Did you know that many of the backyard weeds that many of us spend time fighting and spraying with chemicals (like Plantain) are actually medicinal plants with health benefits?
We may prefer carefully manicured yards, but often the time, money and effort needed to keep a lawn looking great aren’t worth it, especially when you have to destroy these backyard herbal remedies in the process.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned from local horticulture professionals and wildcrafters that there are several beneficial herbs that naturally grow in my backyard and that I can harvest and use!
Harvest only some of the plant so that it can continue growing. 1/3 or less is generally considered a good amount to allow continued growth of the plant.
Use the herbs you harvest right away or take steps to preserve them immediately (drying, freezing, etc) so that they don’t spoil or lose their benefits.
Important note: There are many native beneficial plants in most locations, but some plants can be dangerous or deadly. Never harvest or consume any plant unless you are absolutely certain what it is. Personally, I’d recommend getting a good field guide and also consulting someone who is knowledgeable about the plants in your area before harvesting and using them. Also, avoid harvesting plants from areas that may have been sprayed or have any kind of chemical run-off. I prefer to harvest from my own backyard or areas that I can confirm are safe.
Warning: Check with your healthcare professional before consuming any herb medicinally, though many of these plants can be used as a food and not medicinally.
These are five of the beneficial herbs I found in my backyard and harvested for use…
Chances are, you’ve seen this herb before and probably consider it a weed. This incredibly useful herb (not to be confused with the starchy cooking plantain that resembles a banana) is native to many areas and has a host of medicinal benefits. As Mountain Rose Herbs explains:
Plantain is very high in vitamins A and C and in calcium. Medicinally, Native Americans used plantain leaves to relieve the pain of bee stings and insect bites, stop the itching of poison ivy and other allergic rashes, and promote healing in sores and bruises. Plantain tea can be used as a mouthwash to help heal and prevent sores in the mouth, and as an expectorant. Most recently, plantain is being marketed as a stop smoking aid, adding one more use to the list of ways that this versatile herb is useful.
In folk remedies, it is often said that plantain is found within 10 feet of the plants and insects it is a remedy for. It is widely known and used for all types of insect bites and stings, as well as for poison ivy and irritation from other plants (like stinging nettle).
How to Use Plantain Leaf:
- The fresh leaves can be used as greens in salads
- Fresh leaves can be made into a poultice for insect bites, stings or burns
- In a pinch, chew a fresh leaf of plantain and spit onto an insect sting to relieve the pain
- A tea of plantain is said to help with hay fever
- Dried plantain leaf is excellent to add to healing salves and other remedies for its skin soothing and healing benefits
Another herb that you almost certainly know and have, but that you may not have realized was a beneficial herb is Dandelion.
The entire plant can be used and each part (root, leaves, and flowers) have some different benefits. All parts of the plant can be harvested and used, from MRH:
Its leaves and root contain substantial levels of vitamins A, C, D, and B complex as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, manganese, copper, choline, calcium, boron, and silicon. In almost every herbal healing tradition, the root of the dandelion has been used for the treatment of a variety of liver and gallbladder problems.
Dandelions are through to correct the physiological reactions triggered by intense emotions that cause eyestrain or red, swollen, and painful eyes. They are used in teas and poultices for abscesses and sores, especially on the breast. They promote lactation and clear painful urinary dysfunction.
Typically used as tea or tincture. Chopped dandelion root rather than dandelion root powder is most often used to make teas combining dandelion and other herbs. Dandelion root powder is used when diuretic effect is emphasized. Chopped dandelion root can be combined with myrrh to make a poultice for boils and abscesses, with honeysuckle flowers to make a tea to be drunk to treat boils and abscesses, with skullcap and/or chrysanthemum flowers to make a tea to be drunk to treat sore eyes, or with heal-all to treat hard phlegm in bronchitis. Can also be administered in capsule or extract form for convenience.
- The leaf used in teas for a nutritive herbal tea
- In a poultice externally for skin irritations
- Breading the flowers and pan frying them for a nutritious treat
- Sautéing the leaves in olive oil for a nutritious treat
- Chopped dandelion leaves added to soup for extra nutrients
- Roasted dandelion root as a tea in place of coffee
- The flowers can be used in a delicious iced tea
3. Red Clover
This tends to grow more in the spring and early summer, but Red Clover is another beneficial herb that is native to many places. It is often recommended for hormone imbalance and for easing the symptoms of menopause.
