A very old and wizened gardener once told me that there was no such thing as ‘weeds’
“A ‘weed’ is just a plant in the wrong place,” he would say.
He might as well have said:
“A ‘weed is just a herb in the wrong place … or even in the right place!”
Just recently, I had the pleasure of going on a wild herb walk with a local medical herbalist and was amazed to see that how so much of what we think of as ‘just weeds’ actually have medicinal benefit. This wasn’t just some New Age wishful thinking, by the way. The medical herbalist had spent all her life in the medical profession, and so she knew her stuff.
So since my walk with her, I now see the hedgerows around where I live differently. My walks along the country lanes are akin to walking in the supermarket aisles as I think to myself “Why bother with salads that were bagged up days ago when you can pick it fresh yourself, and gain all the health benefits at the same time?” Or “Why spend good money on herb tea that isn’t strong enough to have any health benefit, when I can pick herbs from my local hedgerows?”
Some of these herbs are absolutely chock-a-block with life-enhancing benefits. Nettles, which make a tasty tea, for instance, are packed full of iron and even its sting, according to the herbalist, is as good as a tonic. And do you remember cleavers, those spikey, sticky weeds that we would throw at one another, as children, and watch them stick to our sweaters?
Here’s a picture:
Well, apparently, cleavers are really good for cleaning the lymphatic system. A tea made from cleavers steeped for about five minutes is just the thing if you’re feeling in need of a detox.
And then there’s the humble dandelion. You may see it as annoying weed that’s ruining your lawn, but did you know that dandelions have a long history as a healing herb in many cultures throughout the world?
Apparently, just one cup of raw dandelion greens provides 535 per cent of the RDA of vitamin K and 112 percent of the RDA for vitamin A. Dandelion greens are also a good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron, fibre and potassium. Among all foods, it’s one of the richest sources of vitamin A and one of the best sources of beta-carotene.
Dandelion has been used for centuries to treat hepatitis, kidney and liver disorders such as kidney stones, jaundice and cirrhosis. It’s routinely prescribed as a natural treatment for hepatitis C, anemia and liver detoxification. As a natural diuretic, dandelion supports the entire digestive system and increases urine output, helping flush toxins and excess salt from the kidneys.
The health benefits of dandelion just go on and on.
The dandelion promotes digestive health by stimulating bile production, resulting in a gentle laxative effect. Inulin further aids digestion by feeding the healthy probiotic bacteria in the intestines; it also increases calcium absorption and has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels, and is therefore very useful for treating diabetes.
You can’t use the actual yellow flower, but both dandelion leaves and roots are used to treat heartburn and indigestion. The pectin in dandelion relieves constipation and, in combination with vitamin C, reduces cholesterol. Dandelion is excellent for reducing edema, bloating and water retention; it can also help reduce high blood pressure. On top of all that, dandelion contains multiple antidiarrheal and antibacterial properties.
And finally, in Chinese medicine, dandelion is used in combination with other herbs to treat hepatitis and upper respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The sap from the stem and root is a topical remedy for warts.
So next time you’re bemoaning the weeds in your garden, take a second look at them and see if they can be of use to you health-wise. Not all ‘plants in the wrong place’ are herbs, of course, and some would be useless to us while a few would be actually poisonous.
But nettles, dandelions and cleavers are easy to recognise and safe to use, so long as you don’t overdo it. If in doubt, though, about what to take from your garden, you can always ask a medical herbalist.
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