HeN: Local herb networks for growing, learning, sharing the gifts of the Plant realm for health support and remedy, caring for ourselves and Earth
IN BRIEF What a crazy species - us! Humans are a cosmic laugh as we hack out and pull up, poison or cover to death masses of plants that Life grows for our nourishment and health. It's time for the sake of Earth’s life, including ours, that we update our attitudes toward many kinds of plants we have been rubbishing as 'weeds'. Earth gives us her love via plants. When we unnecessarily destroy Earth's gifts we harm all life. I focus here on the benefits of a few common plants generally known derogatorily as 'weeds':
Chickweed FOOD salad, soups. HEALTH relieves + helps heal skin inflammation & irritation; internally helps cleansing.
Cleavers FOOD 'coffee', tea. HEALTH lymph tonic; eases skin inflammation, minor injuries, psoriasis; insomnia soother.
Dandelion FOOD salad (great pro-biotic!), 'coffee'. HEALTH aids digestion; safe, effective cleanser / diuretic
Ground Ivy FOOD cooling tea HEALTH Diuretic + expectorant; tonic effect on bronchial, digestive + urinary systems; catarrh, sinusitis, ear infection, bronchitis, indigestion
Nettle FOOD Tea; Soup. HEALTH tonic; detoxifier; ref. gout; circulation
Plantain FOOD in mixed herb tea; salad. HEALTH expectorant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, promotes healing; diarrhoea, bronchitis, catarrh, gastric ulcer, INSECT BITES!
recommended: Edible Wild Food
SO WHY AM I WILD ABOUT WEEDS? Among the big bad bubbles of destructive outmoded attitudes are our ideas about a lot of plants. We call them weeds. Some brush off their ignorance and prejudice by saying "Oh, it just means plants growing in the wrong place." But what is the 'wrong place', or rather where DO they belong? The wisdom of all cultures teaches us that nature provides for all our needs, so maybe most weeds really do belong just where they grow. Maybe they know more about the wider life of Earth than our limited human knowledge - they have after all been around for millions more years than the human species! When we truly open our eyes and hearts we see that plants are smart. Very smart. When we listen, we find out that they have exquisite reason for all that they do.
I find it deeply saddening to watch as many people turn their garden or allotment into deserts. Anything that is not growing on Their patch for their own human benefit and according to their taste (and heaven help us, current fashion!) is at least grubbed out, at worst poisoned without hesitation. We give lip service (maybe) to Let's Help Bees, but... Better have bare ground than SHOCK HORROR: A WEED! Yet bare ground benefits no one nor anything: organic matter and nutrients are leached out easily, exposed soil offers no home or food for worms, beetles, toads, soil life... and does not really benefit what we grow for our own blinkered ignorant purposes.
It has long been observed, worldwide, that the plants that offer humans (and other creatures) what we need for our well being grow where we are. This is a small part of why I see that weeds love us. For one amazing example Google "Japanese Knotweed medicine". Further, locally well grown herbs are far more effective than those grown elsewhere. My initial motivation for starting HeN (Herb Network) was finding that for the first time I could not get any wholesale White Horehound that was grown in the UK - I had to buy stock grown in Nepal! Unfortunately Horehound does not grow 'like a weed' in my garden. Yet many plants do that are easy and safe to use for food and medicine. My garden isn't vast, but partly because I avoid bare ground, there is plenty of space for small amounts of both 'weeds' and cultivated herbal medicine plants among my vegetables, fruit and flowers. In my view, the 'weeds' are the plants that put themselves there (life magic!), the others I had to bring in. There and in the wild plants find their own places and spaces far more intelligently than given credirt for.
One complaint, or Reason to de-weed I've heard is that if you let a weed grow it will take over everywhere. Look again, I say, is that really so? Are dandelions growing everywhere, or cleavers? In my garden I need to discipline them a bit - clear boundaries, and even when I don't get around to thinning for a while, its very rare that they cause damage or ruin crops - except, interestingly, grass, but that's a story for another time. What I do pull out is a gift for the compost heap. Some weeds that used to be common need to be carefully helped to re-establish, such as red clover.
