog post, you acknowledge and accept the terms of this medical disclaimer.