Sometimes the medicine we need is right under our nose…
The definition of a weed is just a plant that does not belong in the place it is currently occupying. From studying Permaculture and Herbalism, I learned that some of these “weeds” are actually very valuable not only to humans, but to the ecosystem at large. After much research and many hours spent weeding gardens, it dawned on me that we are constantly surrounded by our own living, breathing medicine cabinet! Many of the common plants that we consider pests have multiple uses including medicine, wild food, pest control and eco sustainability. Here are a few plants that you will most likely find in your own backyard and once you realize their usefulness, you’ll never want to pull them out again!
Dandelion (taraxacum officiale): Everyone knows dandelion with its cute yellow flower which turns into a white fluffy ball that you can blow into the wind. It just so happens to be a strong source of beta carotene and many other vitamins and minerals. Dandelion root is one of the best ways of removing toxins from the liver, kidneys and blood.
Pictured here is the harvested root which can be roasted, ground and used with chicory as a coffee substitute. To get the maximum benefit from the root, take the plant out of the ground before the yellow flowers appear. Alternatively, the flowers and young leaves can be eaten in salads or cooked in soups or stir fry to cut the bitter taste. Dandelion flowers are also a favourite amongst honey bees, so to create a more flourishing environment in your backyard, avoid mowing or putting herbicide on your grass. Instead, let those flowers grow to allow the bees to do their job!
Stinging Nettle (urtica dioica): WARNING – watch out for the pricks on this one, they’re little but they hurt! This plant used to be one of my worst enemies while weeding but over time has become one of my favourite medicinal allies. It has an absolutely astonishing amount of uses! Nettle has incredibly high amounts of iron which can be extracted in form of a tincture or tea and is a surprisingly delicious culinary delight when cooked. Nettle carries a natural histamine (that’s why you see your skin get all red and swollen when it touches you) as well as serotonin and acetylcholine. It’s extremely beneficial for those with poor blood circulation and in conditions like arthritis, gout and muscle pain. In permaculture, nettle is known as a ‘dynamic accumulator’ which means it stores high amounts of nitrogen and iron in it’s leaves. To get the goodness of the nettle without it taking over your garden, remove the plant, brew it into a ‘compost tea’ to use as a fertilizer.
Yarrow (achillea millefolium): These little white babies breath flowers can be set apart from other look-alikes (such as edlerflower and cows parsley) by the tiny fleck of yellow you see in the centre of the petals. The clusters grow with a flat top formation and are normally found in cow fields or on the side of the road. Yarrow is a super mellow herb with many great powers and was said to have been carried by Achilles into battle to treat wounds. Yarrow can be applied topically for burns and be chewed for head and tooth pain. It is more commonly known for ladies to pacify menstrual cramps as it reduces swelling and bloating in the uterus area. It can be made into a tea or tincture for cough and cold and also help promote relaxation if taken before bed.
Milk Thistle (silybum marianum): This tall green stalk can grown very thick with spiky green leaves and purple flowers and you’ve probably seen it bottled in capsule form at the pharmacy. Thistle is a very common plant with many varieties and can be found throughout the world. The entire plant can be used in various ways but the most potent part is the seed which contains silymarin. Silymarin repairs the degradation of the liver, in many cases, due to alcohol. Thistle is also proven in some cases to aid in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and hepatitis C. You will find this plant growing abundantly everywhere as it is toxic to most grazing animals. It should be collected after flowering when the seeds will form, normally in autumn. Unless you are trying to wean yourself off of alcohol, it is best to make a tincture from the seeds.
Now you have lots of fun plants to start hunting for around your house and keep in mind; Permaculture is all about minimising your work load and maximising your yield, so… Eat your weeds! It’s that simple.