I have written posts on eating and using weeds before but I thought maybe a list would be a good way to make it all clear and easy to follow. I was going through an old gardening book of mine, one that was a bible for me in my early days of learning. In the back there was a section of several pages listing common weeds in the yard and how to eradicate them. Many of the weeds pictured I now know to be useful in many ways and some are even edible. I recall when I first got the book, over 15 years ago, I went over that list like written law and spent weekends chasing and killing these weeds. I remember the names of all of the weed killing preparations I spent hours in WalMart investigating and buying. I thought of a weekend afternoon pulling weeds as a part of a workout. I lived in a nice waterfront house in those days and the yard was perfect: manicured, weed free and green.
But I also recall that about 10 years ago, when I first started investigating herbs, I was doing my usual routine in the yard and pulling up weeds. I lived in a small apartment at that time and had a yard that looked like a rubble patch dotted with what I recognized as weeds. During my weed pulling exercise I suddenly realized that I had a handful of Shepherds Purse in one hand and a pile of Chickweed next to me. In my new learnings about herbs I knew right away that these were useful herbs and not really weeds after all. I had just learned how to make Dandelion tea for a diuretic and had had my first salad with Purslane. So I stopped cold in my tracks and haven’t gone to my mindless weed killing routine since. Oh, I know that some of those nasty little plants are indeed weeds and these should be killed and tossed. And not into the compost, please! The useless ones include Goosegrass, Crabgrass and most grasses you don’t intend to grow as your lawn; Sedge; Reed; Clover; Buttercups; Carpetweeds; and a ton of others that you know are a problem. However, look my list over carefully and make sure that you don’t destroy the good guys in the process and then check out the post that follows each plant to find out what to do with them when you get lucky enough to find them.
Pull up the plant and find the bulb. You can add the leaves to the compost pile and set aside the bulb for many future uses. Dry it carefully by setting it out where there is fresh air. Use Wild Garlic sparingly in food; rub plates or bowls with the clove to improve flavor. Do not use as liberally as you do store bought Garlic. It is much stronger and is really good when pickled in Wine Vinegar. Other uses for Wild Garlic include as an antibiotic when both taken internally and rubbed onto the skin. Take a small amount daily to help cleanse the blood, lower the blood pressure, protect against common colds and to ward off diseases like Typhoid, Dysentery and parasite infestation. In the garden, it will ward off Potato blight when made as in infusion by boiling and simmering in water and then spraying the garlic water on the plants.
Wild Onions include the Welsh Onion, Everlasting Onion, Tree Onion and Egyptian Onion. The Tree Onion should be cultivated as a novelty plant. It is pretty and very rare. It’s common uses is as a rare culinary delight. Remove the Onion from the stem tips and pickle it in Vinegar. The Welsh Onion can be used just like Chives. The leaves should be harvested and used in any dish that Onions are used in. Delicious. The Everlasting Onion is a very sharp flavored Onion that ripens in Spring. Pull it up and use the bulbs just as you would any Onion, only use less of it if you are sensitive to strong flavors with a bit of a bite. Egyptian Onions are similar to Tree Onions, they grow on trees as small bunches with long chive-like leaves. Pull the Onions from the stems and use them in cooking like any Onion. These, too, are delightful when pickled.
Chickweed, Common (Stellaria Media)
Instead of pulling this plant and tossing it, you should be cultivating it! It has tiny juicy leaves that are delicious in salads and other vegetable dishes. I have actually had Chickweed in salads at fancy restaurants. Common Chickweed, with the small white star shaped flowers, is the most succulent. You will find it in yards and on roadsides all over the planet. It is great fresh and put in a salad with other greens or you can dry it and use in hot dishes. You can also steam or simmer it and eat it with butter and lemon juice. It is rich in Copper and Iron. Young women the world over should eat it daily. It also has great healing properties. Drink it as a tonic for coughs, colds, irritations, inflammations and to fix constipation. Just boil it up and drink the tea. You can also use Chickweed “tea” as a rinse for sore eyes and as a rinse for inflamed skin. You can mash up fresh leaves and make poultice for applying to boils or swellings. Boil it with lard and make an ointment.
English Daisy (Lawn Daisy) (Bellas Perennis)
This little white and yellow flower is delicious in salads. You can either separate the petals and just stir them in or dot the salad with whole flowers. The dried flowers look good in Potpourri and are small enough to not overcrowd the mix. Plant in the garden to attract Bees and Butterflies. Infuse flowers in hot bath water and bathe with them to revive your skin. Make up a strong tea and drink it for Gastroenteritis, Diarrhea and as an expectorant for Bronchitis or other congestion. Crushed fresh leaves from the whole plant can be made into a poultice or decoction to be applied to the skin to help heal wounds & bruises.
