Weeds, weeds, glorious weeds
Chickweed in bloom
I must confess, I’m not a great gardener. Most people assume that as an herbalist, I must have an amazing green thumb. Nope, not this herbalist. I do love to try and I have learned a little along the way. I like to think of my gardening skills as a work in progress. Thankfully for me, many of the most healing and therapeutic herbs are actually weeds. Now these little guys, I am an expert at growing. I just seem to be a natural at it. I love spring time because every little green thing that pokes its head up through the dirt seems to be brimming with some sort of goodness. I recently took an herb walk around my yard to see what I could find that was medicinal or healing in some way. Goodness me! I filled my baskets full of wonderful goodies that would otherwise be decapitated by my husband’s weedeater. Today, I’m gonna share just a few of these precious goodies with you because they are so common I bet if you take a stroll through your yard or local park or green space you’ll find them too. On the list of glorious weeds are Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago virginica), Chickweed (Stelaria media) and Henbit (Lamium amplexicalue). Just these three common weeds alone will set your home apothecary on the fast track to wellness.
Let’s start with Plantain. I have mostly dwarf plantain in my yard but some of the giant leaf plantain as well. Generally speaking, any of the plantain varieties have these same healing properties.When I was little, one of my preschool teachers called it “spit weed” and she taught all us kids how to pick a leaf, chew it up and spit it out on a bug bite, sting or cut. Yeah, she’d probably go to jail for that now, but all of us thought she was the coolest teacher ever because she let us spit. Thanks Miss “Shell”. She was also right on the money. I still do this down at the lake when those pesky mosquitoes or fire ants get me. They looove to bite my ankles. Topically, plantain is an excellent remedy for bruises, injuries, cuts, bites, stings or basically any boo boo involving the skin. Because of it’s antiseptic and astringent qualities it helps to fight infection and close wounds. It may be applied as a tea wash or poultice if you’re not into the spit thing. Internally, this herb is also used as a healing agent for ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disorders such as IBS, ulcerative colitis and gastritis. My husband deals with UC and this herb is in his daily “tummy tincture” to help keep his intestinal tract healthy and inflammation free. Another great benefit of this herb is its affinity for the lungs. It’s demulcent quality and decongesting properties help pull thick phlem up from the lower lungs so you can cough it out. This makes it a great support to respiratory health, aids in bronchitis relief and prevention, reduces irritation and dry cough, boosts the immune and provides vitamin C and A. It’s astringent qualities aid in reducing bacteria by basically starving the bacteria of nutrients. It is useful in treating mild diarrhea by way of its bulking and astringent quality. The demulcent action creates a protective coating of the mucus membranes particularly in the digestive tract. This little weed is one powerful herb to have in your medicine cabinet. I keep it in tincture form for internal use and also use it as a syrup or tonic for lung conditions.
Chickweed is up next. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a cute weed but if so then this little one surely qualifies as one of the cutest. In the early spring it’s bright almost chartreuse green and billowy with adorable tiny white star shaped flowers. All parts of the plant are edible and useful. I snip some and add to salads in early spring. Its got a nice fresh green taste. Chickweed in the spring is great to tincture for use in cold and flu season because it’s not carried by most herbal suppliers and really isn’t as potent in dried form. Fresh chickweed juice or tea is definitely its most potent application but the tincture will do nicely as well. This is an excellent addition to any cold and flu support as it works as an expectorant and demulcent to help clear mucus and ease congestion in the lungs. Very high in vitamins A and C it gives a great boost to the immune system. Chickweed helps relieve inflamed sinus passages and respiratory tract while reducing mucus buildup. In combination with goldenrod this makes a useful allergy support. This highly nutritious little weed is chock full of vitamins and minerals. It also helps to increase absorption of nutrients by increasing cell permeability. What a great support for you after fighting a nasty cold. Combine with nettle for a real boost. Now topically, chickweed is useful in cooling and soothing wounds and burns of any sort. The drawing nature makes it a great ingredient in salves used to treat boils, sores, rashes, eczema, psoriasis and most itchiness.I think I’d even try it for a nasty splinter rather than digging it out with a needle, ouch! Give this little sweetie pie a try in your herb cabinet. She packs a powerful punch in those cute little leaves and petals.
Last up is Henbit. You may not know what it is but I bet you’ve got it. I had to research it to figure out what this little guy growing in my yard was but I could just feel that it was something I needed. Man am I glad I put the time in to find out about this one. It’s so common and literally grows everywhere around here. I am surprised I haven’t studied about it in any of my training…perhaps because I should have already known about it??? Well, I’m gonna spread the word because this pretty weed is a powerful medicinal herb that is in the mint family. Don’t expect to smell mint or taste mint in it but cousins they are. Its very high in iron and can be useful in assisting conditions where internal bleeding is causing anemia or when blood levels are a bit low. The main reason I fell in love with this little guy is the anti-inflammatory quality. It is used in easing pain caused from rheumatism and other arthritis, joint pain from over use, chronic pain and most issues dealing with connective tissue. As a massage therapist this is right up my alley. I’m gonna have a go at infusing some in an oil to add to a batch of pain relief balm. Henbit is also useful in closing wounds, and healing wounds (astringent and vulnerary). Henbit can also be useful when treating a cold accompanied by a fever. This herb has diaphoretic and febrifuge properties meaning that it induces sweating and reduces a fever. We all hate the way a fever makes us feel but it is actually the body’s natural defense against pathogens. Now, I’m not saying if you have a fever of 104 that you shouldn’t seek medical attention asap, let’s use common sense. What I am saying is that if you can tolerate a fever (I’m talking 102 tops) and allow your body to raise the temperature enough to make it impossible for the pathogen to survive, then you are ultimately going to shorten the duration of your illness and feel better faster…and naturally. A diaphoretic and febrifuge can assist your body in these processes by helping you “break” your fever. I know you’ve heard your Granny say, “you just need to sweat it out”. Well, this is what she was talking about. The important thing when taking a supplement to help you sweat it out it to stay hydrated. As the fever kills the pathogen and the sweat cleanses and detoxifyes your body you have to do your part by putting plenty of fluid in to make it all work. Henbit would make a great addition to your home apothecary and it’s growing everywhere right now so go out there and get it. Lots of herbs we can use in the winter months to help our wellness aren’t growing then, so you kinda have to be proactive here.
Henbit in bloom
I’m gonna share a recipe for a Boo-Boo wash that we recently used at my house for a really, really bad burn. I’m also gonna share my secret for keeping washes and teas fresh and on hand in the winter months so you can always have what you need.
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For burns, bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes etc.
Make a tea of fresh plantain and fresh chickweed. About 2 cups of each, roughly chopped. Add 3-4 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender buds and 3-5 tablespoons fresh or dried calendula petals.
Place all herbs in saucepan and cover with about 4 cups water. Simmer on the stove covered at a low, low heat for at least 30 minutes. Cut off the heat and leave the lid on. Let it cool completely. Strain in a cheesecloth and squeeze all the good juices out. You can refrigerate for about five days and use as needed.
I don’t ever like to throw herbal medicine away so what I can’t use in 4-5 days I freeze. Now, a big frozen block of herbal tea is useless when you really only need a quarter cup. Once you thaw it I wouldn’t refreeze. So here’s what I like to do. Take a mini muffin tin and fill each muffin cup with the herbal tea. Freeze it solid, pop them out and place in a ziplock bag labeled with what it is and the date you made it. As you need it, just defrost one little cube for use.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your shoes on, grab a basket and garden shears and go for an herb walk in your yard. I bet you have some glorious weeds waiting for you, too.