New England Aster

New England Aster Plants: Identification, Uses, and Medicinal Benefits

As a bioregional herbalist with a deep passion for protecting native medicinal plants, New England Aster plants hold a special place in my heart. This vibrant and versatile plant grows abundantly around my homestead, and I always eagerly anticipate its beauty and vibrancy in the fall, when most other plants have withered away. With its striking purple petals and sun-like center, this beautiful flower not only adds a burst of color to the landscape but also offers a wide range of uses and medicinal benefits.

In this article, I invite you to join me as we delve into the identification, uses, and medicinal properties of New England Aster plants. Together, we’ll explore how to identify this captivating plant in the wild, from its distinctive leaves to its abundant clusters of blossoms. We’ll also uncover its rich historical and cultural significance, as well as its crucial ecological role in supporting pollinators and other wildlife.

But New England Aster plants are more than just a feast for the eyes. This flowering perennial has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for its remarkable healing properties. From soothing digestive issues to relieving the symptoms of colds and fevers, this plant boasts a long list of medicinal benefits that are well worth exploring.

As we journey together, we’ll unravel the power of the New England Aster and unlock the endless possibilities it holds, both for your garden and your overall well-being.

Table of Contents

New England Aster

Identifying New England Aster Plants

I’m truly fascinated by New England Aster plants, scientifically known as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. This native North American perennial herbaceous plant is a captivating sight around my homestead. Standing tall at heights ranging from 3 to 6 feet, it boasts lance-shaped leaves, each of which are untoothed and clasp the stem of the plant. I find it fascinating how the leaves are spaced out one after the other along the stem, and how the leaves near the bottom are usually bigger than the ones at the top.

However, it’s the New England Aster’s vibrant flowers that steal the show. This plant typically boasts deep purple flowers, although occasional hints of pink or white may surprise you. These flowers are a delightful blend of up to 100 ray florets, encircling a vibrant center composed of an equal number of tiny yellow disk florets. 

In its natural habitat, this plant tends to form clusters, with multiple sturdy stems emanating from a single base point. These stems have a hairy texture and generally remain unbranched.  As the flowering season approaches, you may notice that the lower leaves along the stem frequently wither, allowing the blossoms to take center stage. Measuring about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, each flower head is a burst of color. 

New England Aster
New England Aster Plants & Goldenrod = A Perfect Combination

Habitat and Growth Patterns 

On my 7-acre homestead, which features a mix of open areas and hardwood forest, I’ve had the pleasure of encountering lots of New England Aster plants. It’s in those expansive, open spaces, like meadows and prairies, that this lovely plant thrives under the generous embrace of the sun. However, it’s worth noting that this resilient plant can also tolerate quite a bit of shade, showcasing its adaptability.

The New England Aster derives its name from its native habitat, primarily the eastern and central regions of North America, which include the New England states. Here, in the heart of these regions, it finds its true home. The plant has a preference for well-drained soils, which is why I’ve often spotted it flourishing even during periods of drought.

One of the most enchanting aspects of New England Aster plants is its late-blooming nature. As summer turns to early fall, its vibrant flowers burst forth in a breathtaking display of color. This timing is not just coincidental; it’s an ecological dance that benefits both the plant and the local wildlife. During this late-season bloom, New England Aster plants become a beacon for pollinators, attracting an array of visitors such as bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds.

The nectar-rich flowers are a crucial food source for these pollinators as they prepare for the challenges of the upcoming winter months. It’s a testament to the plant’s role in supporting the local ecosystem and the delicate balance of life on my homestead.

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new england aster plants
New England Aster plants and other wildflowers

Traditional Uses 

As a Nipmuck woman, one of my deepest passions is reviving and reclaiming the indigenous wisdom of plants that my ancestors held close to their hearts. The New England Aster, known and cherished by Native American tribes for generations, is a testament to the rich tapestry of herbal knowledge that has been passed down through the ages. In this journey of reconnection, let’s explore the multifaceted uses of this remarkable plant, which played a pivotal role in the healing practices of indigenous peoples.

Among the many traditional uses of New England Aster plants, one prominent application was its role as a remedy for digestive ailments that often plagued Native American communities. The leaves and flowers of this resilient plant were frequently employed to craft soothing teas or simply chewed to ease discomfort caused by indigestion and stomachaches. It’s incredible to think that the very act of sipping on a cup of New England Aster tea allowed our ancestors to find relief from these common afflictions, connecting us to their ancient traditions.

Beyond its digestive benefits, this aster held a treasure trove of topical applications. Native Americans utilized the crushed leaves and flowers to treat various skin conditions, ranging from wounds and burns to bothersome insect bites. The plant’s remarkable antimicrobial properties were believed to act as a protective shield, guarding against infections while expediting the natural healing processes. It’s a testament to the wisdom of our ancestors that they recognized the power of New England Aster plants in promoting physical well-being.

As I continue on my journey to honor and revive the indigenous knowledge of plants, New England Aster plants stand as a symbol of resilience and healing. Its historical uses by Native American tribes serve as a reminder of the profound connection between our people and the natural world, and I am deeply committed to preserving and sharing this valuable heritage with the world.

Wildflowers
S. × amethystinum, center, is a hybrid between S. novae-angliae, right, and S. ericoides, left.

Medicinal Benefits 

While we won’t make any medical claims here, let’s delve into some potential medicinal uses of this remarkable plant that have piqued the interest of herbalists and natural health enthusiasts.

1. Aiding Digestion:

    • New England Aster has a history of being used to support digestive health. Its potential mild digestive properties could help soothe upset stomachs and promote overall digestive well-being. Some herbalists suggest that a cup of New England Aster tea after a meal may offer comfort and relief.

Sources:

    • Foster, S., & Duke, J. A. (1990). A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
    • Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press.

