Summer Harvest: Corn Silk
All summer long, I’ve been buying fresh corn on the cob at the farmer’s market. In addition to eating the fresh corn, I also like to collect & dry the corn silk tassels. I like having some on hand, with my medicinal herbs, and this is the season to gather it.
How to Prepare
Peel back the green husks, and gently separate the delicate silk tassels from the kernels on the cob. Cut off the darker, dried out part, that was left exposed to air. The tassels that were protected beneath the husks are lighter and fresh.
Spread the tassels out on a plate or baking sheet to dry, and put the baking sheet in the oven and leave it overnight, allowing the heat from the pilot light to dry the cornsilk. A dehydrator would probably also work fine. Don’t forget that you have herbs drying in the oven!
Once the corn silk is dried, gather it up into little nests, then transfer them to a glass jar, and store it in the cupboard. A cup of cornsilk tea will be very mild. Since the silk is so fine and light, it is voluminous without being weighty. Consider how much silk is on a single ear of corn: this is probably a good estimate to make a cup or two of tea. Simply let it steep in hot water for 10-15 minutes, then drink & enjoy.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Common Name: Corn silk tassels
Plant Family: Graminaceae (Grass family)
Botanical Name: Zea mays
PinYin Name: Yu Mi Xu - literal English translation: “jade rice whiskers”
Category: Herbs that Drain Dampness; Clear Damp Heat; Diuretics
Flavor & Energetics: neutral, sweet, bland
Meridians entered & Organs affected: Bladder, Gallbladder, Kidney, Liver
Cornsilk is primarily a gentle, effective diuretic, and soothing to the urinary tract. It combines well with Uva Ursi & Marshmallow root, for early signs of urinary tract infection. Its neutral, bland properties help to clear heat out of the urinary tract.
“The tea is used as a diuretic, for minor urinary tract infections, burning urination from any cause, and water retention.
The silk has ben used by brujos and brujas for spells and divination.
[Prepare as] simple tea, [drink] as needed.
~ Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest by Michael Moore
Herbs really excel at preventive medicine, and this is another good example: We want to have the remedy on hand at the first hint of burning urination, to prevent an infection from taking hold. Because cornsilk is such a mild remedy, it can be consumed daily. In this way, it would help to maintain a healthy urinary tract, bladder, and kidney system.
Susun Weed, in her book Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Wise Woman Way, lists corn silk as useful for a range of bladder and prostate issues, including incontinence, overactive bladder, shy bladder, UTIs and prostatitis. She also mentions corn silk as an ingredient in an herbal smoking blend, as part of a tobacco-free protocol for cervical cancer.
When we are attuned to early signs of imbalance, we are better able to prevent more serious conditions from developing. But even in more advanced situations, cornsilk can still be an effective remedy. It may not be the most potent anti-microbial herb, but it plays a significant supporting role in an herbal formula.
“Even though it is effective for kidney stones, it is one of the milder and safer diuretics. This is an example of a Western herb currently being incorporated into the Chinese herbal system.” - Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
Although corn is native to the Americas, it was introduced in China, and incorporated into the Traditional Chinese Medicine system. In addition to the functions outlined above, TCM also uses cornsilk to support the Liver and Gallbladder. According to that system of actions, it is considered to Drain Damp and Clear Heat.
Rosemary Gladstar's Bladder Helper Tea
½ oz Corn Silk (Zea mays)
½ oz Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
1/4 oz Dandelion leaves (Taraxacum officinalis)
1/4 oz Nettle leaves (Urtica dioica)
1/4 oz Pipsissewa (Chemaphila umbellata) - optional
Add dried herbs to 2-3 quarts boiling water, cover and remove from heat. Allow to cool, strain, then sip as needed
Corn is a Northern & Central American native plant, used as a food and a medicine. It is believed that corn was developed from teosinte, a wild grass, in the highlands of central Mexico more than 7,000 years ago. In North America, it has been grown since at least 1500 B.C.
Corn, beans and squash are referred to collectively as the Three Sisters, due to their agricultural and nutritional affinities. The Three Sisters are planted together as companions in a small mound: the corn stalk provides a support for the beans to climb; the beans are nitrogen-fixing, and enrich the soil; the squash leaves provide shade at the base of the plant trio, to protect roots from summer heat. Nutritionally, this trio provides protein, carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals.
The Feast of Lammas is celebrated this time of year, usually on August 1st or 2nd. This marks the mid-way point on the calendar between Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox. The Feast of Lammas celebrates ripening grain and the first fruits of harvest.
The Roman goddess Ceres is celebrated, as she represents grains, and the bounty and abundance of the fields. She has been depicted wearing a garland made from ears of corn. This is the source of the word “cereal”. In the Greek pantheon, she is Demeter, and she controls the cycles of crops growing and dying.
The Frankish name for the month of August is Aranmanoth, meaning “corn ears month”, or “reaping month”. The word is derived from the Old High German arnon, “to reap”, and is related to the English verb “to earn”. Aranmanoth comes from the calendar months named by Charlemagne, during his reign in the 8th century.
Among Native American tribes, corn dances are held through-out the summer months. Corn is celebrated for its many uses. A friend of mine told me that he had recently been helping to harvest the pueblo corn, and was thinking about how all parts of the plant are used, including the seeds, the husks, the stalks, the pollen, and the silk.
As we celebrate our summer bounty, we also prepare for winter. That means drying and storing our food and medicine. Even a modern city dweller, without a garden, can collect some herbal medicine, and honor the turn of the seasons.
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica by Bensky, Claver, Stogey
Chinese Traditional Herbal Medicine vol. 2 by Michael Tierra
Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Wise Woman Way by Susun Weed
East West Herb Course by Michael and Lesley Tierra
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth by Sharol Tilgner
Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest by Michael Moore
The Pagan Book of Days by Nigel Pennick
Planetary Herbology by Micheal Tierra
Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province by William W. Dunmire & Gail D. Tierney