Herbs have, and will always, play a central role in what I do. I firmly believe that all we need to maintain good health is positivity and an understanding about how the earth can provide us with all we need. It is better, by far, to learn to live in harmony with our Mother Earth, than it is to fight and attempt to subdue her through the use of poisonous chemicals.
Rather than attempt to eradicate the bounty of weeds, we might want to rethink our position. For instance, weeds are super easy to grow, as any gardener knows all too well! Why not try to harness this awesome power instead? More importantly, though, weeds often outshine our domestic crops for overall nutritional value and health benefits. It is worth our while to learn how they can help to feed and heal us.
I am fortunate to have a large rural yard which offers me a ready supply of wild herbs, some of which provide the ingredients that go into my teas, salves, soaps and perfumes. If I stray even just a little, into the woods or along the ditches, I can easily quadruple my selection of edible and/or medicinal wild plants.
It is not difficult to learn the art of wild crafting. Once you get into it, you will marvel at the range of wild plants in your vicinity that have been waiting to be discovered.
Here is a short list of useful, readily available wild plants that grow where I live, in Manitoba:
Alfalfa, Burdock, Cattails, Chickweed, Cleavers, Clover, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Hawthorne, Horsetail, Juniper, Lambs Quarters, Mint, Motherwort, Mullien, Nettles, Shepherd’s Purse, Sweet Flag, Pineapple Weed, Raspberry, St. John’s Wort, Tansy, Uva Ursi, Valerian, Yarrow…and so many more.
This list barely scratches the surface, and it does not even include the wild berries and edible wild mushrooms one might find!
There are some general guidelines one should follow from the start, like harvesting leaves in the spring and roots in the fall; avoiding areas that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides, and keeping an eye open for plant diseases and skipping those. In addition, there are some herbs that can be used as food, but which must be cooked to remove potentially harmful constituents. You will have to do some research.
Remember, always, always double (even triple) check to make certain that you have correctly identified your plants. Despite these cautions, do not be intimidated. Wildcrafting is an enjoyable, healthy, rewarding experience that you can do by yourself as easily as with a friend.
Below are a few plants most people can easily identify, along with some of their basic uses.
Think twice before you try to eradicate any of these weeds. They have so much benefit, it is a shame to pass them by. Also consider that many, if not all, weeds provide food to insects and animals. Destroy a weed, and you may be unwittingly destroying them too!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale L.) – Abundantly found, all parts of this plant can be used. Young shoots and flowers may go into a salad. Leaves and roots can be used in herbal teas. The root, when roasted can be used as a coffee substitute. Detoxifying.
Nettles (Urtica dioica L.) – Pick young leaves in early spring and make into soup or eat as cooked greens or tea. Nettle is high in silica and iron. Detoxifying. Be cautious when picking as the stems contain fine hairs that irritate skin. One dried or cooked, however, they can be easily handled.
Burdock (Arctium lappa L. ) – One of the most useful, and most misunderstood plants. Some disdain the burrs and therefore consider it a nuisance plant. However, the seeds, leaves and roots of young plants may be used, particularly the roots. This plant is an overall tonic that supports immune function. Detoxifying.
Chickweed (Stellaria media L. ) – Grows well in a shady area in good soil. This trailing herb can be added to salads or made into teas. It is believed to help metabolize fat, so may be useful for those wanting to lose weight.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.) – One often will see this herb on roadsides near ditches, growing particularly well in moist areas. This plant is high in silica. Therefore, it is good for hair and nail health. It is easy to dry. Drink as a tea, alone or with other herbs. Horsetail was also once used to scrub pots!
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense L.) – Bees love it, and so should you! Drink as a tea, either hot or cold. This flower quenches thirst better than water alone. It is also known to be an excellent blood purifier.
Yarrow (Achillia millefolium L. ) – The flower, leaves and stems can be used, but the taste is quite bitter. All the same, it is extremely good to drink when one has a bad chest cold as it helps draw out mucous. Its astringent properties helps stopping bleeding. Pick a handful of the flowers and use as a compress on wounds.
Tip #1: Harvest leafy herbs in the spring or early summer when the energy of the plant is focussed on growing the leaves. Roots, on the other hand, are best harvested in the fall.
Tip #2: Gently pick leaves/flowers and dry them flat or in a colander. Be sure to keep the air circulating around them and turn them over every day or two. The slow-dry method better preserves the properties of the herb, although a food dehydrator may be used to speed up the drying process if desired. Warning: Roots may feel dry to the touch, but may still be moist inside. Once you think they are dry, store them in a paper bag for the first month. After that time, it should be fine to store them in a jar. Always store herbs and roots in a dark, dry, cool location.
*If you are on medications, are pregnant, or suffer from a serious medical condition, be sure to seek the advice of a qualified professional before utilizing herbs. In addition, if you are unsure as to the identification of a wild plant, it is better to pass it by. Many plants are similar in appearance to the untrained eye, but can have vastly different properties. Always use caution and common sense.