2. Respiratory Support:

    • New England Aster may also hold promise when it comes to respiratory health. While further research is needed, its potential anti-inflammatory and soothing properties have led some to explore its use in addressing respiratory discomfort. Herbal teas or herbal preparations that include New England Aster may provide relief from common respiratory ailments.

Sources:

    • Moerman, D. E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press.

3. Topical Applications:

    • When used topically, New England Aster may offer soothing benefits to the skin. Infused oils or salves containing this plant have been traditionally used to moisturize and alleviate skin irritations, such as minor cuts, burns, or insect bites.

Sources:

    • Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. Storey Publishing.

It’s important to note that while New England Aster holds promise in these areas, individual experiences may vary, and the use of this plant for specific health concerns should be discussed with a qualified herbalist or healthcare professional. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that you are correctly identifying and using New England Aster, as there are many aster species, and not all of them share the same properties.

Remember, the world of herbal medicine is as diverse as nature itself, and New England Aster is just one of the many fascinating plants that offer potential benefits for our well-being. As you explore its uses, consider seeking guidance from knowledgeable sources and consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized advice. 

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New England Aster
Not the best photo, but here I am with goldenrod and New England Aster plants

Harvesting and Preparation 

Harvesting and preparing New England Aster plants can be a rewarding endeavor for both herbalists and nature enthusiasts. This vibrant plant not only adds beauty to your surroundings but also offers a range of potential medicinal benefits. Here’s a guide on how to properly harvest and prepare New England Aster:

1. Choose the Right Time:

    • The best time to harvest New England Aster is during its peak bloom, which typically occurs in late summer or early fall.
    • Aim to harvest on a dry, sunny day when the plant is free from moisture, as this reduces the risk of mold during the drying process.

2. Harvesting New England Aster:

    • Use a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the flower heads and leaves. Leave a portion of the stem intact, so the plant can continue to thrive.
    • Select flowers that are in full bloom, as they tend to have the highest concentration of active compounds.
    • Avoid taking more than one-third of the plant colony to ensure its continued growth and contribution to the ecosystem.

3. Drying the Harvest:

    • Once you’ve gathered your New England Aster, it’s crucial to dry it properly to preserve its medicinal properties.
    • Bundle the cuttings together in small bunches and hang them upside down in a well-ventilated area. Ensure they are protected from direct sunlight to prevent the loss of color and essential oils.
    • Allow the bundles to air dry for about 1-2 weeks, or until the plant material is completely dry and crumbles easily.

4. Storage:

    • After drying, store the New England Aster flowers and leaves in an airtight container, away from light and moisture. Label the container with the date of harvest to keep track of its freshness.
    • Properly stored, dried New England Aster can retain its potency for up to a year or longer.
New England Aster tea

Recipes and Remedies 

As I delve into the world of New England Aster plants and their array of wellness benefits, I’ve found several ways to add this botanical treasure into my home apothecary. New England Aster is commonly used in various forms, such as tea, tincture, or even in topical applications like salves and infused oils. To explore these methods in more depth, I invite you to join me in reading our other articles for more detailed guidance and recipes.

Aster Tea and Aster Tincture:

    • If you share my curiosity about creating New England Aster tea, complete with precise steeping instructions, I encourage you to visit our Aster Tea article. It’s a delightful journey into the art of brewing this herbal infusion.
    • For those eager to unlock the full potential of New England Aster through the creation of a tincture designed to preserve its medicinal potency, our Aster Tincture article provides detailed, step-by-step instructions. 
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new england aster

Cultivating New England Aster in your Garden

If you’re interested in growing New England Aster plants in your garden, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning display of purple flowers and the opportunity to support local pollinators. This plant is relatively easy to cultivate, as long as you provide it with the right conditions.

Choose a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil. You can start New England Aster plants from seeds or by purchase young plants from a nursery. Sow the seeds in the spring, or transplant the young plants after the last frost. Water them regularly, especially during dry spells, and watch as they grow and bloom.

new england aster

Conclusion

New England Aster plants are not just beautiful flowers; they’re a source of wonder, healing, and ecological importance. Its unique identification features, traditional uses, and medicinal benefits make it a valuable plant to explore and incorporate into your life.

Whether you encounter New England Aster plants in the wild or choose to cultivate it in your garden, take the time to appreciate its vibrant blooms and the role it plays in supporting pollinators. And if you decide to explore its medicinal properties, remember to do so responsibly and consult with a healthcare professional to ensure safe and effective use.

Unlock the power of the New England Aster, and let it inspire you to connect with nature, embrace traditional wisdom, and prioritize your well-being.

Additional Sources

mcdonald, j. (n.d). New England aster. Retrieved from https://www.herbcraft.org/aster.html

Missouri Botanical Garden. (n.d.). Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Retrieved from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b540

Neves, L. (2020). Northeast Medicinal Plants: Identify, Harvest, and Use 111 Wild Herbs for Health and Wellness. Timber Press.

Disclaimer: outdoorapothecary.com is informational in nature and is not to be regarded as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. While we strive to be 100% accurate, it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification. 

Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, nor are we nutritionists. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this website.  The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Author

  • Barbi Gardiner

    Situated in the heart of Northeastern Connecticut, Barbi Gardiner is a bioregional herbalist and a proud member of the Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck tribe. With a homestead recognized as a certified wildlife habitat by the Wildlife Federation and a native medicinal plant sanctuary by United Plant Savers, Barbi is a leading voice in permaculture and regenerative gardening. Passionate about seasonal living and ancestral wisdom, Barbi aims to reconnect people with the natural world and the ancient knowledge of their forebears. Through engaging articles and resources, Barbi is a beacon for sustainable living and earth-centered spirituality.

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