In this article I'm highlighting six 'weeds' that I would not want to be without. This isn't counting the many self sown plants I leave for other creatures' benefit such as foxgloves and toadflax. When harvesting weeds, be absolutely sure you have the correct identification. For example there are plants that look like dandelions which are not good for human consumption. Google "How to identify..."
My information on how these plants can help us is introductory. If you feel attracted to a particular plant, start reading around, and look online. Also, most information is usually just about the way the physical chemical aspects of the plant interact with most human bodies (the main effects). All plants also have more subtle relationships, some individual, some generally universal (such as when used as Flower Remedies). We are one life, and their spirit can speak with ours and offer extraordinary service.
Letting these plants take their rightful place in our gardens is one aspect of Holistic Gardening. As we cultivate our gardens in conscious relationship with a wider range of plants, much more than the few acceptable flowers and fashionable for-human-consumption vegetables, all life benefits and we will still always have enough of what we need.
SAFE TO USE? As a rule of thumb, if its edible, it won't harm. My examples are recognised as generally safe, however: Safe does not necessarily mean 'more is better' or that it is beneficial to use over a long period / regularly. As we take responsibility for our health we learn to do so responsibly. The medicinal effects and uses listed are introductory, not intended as instructions for medical use. When you want to use them for minor complaints, first get fuller information from an comprehensive herbal book / online.* See also the HeN full reference list. BUT DO NOT use herbs when pregnant, breast-feeding or when taking pharmaceutical drugs unless you consult a medical herbalist (an MD who prescribes herbal medicines, and is very well trained). *Excellent - essential I reckon - what for and how to use (not just 'make tea') info is in Rosemary Gladstone's Herbal Medicine, A Beginner's Guide, plus fabulous recipes. She includes Chickweed, Dandelion, Nettle and Plantain.
Chickweed Stellaria media HA FOOD Cut green leafy tops when lush (not stemmy / seedy) - the Force is strong!, and use fresh in mixed salads and soups. Don't overdo, try small amounts, then a more if you like it. Roger Phillips' salad is with chervil (or parsley) and apple cubes, French dressing. His soup - see nettle recipe: use chickweed instead or mixed with. (Grieve:) try it steamed like - or with - spinach. HEALTH (Gri:) Demulcent* - cools and externally (ointment or poultice) relieves skin irritation (e.g. dry + itchy), minor burns, abscesses and boils; speeds healing. Chickweed tea is classic spring tonic to cleanse the blood. (* Google: "relieves inflammation or irritation; e.g. in the mucous membranes of the mouth by forming a protective film".)
Great article about Chickweed: from Pixies Pocket
Susun Weed says"Chickweed contains soapy substances, called saponins which, like soap, emulsify and increase the permeability of cellular membranes. When we consume chickweed those saponins increase our ability to absorb nutrients, especially minerals. They also dissolve and break down unwanted matter, including disease-causing bacteria, cysts, benign tumors, thickened mucus in the respiratory and digestive systems, and excess fat cells." Yippee.
Cleavers Galium aparine HA FOOD (Gri:) Coffee substitute: Dry seeds, slightly roast. For tea, use whole plant, best soaked fresh in cold water for hours, rather than hot tea. Tea (hot) from dried herb, 1 oz to 1 pint water, drink by wine glass full. HEALTH Bitter, cooling, salty herb acts as tonic for lymphatic system; mild laxative, diuretic + astringent effects. Lower blood pressure + promote healing; Insomnia soother. External: skin inflammation, minor injuries, psoriasis.
*Dandelion Taraxacum HP FOOD A few young leaves raw in mixed salad (lots to your Guinea Pigs!). They (as all bitter wild food leaves) can be soaked for a few hours to lessen bitterness. I remember cheering at a TV program about beneficial gut bacteria: the amount of microorganisms was measured comparing Popular Brand pro-biotic drinks to fresh Dandelion leaves. Not only did fresh Dandelion leaf support a lot more healthy micro folks, it did so without the huge amount of sugar that are in the so-called 'healthy' gut drinks. Add some to your home-made pesto. 'Coffee' Drink: Buy prepared from wholefood shop, OR harvest roots winter > early spring. Wash well, chop and dry. Roast gently (the darker the stronger), which also reduces bitterness (I find proprietary dandelion 'coffee' quite sweet). Store in airtight container. Use coffee mill if need, then simmer about a teaspoon root per cup water for around 10 minutes. HEALTH (JG:) The leaf is a safe, highly effective diuretic, the best natural source of potassium, avoids potassium depletion (unlike other diuretics), assists the body to dump metabolic waste into the blood to be cleansed by the liver++. Cooling, diuretic, laxative, anti-rheumatic, stimulates liver, aids digestion. May ease eczema.
Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea / Nepeta glechoma - NOT common ivy! - the variegated variety sold in garden centres for hanging baskets is OK too if growing vibrantly FOOD bitter (Grieves:) Cooling drink: 1 oz. herb infused with 1 pint water, sweeten with honey or liquorice, drink when cool in wineglass dose 3-4 x daily. (if using fresh herb may add chickweed - also a cooling herb. An overnight infusion in cold rather than hot water preserves some nutrients and delicate flavours) The Saxons added Ground Ivy to their beer for flavor like hops, to clarify the beer, and add shelf life. It is very high in iron. HEALTH Bitter, anti-catarrh, aromatic, astringent, tonic effect on bronchial, digestive + urinary systems. Diuretic + expectorant. Internally for catarrh, sinusitis, ear infection, bronchitis, gastritis, cystitis. Coughs and nervous headaches. External: inflammation of throat and mouth; haemorrhoids.
Nettle Urtica dioica Heaps of online information about nettles, e.g. when taken fresh (juice) works against allergic response to hay fever. They loose most stings when washed well, all when lightly simmered. To instantly ease sting blisters I use Bach's Five Flower cream. FOOD Nettle Soup: Pick (wearing rubber gloves!) a big handful (more if you like) of tender clean tops. Spring is best (and when most needed), though if cut right down they will give us a second, summer/autumn crop. Wash, remove tough stems, chop, and set aside. In soup pan fry the following for 3-4 minutes: Peel and chop a large onion and clove of garlic, and 2-3 big potatoes. Add 1 litre (1.5 pints) stock, bring to boil, and simmer until potatoes are nearly soft. Add nettles, simmer for 2-3 minutes until cooked. Liquidize, return to pan and season with salt + pepper. Serve with a bit of single cream (do that pretty swirly deco). HEALTH Listen to your body's needs and use as asked for, not as habit. (JG:) Spring tonic, general detoxifying agent; prevents uric acid build-up in joints (ref gout, rheumatism, arthritis. (RP:) contain iron, formic acid, ammonia, silicic acid and histamine. These chemicals aid the relief of rheumatism, sciatica and allied ailments. They increase the haemoglobin in the blood, improve the circulation, purify the system and have a generally toning effect on the body. Nettles also lower the blood pressure and the blood sugar level." **Phillips' ancient favourite Celtic food: Broth of water, nettles, salt, milk, oatmeal** Arthritis: invaluable for some: when arthritic hands stiffen rub hands with fresh nettle leaves. After the initial sting, the arthritic pain is eased, better than any medicine he has ever been given. AND its great for chickens (quick simmer first); helps fruit tree immunity; makes good plant food... and more and more... What a gift!
Plantain Plantago major Use the wide-leaved sort. Everyone I know who has discovered it gets excited too. Growing especially along path sides, spring > autumn, its as if it accompanies us on our walks. FOOD the stuff of fairy tales! Young tender leaves in salads (raw or blanched); add some in with spinach. HEALTH (JG:) Wound healer, expectorant, gentle soothing anti-inflammatory. Astringent, diuretic, expectorant, promotes healing, effective against bacterial infections. Diarrhoea, haemorrhage, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma, ear infections, dry cough, gastric ulcer. EXTERNAL heals insect bites!!!, wounds, eye inflammation.
This is just a beginning! There are many other beneficial weeds that are great friends to nurture and keep in stock, such as Yarrow, Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), Horsetail, Self Heal (Prunella), and, amazingly, Japanese Knotweed.
A cherry on top is that even when they have finished life, they bring benefit back to the soil via the golden magic of the compost heap.
If you are interested in any aspect of HeN, please contact the current West Somerset hub person, Cynthia Alves via Contact above.