Backyard Herbal Medicine
Jun 30, 2014 12:33AM
By Jen Frey
“A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every year, Americans spend approximately $40 billion in their quest for well-trimmed, weed-free lawns, notes Ted Steinberg, Ph.D., author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn. To achieve this, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides must typically be used, and many of them have been identified as carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, according to a 2011 scientific review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Ironically, many of the plants being eradicated are medicinal and edible. Here are some common “weeds” and their therapeutic uses.
Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata and P. minor)
Plantain is found growing nearly everywhere. In The Book of Herbal Wisdom, author Matt Wood, a registered herbalist, describes the traditional herbal use of plantain: its leaves can be chewed and then the masticated bits can be applied externally to draw out the poisons of bee stings, insect bites, snake bites, infections and similar injuries, as well as splinters or shards of solid material. Plantain can help draw the stinger from a wasp sting; however, the pain of the sting is reduced by applying vinegar to the area.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The entire dandelion plant is medicinal. Wood describes how the roots act as digestive bitters, excellent for the liver, and the leaves are diuretic and rich in nutrients. Leaves harvested before the plant flowers are less bitter; marinating the leaves in vinaigrette overnight tones down the bitterness of leaves harvested at any time. An oil infused with dandelion flowers makes a wonderful massage oil that releases muscle tension and held emotions, notes community herbalist Gail Edwards in Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed, a delicious edible plant that can be added to salads or used in pesto, is high in vitamins and minerals and helps the body absorb nutrients, according to A Women’s Book of Herbs, by Deb Soule. Chickweed also contains saponins, says Edwards, which help to dissolve fat. Its cooling and soothing characteristics make it useful in skin salves that heal wounds and irritation. Local company Brigid’s Way prizes chickweed’s energetic ability to increase joy and playfulness and keep people young at heart.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
A member of the mint family, ground ivy makes a tasty tea. It soothes mucous membranes and helps the body to expel excess mucous, making it helpful for anyone with sinus, throat or chest infections, writes herbalist Anne McIntyre in Herbs for Common Ailments.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover is a sweet, nutritive plant that quenches thirst; its blossoms are delicious to nibble on, add to salad or brew as tea. Wood states that red clover can be used as a blood purifier, to remove toxins and infections and fight cancer. Red clover can soothe and reduce swollen glands, coughs and skin irritations. Because this plant acts as a mild blood thinner, anyone required to take prescription blood thinners should use the herb cautiously and under medical supervision.
Thistles (Cirsium species)
Although thistles are not friendly to bare feet, they are wonderful for the liver and to help detoxify the body, says Timothy Scott in Invasive Plant Medicine. They are also edible, but must be processed to remove the thorns. Turtle Lake Refuge, in Durango, Colorado, makes a vegan ice cream with thistles.
Violet (Viola odorata and similar species)
Edwards notes that violet flowers are high in vitamin C and make a lovely addition to salads. The leaves and flowers may be added to teas. In her book Breast Cancer? Breast Health!: The Wise Woman Way, herbalist Susan Weed suggests that violet flowers included in breast massage oils may prevent and help eliminate breast cancer and cysts. The leaves can be slightly laxative. Brigid’s Way uses violet for its energetic properties; the flowers bring joy to the heart and help ease heartache.
Often, the plants we need grow right outside our door, and with a slight change in perspective, we can appreciate the gifts that nature gives us. Our lawn may turn out to contain medicines, food and beauty, instead of dreaded weeds.
Jen Frey is a certified flower essence practitioner, plant spirit healer and herbalist who teaches classes for children and adults and provides consultations and healing ceremonies through her private practice, Brigid’s Way, in Lancaster. Connect at BrigidsWay.com.