Dandelions are famous as diuretics, made into a popular drink and often drank to help cure Cystitis, Edema and Kidney problems. But Dandelions have other uses, as well. The leaves and petals of the plant are often used to make herbal paper. I will have recipes for making herbal paper in future blog posts. Dandelions also contain a rich emollient that can be used in cosmetics. It’s especially good in cleansing lotions made for dry and mature skin. Dandelion tea is also known to help ease Hypertension. Make a cup from 1 cup of leaves and water and drink 3 times a day. Dandelion Wine is very good and has been popular for generations. But did you know that Dandelions make a great Coffee substitute? Other uses is as a poultice for warts, a tonic for constipation and in making yellow dye. Dandelions also make a great additive to fertilizer. In soil that is Copper deficient, add Dandelions to the mix and strew on the soil. Test Copper levels on a regular basis to be sure you don’t overdo it.
Purslane (Portulaca Oleracea)
Here is another great salad vegetable that tastes delicious when prepared correctly. Summer Purslane is crunchy and has a succulent, nutty flavor. Winter Purslane is available year round. Winter Purslane provides cool and juicy bulk to late Winter and early Spring salads. The entire plant is used in salads and the leaves can be cooked as well and eaten like Spinach. Summer Purslane is pretty in the garden and makes a lovely addition to formal herb gardens. It is high in Vitamin C. Eaten raw, it works as a diuretic and can help with high blood pressure, edema, kidney problems and cystitis. The thick leaves and stems are good pickled in Vinegar. The French eat it cooked with Sorrel. This is a crunchy, cooling plant that balances well against spicier and hotter salad greens.
Lambs Quarters, White Goosefoot, Pigweed or Fat Hen (Chenopodium Album)
This plant is rich in Iron and other minerals. It is a great addition to fertilizers in lawns that are lacking in Iron and other minerals. The seeds have been traditionally ground into a flour and eaten as a gruel. Fat Hen is rich in fat and albumin and has been eaten as a staple since the Iron Age. You can steam the flower spikes and toss in butter and eat like Broccoli. The young leaves are good served raw in salads. They can also be cooked into casseroles, stuffings and soups. They are also sometimes pureed and added to pies. When shoots are pencil thick and 5″ tall or more, boil, peel and eat like Asparagus. Fat Hen and Pigweed have been used as poultry food for generations; they fatten the birds. Anyway you eat this weed you are getting a great source of Iron, vitamins and minerals. Made into a poultice or ointment it will cleanse and heal skin sores.
Ground Elder or Goutweed (Aegopodium Podagraria)
The leaves of this weed are really aromatic and can be simmered in a little water and served as a vegetable with butter and lemon juice. You can also make a warm poultice of boiled roots and leaves and rub in on aching joints. This herb is also a mild sedative. Infuse a handful of fresh leaves in 5/8 pint of boiling water and drink as needed but no more than twice in a day.
This herb is not good for eating or for healing. But it is often used in dye making. Use the young shoots with an alum mordant to make a bright yellowish green dye. I will be posting more information and recipes on herbal dye making in the near future.
Yarrow or Milfoil (Achillea Millefolium)
Dried Yarrow heads make great additions to any floral arrangement or wreath. Peppery young leaves can be added to salads and soft cheese dips. Chop up very finely and add to food raw. Makes a lovely garnish. In the garden, you can infuse Yarrow leaves to make a copper nutrient and crop fertilizer. Added to the compost pile, Yarrow will speed decomposition. Infused fresh flowers can be used as a facial steam and general skin tonic. Added to a face mask or into a warm bath, Yarrow flowers and leaves can dry and tone greasy skin. Minor skin irritations from shaving or other small cuts are soothed by Yarrow. Mash up some leaves with your fingers and apply directly. If you chew fresh leaves, they will help with a tooth ache. Make a tea and use as a mouthwash to soothe cheek and gum inflammations. Drinking Yarrow tea will help digestive problems and has been known to regulate menstrual flow. In Germany, Yarrow is approved as a treatment for menstrual cramps. The tea can also induce perspiration, cleanse the system and cure a cold. Make a decoction and apply directly to wounds, chapped skin and rashes. Just be careful and don’t use too much. Overuse of Yarrow has been known to cause a skin sensitivity to light.
Heal All or Self-Heal (Prunella Vulgaris)
This herb is used in healing. That is where it got it’s wonderful name. Now, I wouldn’t make the claim that it will “heal all” but it is pretty darn useful anyways. It is known for soothing inflamed mucus membranes. Heal All has astringent properties and will tighten membranes and slow down excessive secretions. Valuable when used as external skin wash, mouthwash, gargle or toner. Heal All is also vulnerary in action and fresh leaves can be applied to external wounds. Apply a poultice to slow healing wounds to speed up the process. If you add Plantain leaves to the mix, it makes an almost perfect antibiotic. If you apply the poultice to open or oozing wounds, be sure to dip the leaves briefly in hot boiling water first to sterilize them. Drink an infusion 3 times daily to stop Diarrhea. Use a tonic tea as a mouthwash to heal mouth ulcers or other irritations.
Ground Ivy, Alehoof, Gill-Over-The-Ground (Glechoma Hederacea)
This is a quick rooting weed that will spread like wildfire rapidly. Pick and dry the plant as soon as the flowers appear in Spring. The “tea”, known as “gill tea” is a famous, old fashioned country remedy. The tea will calm coughs, chase off colds, ease menstrual pains and kidney complaints. Take a small cupful three times a day until the problem fades. A fresh hot infusion of Ground Ivy can be made up and drunk to chase off the flu and to dry up a runny nose. Externally, use the tea as an eyewash or make up a poultice for bruises and swellings. Long in history, Alehoof has been used to clear and flavor Ale before introducing Hops to the mix.
