Often referred to as It-Brings-the-Fall by Native Americans, New England Aster has mostly disappeared from use by herbalists of this century though she is now making a comeback. Herbalists such as jim mcdonald, Sean Donahue, Kiva Rose, Lisa Rose and myself have used this wonderful plant with great success.
A perennial in the Aster family, New England Aster is known as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae in botanical terms and was formerly listed as Aster novae-angliae. Other asters that can be used interchangeably include Dieteria bigelovii, Aster tataricus and A. subspicatus. These flowers are late bloomers as their Native American name implies, they are always one of the last to bloom in the late summer and early fall before winter begins his dance with the plants, coaxing them into slumber. The flowers of New England Aster contain radiantly purple outer ray flowers and vivid yellow central disk flowers. They are generally sticky or resinous to the touch, containing lots of resin.
If you are lucky enough to have some New England Asters growing in your area, seek some out and pick a few flowers and leaves for sampling. Smell it. New England is very aromatic, isn’t she? Chew a flower up. What do you taste? Bitter? Maybe with a mildly sweet aftertaste? How does it make your mouth feel?
Do you need a drink of water? Perhaps because of the bitterness, perhaps also because your mouth is becoming dry a bit from the flowers themselves.
Traditionally the roots have been used but herbalists today generally use the flowers with the same or better effects than the roots. In my practice, I have only used the flowers and leaves, I couldn’t bear to dig up the plants and sacrifice some of the roots. Others may not have that problem as she can become a bit invasive in some areas.
Medicinally, New England Aster is antispasmodic, aromatic, a calmative, carminative, decongestant, diaphoretic, expectorant, nervine, relaxant and stimulant. Let’s take a look at these actions a bit at a time…
New England Aster has an affinity for the lungs. I reach for this plant any time I am having lung issues. Whether it’s asthma, allergy or anxiety related, New England Aster has the power to help me breathe again. Shortness of breath, trouble breathing or congestion are all relieved with just a few doses of the flower tincture. I have tried out New England Aster on many of my clients dealing with seasonal asthma, asthma and allergies with great success.
As an antispasmodic, New England Aster is great for relieving coughs from bronchitis, colds and flus and combined with her decongestant, expectorant, relaxant and stimulant powers, she becomes a first rate herb to use for ridding the lungs of any congestion, stuck or not. Herbalist Lisa Rose Starner likes it for “wet, damp, stuck asthma/allergy issues for relaxing and opening up the airways as a bronchiodilator.”
For treating spasms, New England Aster seems to work better as a preventative than a treatment though in the middle of an acute situation I have found relief after repeating the dose several times. Sean Donahue has also mentioned this in his work with New England Aster as well: “I tend to use about 15 drops in acute situations – most effective when the is tightness around the airway that signals that an attack is imminent but spasms have not begun.” Healso prefers to combine New England Aster with Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum) when using NEA in this manner.
Another interesting aspect to New England Aster is her cumulative effect on asthma sufferers. Over time, I and my clients have found that the asthmatic episodes are fewer and further between while the need for an inhaler becomes substantially less. jim mcdonald has also discovered this in his work: “In the numerous years that have followed, I have repeatedly (though of course not always) seen this… use of aster tincture offers a lasting (and seemingly cumulative) effect and can often lessen a person’s dependence on their inhaler. I’ve on several occasions seen people who used their inhalers several times a day be able to reduce to once a day or less.”
When you’re feeling very congested and stuffy from a respiratory illness, call on New England Aster’s decongestant and expectorant actions to help clear you up. This works best if the plant is used in a steam and it will almost immediately break up the congestion in the upper respiratory tract and help you to expectorate the excess mucus. Dry New England Aster leaves and flowers (they will most likely turn to fluff but still be perfectly fine for use) during their blooming season to use for this during the off seasons.
It may seem funny that a plant can be both a relaxant and a stimulant but New England Aster is. How is that? Let’s take a look at the lungs again, New England Aster’s favorite place to work on. When we have a chest cold, we may have lots of stuck mucus in our chest and have a spasmodic unproductive cough. New England Aster’s relaxant action will help to calm the lungs’ unproductive spasmodic cough while her stimulating action will help to stimulate the mucus to break up and come up easily. The stimulating action may then help the lungs to cough up the excess mucus while the relaxant properties will keep them from becoming spasmodic about it.
These actions don’t just work on the lungs though. As a nervine and relaxant, New England Aster will help you to slow down and take the time to stop and smell the flowers. Though not as strong as a sedative, many people find using New England Aster in place of Valerian helpful for achieving a calm without the after effects that Valerian can bring. I personally find New England Aster to be that gentle nudge needed when I feel a panic attack coming on, enough to help my breathing return to normal and the tension to ease up allowing me to take deep breaths again. I have not found her to be overly relaxing to the point that I want to fall asleep though I imagine if she were taken at night right before bed, her relaxing effect might be enough to help slumber happen. While this action does partially play out on my lungs, it is also affecting my nervous system, calming it down so that I can relax and breathe.
Earlier I had you smell New England Aster and you most likely found her to be very aromatic. Usually this is a quality that is in the Mint family though other plants can carry this trait as well. Do you remember what this trait triggers in the body? Aromatics trigger the digestive system and are often referred to as carminatives and or digestives. Though I wouldn’t reach for New England Aster as my first choice as a carminative, she has been found useful for those feeling gassy and bloated to help relieve the gas from the body.
During a feverish episode, New England Aster’s diaphoretic action can be useful for helping to lower a fever and support the body during fevers. jim mcdonald recommends a hot infusion of the dried plant with a squirt of the tincture added in. He also mentions that sore throats during these fevers seems to disappear but a normal sore throat without a fever will not be affected by the mixture.
Topically, a wash made from an infusion of the flowers has been used for treating poison ivy, oak and sumac. I have recently been testing this action on myself and clients with good results. Instead of making a wash, we made spit poultices from the leaves and buds. The itching immediately disappeared and the rash did not spread. I would not use it as a defense for someone who is highly allergic to poison ivy as there are herbs that are much better suited but for mild rashes, it’s worth a try.
This plant combines well with Wild Cherry, Elecampane, Wild Lettuce, Mullein and Plantain.
This time of year, NEA is starting to bloom. Harvest the flowers as soon as they open and let them dry. They tend to turn a bit fluffy but will still be perfect for winter tea blends. Once dry, store them in a cool, dark, dry place. I prefer to store the majority of my plants in brown paper sacks or as close friend and herbalist Rebekah Dawn prefers, in empty oatmeal containers.
For tinctures, use freshly harvested flowers.
You will need:
Fresh or dried New England Aster
If you are using fresh plant material, chop it up well and fill your jar. If you are using dried, fill your jar half full.
Add enough grain alcohol to fill 3/4 then fill the rest of the way with water.
Be sure to label your jar!
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