Red Clover is a nutritive herb that is often added to teas for its sweet taste and nutritional properties. Some of its common uses:
- In teas and tinctures for nutrition and herbal balance
- Externally as a poultice or tincture for skin irritation, including eczema
- In teas for persistent coughs or colds
Note: Due to the potential hormone-affecting properties of Red Clover, it is important to check with a healthcare professional before using this or any similar herb.
Purslane goes by many names, (pursley, duckweed, fatweed) and it grows almost everywhere. It is common in yards, gardens and even the cracks of sidewalks, but has lost its popularity in the kitchen.
With a crispy texture and slight citrus taste, purslane is a very tasty green that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, B-Vitamin, Vitamin C and antioxidants. There are many ways to use Purslane, but these are a few of my favorites:
- Fresh in salads
- Sautéed in oil for a nutrient-rich vegetable dish
- As a substitute for spinach in recipes
- With garlic and pine nuts for a highly-nutritious pesto
Note: Make sure you harvest purslane and not spurge (which looks similar but has a milky sap). Also, purslane does contain oxalic acid, which some people do not tolerate well.
5. Creeping Charlie
Also called Ground Ivy and technically called Glechoma hederacea, this weed grows in many places and can take over once it starts growing. Though it is in the mint family, it does not smell or taste minty. Though pregnant and nursing women should avoid this plant, it does have many uses, but is most often used for headaches and colds and consumed as a tea.
6. Lamb’s Quarters
I pulled these “weeds” for months when I found them in our yard before I realized that they are edible and a highly-nutritious green!
The leaves of Lamb’s Quarters can be used like spinach in fresh dishes or in cooking, but they are easier to grow and many people find them tastier. They are naturally high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Calcium and Mangesium. In fact, Lamb’s Quarters are considered one of the most nutritive wild foods, second only to Amaranth.
Important: Lamb’s Quarter has a poisonous lookalike called Nettleleaf Goosefoot that should never be consumed. There is a definite difference in their look and Nettleleaf Goosefoot has a terrible odor, but it is important not to ever confuse the two (this post has a side by side comparison and other good info). Like spinach and many other greens, Lamb’s Quarters is high in oxalic acid and should be consumed in moderation, especially by those with conditions aggravated by oxalic acid. Cooking reduces much of it and make this and other greens safer to consume.
7. Stinging Nettles
If you have Nettle growing in your yard, you probably know about it, since they tend to leave a painful and itchy rash if you touch them with bare hands. Fortunately, the tiny acid-filled needles that cause the stinging fall off when cooked or boiled and the remaining leaves are highly nutritious and often recommended for their benefits.
I add nettle to my pregnancy tea for its high content of vitamins and minerals, and it is beneficial in many other ways as well (from MRH):
Nettle’s purported anti-inflammatory effects have been repeatedly confirmed by modern research over the past ten years. It is particularly effective in treating allergic rhinitis, relieving nearly all the symptoms of itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose. It also has performed better than the prescription drug furosemide in reducing blood pressure, increasing urine output as a diuretic and increasing salt excretion. It also seems to be effective in reducing pain and producing a sedative effect. It is important to keep in mind that the medicinal effects of the leaf and root of the nettle are markedly different. Nettle root, for instance, shows exceptional efficacy in treating prostate complaints in men. Nettle leaf has some of the same effects, but not to the same extent. The leaf, on the other hand, shows some promise in boosting immune system function and is an effective treatment for many skin conditions. One final use should be noted and that is nettle leaf has been used as a hair and scalp treatment for centuries, and again, those uses are being supported by research as well. Nettle leaf extract seems to promote hair regrowth and thicken hair, as well as reducing dandruff and scalp conditions when used as a rinse.
Nettle tea is sometimes used as a short term remedy for allergies, and nettle is also considered wonderful for encouraging hair growth… In fact I use nettle leaf in my hair growth serum for thicker and stronger hair.
If you decide to harvest your own nettle leaf, make sure to wear gloves and transfer the leaves into a bag until they can be boiled, avoiding contact with skin until after they are cooked. You can even make nettle chips from the leaves (similar to kale chips) if you get brave.
Those are herbs that I have personally learned about, harvested, and used. Have you ever wildcrafted or harvested backyard herbal remedies? What did you harvest and how did you use it?