Summer Medicinals: Edible Weeds
Summer Medicinals: Edible Weeds
(The following is a post by Detroit Farm and Garden's Triana Kazaleh Sirdenis about weeds and their medicinal properties. Before eating or otherwise using any weed, make sure you have identified it correctly, seeking out the help of an expert if necessary.)
As we tend to our gardens, we probably spend a great deal of time dealing with weeds. In time we may learn that many of our weeds are good-and useful! "Weeds" is a subjective term. Many of them are edible and can be used medicinally. Let's take a look at some that have been popping up this season.
In herbalism, we try to address health conditions nutritionally first; that is we prefer to use plants that we can easily add into our diet before looking at strictly medicinal plants. The weeds that grow in our yards are mostly nutritive plants, which makes them easy to use! We'll go over some of these common weeds and medicinal applications.
Considerations before harvesting: Herbs and weeds are safest to use when they're from a garden that is grown organically. Consider what types of pesticides or herbicides are being used in your yard or the area you harvest from. Another good rule of thumb is to not harvest things right on the edge of a road or in driveways. Certain herbs, like nettle, are very nutritious because they absorb a lot from the soil, but should not be harvested in areas you think are contaminated with lead, since the nettle can also absorb heavy metals. Always wash everything before you eat it.
Purslane: Purslane is a tasty succulent plant, used around the world in salads or tabouli. Succulents are very drought tolerant, which makes them really juicy (think Aloe...). It has a light flavor, with a hint of lemon. You can harvest the leaves and the stems. They are more tasty when young and tender.
Lambs Quarter: Lambs Quarter is a light colored green, sometimes with a pink center towards the middle stem. It's also been called wild spinach because it's in the same family as spinach and beets. It's packed with nutrients, particularly Vitamin A and K. It's great raw in salads or steamed.
Violet: Although violets have already flowered, their leaves are still useful. The flowers are very tender, their leaves a little less so. They are a light demulcent and highly anti-bacterial. Demulcent plants have mucilage. If you rub these types of plants in your hand, they will release liquid or feel slimy. Violets have been used medicinally for a number of issues. They are also a very calming herbs, excellent in teas for headaches and migraines in combination with lemon balm. Violets can be infused into honey or syrup for relief from sore throats, colds, and coughs. They can also serve as a gentle laxative.
Dandelion: Sadly, dandelions are one of the most infamous weeds in gardens and yards. However, they are actually quite nutritious and one of the most versatile medicinal plants in our region. The flowers are used to make dandelion wine or baked and fried into dishes like fritters or breads. At this time of the year, their leaves may be quite bitter. Medicinally, dandelion is classified as a bitter, so the more bitter they are, the more they exude their bitter properties. Bitters are helpful for digestion. When we eat bitters like parsley, arugula, or other salad mix before a meal, it helps stimulate digestion. It is also a diuretic, which means it helps our body flush and remove waste.
Nettle: Nettle is also known as stinging nettle and it is one of the most nutritious herbs around. Like dandelion, it has a diverse application in medicine. It is dense nutritionally and is great as a steamed green, as a pesto, in tea, and many other forms. There are dozens of health conditions that can be eased with nettle, including muscle problems, joint pain, and seasonal allergies. Like dandelion, it helps to eliminate wastes from the body. Also it's considered one of the greatest reproductive health herbs for women. It's often used in combination with red raspberry leaf and oat straw as a general reproductive health tonic. Since nettle absorbs a lot of nutrients from the soil, it should not be harvested from soils that are high in heavy metals. It can grow to over 4 feet tall and is covered with small, stinging spines. People react differently to touching stinging nettle. The best way to harvest nettle is to use gloves or if you are pulling the entire plant, to grab it at the very bottom or below the soil (there are less spines at the bottom). Sometimes pinching the leaves from the bottom and pulling them off reduces your risk of getting stung. Fresh nettle with spines has also been used to provide relief from arthritis! Steaming or cooking the plant destroys the plant's ability to sting.
Burdock: Like nettle and dandelion, burdock is another herb that has wide uses. Most of the herbs that begin to appear in the spring are cleansing to our bodies after a long winter of eating less fresh vegetables. Both the roots and leaves can be used. They provide anti-inflammatory relief as well as digestive support. Burdock is a powerful diuretic, which means it has a flushing action on the urinary tract. It supports our body's own function to clean itself. Typically roots are harvested in the fall, but they can be harvested in the spring and summer as well. In general, medicinal roots are harvested in the fall because the plant is putting energy back into the root to survive the upcoming cold weather.
Fruit Leaves: Red raspberry leaf is one of the most famous fruit leaves in the medicinal world. It's very useful for muscle pains and is an astringent, meaning it helps reduce tissue swelling. It's also packed with nutrients. All brambles can be used similarly to red raspberry leaf. Peach and apple leaves are also great in teas for upset stomach, in combination with other stomach soothers like ginger, fennel, mint and catnip. They have cooling properties to soothe tissues that are inflamed.
Plantain: Plantain is a tissue healer. It can be used on abrasions, cuts, stings, and bites. It's also a demulcent, meaning it provides moisture to soothe tissues. It's a hardy plant, growing sometimes in sidewalk cracks.
Jewel weed: Jewel weed or touch-me-not is another demulcent and an astringent herb so it provides moisture and reduces inflammation. It commonly grows near rivers and other wet soils. Jewelweed is the best herb to use on fresh poison ivy rash. Lucky for us, these two plants often grow near each other. Since poison ivy often produces a wet, hot rash, you want to use cooling remedies to combat it. Try fresh plantain and jewel weed or vinegar on these types of rashes instead of oils and salves. A cooled jewel weed infusion (really concentrated tea) can also be soothing if you apply and let soak with a cloth.
Preventing Weeds: Okay, so if you are not convinced that these weeds are something you want around, there are some key things you can do to prevent weeds. If they are already growing, make sure to pull them before they go to seed. When they produce flowers they are about to go to seed. Weeding when the plants are small with a hoe or by hand is a lot easier than dealing with weeds when they are overgrown. Mulching can also help cut down weeds as well as an application of corn gluten in the Spring or Fall.