Plantain, Broad Leaf (Plantago Major)
This is one of the most widespread weeds in the world. It is found, literally, everywhere. The leaves are edible in salads and in vegetable dishes but they are rather bland. Add seasonings to brighten the flavor. Plantain has a long and rich history as a medicine, however, and is among the first recorded herbs. It has been mostly used in recipes for vulnerary and soothing ointments. It is also astringent and cooling. It is used to cure fevers, diarrhea, thrush, bladder and kidney troubles. Take an infusion of the leaves or a decoction of the root to treat these problems. Used externally as a tea or infusion, it cleans the skin and makes a soothing eyewash. Apply the fresh leaves directly to the skin to heal insect bites, stings, burns and open, bleeding wounds. Refer to my earlier post on weeds for even more great info on Plantain.’
Plantain, Buckhorn (Plantago Lanceolata)
Very similar to Broadleaf Plantain, Buckthorn is known to be an astringent. Apply fresh leaves directly to the skin to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Can be used in every way that Plantago Major is used.
Shepherds’ Purse (Capsella Bursa-Pastoris)
Shepherds Purse is an elite weed, having special applications in the healing process. It is naturally high in antioxidants and helps with diseases associated with aging. It is used extensively in the treatment of Glaucoma. Make a tea of Shepherds Purse and Rosemary and spice it up with a twist of Lime or a dash of fresh fruit. This will supply antioxidants and Vitamin C, both helpful for reducing pressure in the eyes. Shepherds Purse is also used in treating menstrual disorders. A tincture of Shepherds Purse can be used in treating heavy periods. When making tinctures of this herb, always use fresh because the dried herb loses a lot of it’s qualities. Taken with Yarrow, in tinctures, these two herbs in combination will help stanch excessive menstrual bleeding, even in perimenopause. Shepherds Purse is known as “Mothers Heart” in Wicca. It is used as an astringent external skin wash and mouthwash or gargle. It will stanch excessive secretions and dry out oily skin.
Horsetail, Common (Bottlebrush, Pewterwort)
This is a profuse weed and if you have it in your yard, you know how hard it is to eradicate. It is a surviving relic from early history and sprouts from fast creeping rhizomes and floating spores. It self sows in radical numbers. Fertile stems topped by a spore bearing cone appear early in the year. Later, an erect stem standing up to 12″ high appears, circled by whorls of stiff green branches. Harvest these tall stems in midsummer. Air dry them and store them. This weed has a salty flavor and is rich in silica and many minerals and vitamins. Horsetail has been used for centuries, all over the world, as a cure for anemia and to enrich the blood. It is drunk as a powerful tonic. Take a small glass of tea or decocotion twice a day to build up your strength when recovering from illness. The tea will also help with cystitis and, strangely enough, will remove white spots from the fingernails. It is highly astringent and you can apply a poultice of bruised fresh herb to stop surface bleeding. You can also pour a strong decoction in the bath water and bathe in it to help heal sores and stop larger areas from bleeding. It is infamous through historical writing as a great healer of wounds. In other applications, stiff horsetail can be used to scour metal and wood because it is so high in silica. A strong decoction is also used as a spray in the garden to rid plants of mildew, rust or fungi. In herbal dyemaking, Horsetail will give an ochre dye when mordanted with alum or chrome.
Dock (Broad, Bitter, Curled and Sour)
This is a larger form of Sorrel, it can grow to 3 feet in height and has really rough leaves. This is a very common weed and all forms of Dock can be used in the same way. In rougher times, the young leaves of Bitter Dock were eaten as food but they are just as they are named: bitter and horrible to the taste. As a medicinal herb, Dock has a much better track record. Make a tea of the root and use it as a laxative. It is mild and won’t make you cramp. Taken in small doses as a decoction, this herb will clean the blood. It has many uses in detox and cleansing. It has fabulous astringent properties and is popular as an external ointment for burns, stings, inflammations, swollen breasts and many skin complaints. Use boiled fresh leaves and apply to the skin. For a cooling and pleasant application, mix the boiled leaves with cold cream and use to clean the skin. It has a refreshing effect.
Garden Sorrel or Sour Dock (Rumex Acetosa)
This is common Sorrel and it grows wild all over the world. It is not the cultivated Sorrel you may find in the nurseries. This is the wild plant that decorates your yard in the Spring. The thick, arrow-shaped leaves have a sharp taste and are tantalizing in crisp, spring salads. Pluck them as early as possible. You can also cook them in butter or puree them with cream; this way they can be added to soups and salads. It has a sharp, tangy delightful flavor that adds to everything. As a healer, use Sorrel to reduce fevers. It is also useful for bladder, liver or kidney complaints. It is a cleansing herb and the juice can be extracted and applied directly to skin eruptions. In the household, it can remove stains from linens. Make a strong tea and apply to the stain before washing. This same tea can also be applied to wicker and silver and it will clean off tarnish and dirt.