Sometimes the medicine we need is right under our nose…
I’ve been working on a permaculture farm in central France this summer and one of the interesting things about living in a rural area is making use of what you have, or going without. When I arrived, I noticed my liver needed a bit of a cleaning and without any medicine on hand, I had to be a bit creative with my resources. A daily task for us farm interns is to take care of the seemingly endless weeding in the large veggie beds but it isn’t all bad, as you get to know a lot about the plants you spend your time with. The definition of a weed is just a plant that does not belong in the place it is currently occupying and I learned that some of these “weeds” are actually very high in value. After some research, it dawned on me that I have been surrounded by my own living, breathing medicine cabinet all along. Many of the common plants that we consider pests actually have many uses including medicine, wild food and pest control. Here are a few plants that you will most likely find in your own backyard and once you realise their usefulness, you’ll never look at them the same again.
Dandelion (taraxacum officiale): Everyone knows dandelion with it’s cute yellow flower which turns into a white fluffy ball that you can blow into the wind. It’s one of my favourite little weeds that 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 and is commonly found in many expensive boxed “tea-toxes”. It can be steeped into a tea to cure a killer hangover or roasted and brewed 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.
Stinging Nettle (urtica dioica): WARNING – watch out for the pricks on this one, they’re little but they hurt! This plant is one of my worst enemies while weeding but it has an absolutely astonishing amount of uses. 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 fertiliser. Other uses are insect repellent (for both plants and humans), livestock feed and cuisine, if you’re adventurous – think nettle soup!
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. This is a great mild herb that can be see regularly for children. Great recipe for Sleepy Time Tincture here.
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. I didn’t have any seeds available so I used the root only and now am waiting a few more weeks for it to infuse before I drink it.
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