Herbal medicine has been around for centuries but it lost favor as a treatment for ailments when modern pharmacology became the norm. Modern medicine definitely has it’s place but for those of us who prefer a more natural alternative, there are many plants or “medicinal weeds” that are very effective.
Just walk out your front door and you would be surprised by all the medicine that is around you. I did just that and found medicine growing in multiple places in my yard. Let’s explore the more common ones and a few you may not have heard of.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Consume either the roots or the leaves as a tea or extract; the flower petals can be tossed into a salad as a garnish. Highly nutritious and low in calories. Some of the nutrients in dandelion are Vitamin K, Vitamin A and Vitamin C; while boasting high fiber to help lower cholesterol. It is also rich in minerals and is known to be a tonic for the liver. The origins of dandelion as a medicine can be traced back to 659 B.C. in ancient China. Traditionally, it was used to promote good digestion and to heal the liver. Some Native American tribes would chew on the root to relieve pain. One of the benefits that are being studied is it’s treatment for cancer. There is a 2011 study out of the University of Windsor in Canada treating skin cancer cells with an extract of dandelion. It was found that it began to kill off the cancer cells within 48 hours of treatment. Another 2015 in vitro study out of Canada also showed that applying the extract to the skin helped to protect against damage from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Plaintain (Plantago major): This beneficial “weed” probably grows right outside your front door in your lawn. It is edible but is traditionally used for it’s medicinal qualities. It contains plant compounds noted to reduce inflammation, promote wound healing and can improve digestion. The anti-inflammatory compounds include flavonoids, terpenoids, glycosides and tannins. Animal study findings reported that an extract of plaintain significantly decreased inflammation caused by liver injury. The extract also reduced liver enzymes to protect against liver damage. This weed is also noted to heal wounds by blocking microbial growth; it relieves pain and itching. In my shop, try the Four Herb Salve which contains plaintain, calendula, St John’s Wort and comfrey with Lavender Essential Oil. It soothes and heals minor wounds quickly.
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis): This North American species is very prolific and widespread across North America and Canada. This “weed” flowers in late summer and early fall. The flowers, leaves and roots are often used medicinally for such conditions as bladder weakness, kidney inflammation, small kidney stones, dropsy, wound healing of insect bites, gout, rheumatism, dental ulcers and respiratory conditions such as asthma; helps to get rid of mucus that is stuck in the lungs and combats seasonal allergies. It has been found to be antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antispasmotic, immunostimulatory, and soothing to the respiratory tract (it is said to contain quercitin). The antioxidants in Goldenrod may be helpful to remove toxins in the body. Goldenrod can be taken as a tea or tincture.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): Traditionally, the whole “weed” is used medicinally. It is commonly used for menstrual and digestive-related issues; and is parasitic to get rid of intestinal worms. The leaves are slightly bitter and very aromatic which help to stimulate digestive juices. The dried leaves can also be used as a smudge stick as the smoke has a calming effect. The active components of artemisia vulgaris are flavanoids, coumarins, volatile oils, inulin and alkaloids. A few of the main volatile oils are camphor, camphene, germacrene D, 1-8-, cineole, alpha-thujone and beta-caryophyllene. Some of the medicinal properties are used to treat asthma, menstrual pain, diarrhea, malaria, skin infections, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and depression. It is said that a cup of mugwort tea before bedtime helps in remembering dreams; also if meditating, the tea relaxes and helps to enter the meditative state. Caution: Should never be used in pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus): Also called Yellow dock, it has an ancient history as a powerful purifying, cleansing herb. This “weed” is edible, containing protein, Vitamins A and C, bioflavonoids, iron and magnesium. It does contain oxalates so it’s better to boil 2-3 times changing the cooking water first but can be eaten raw in moderation. The autumn dried flower heads containing the seeds have been used as a grain to make flour for baking. The strongest medicinal properties are found in the root, there is a high concentration of iron; harvested in early autumn or dried for later use. It mildly stimulates digestive secretions to promote the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder, thus improving the absorption of nutrients. It is known to treat anemia, rheumatism, fevers, liver problems, hemorrhoids, swollen lymph glands and constipation. It also has been studied in the treatment of cancer and bacterial infections. A poultice of the powder of the dried root can be applied to heal wounds, skin inflammations, itching, and eczema. It has also been used to treat gingivitis and toothaches.
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa): Wild lettuce has been widely used since ancient Greece for it’s pain-relieving effects. The leaves, milky sap and seeds are used to make medicine. During the Civil War, when liquid opium became scarce, this plant was put to use as a substitute. It has opioid-like effects without the addictive properties. This plant is extremely effective at reducing pain; much like the effectiveness of ibuprofen or aspirin. It also has mild diuretic effects, powerful sedative properties, and can loosen & expel phlegm from the respiratory tract. It has been useful for arthritis, painful menstrual cycles, headaches, migraines, urinary tract infection, edema, insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, coughs and asthma. Can be made into a tea or tincture. It grows readily all around the world.
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americans L.): This weed is very common in the Northeastern parts of the USA. It is considered a poisonous plant but has been used in Folk Remedies. All parts of the plant are poisonous to a greater or lesser degree; the roots are most potent, leaves lesser and berries the least poisonous; but again, poisonous. With that said, the very young leaves in early spring can be eaten if boiled 2 or 3 times while emptying the water and fresh water each boiling session. There are no clinical trials as of yet but this weed is being studied for it’s antiviral activity, including HIV, poliovirus, herpes, flu, and cytomegalovirus. Folk remedies have been using this to treat chronic rheumatism, arthritis and for immune stimulation. It has also been used as an emetic and purgative. Other folk uses include edema, skin cancers, catarrh, dysmenorrhea, mumps, ringworm, scabies, tonsillitis, and syphilis. The roots can be made into a tincture. If using this as a tincture, only one drop per day is all that is needed; only use this under the direction of an experienced herbalist. The berries are often used as a dye and as a coloring in wine.
Foraging for medicinal weeds is a wonderful way to explore your surroundings, even your backyard. This is only a sampling of what can be foraged in local parks or forest if nearby to your home; or venture to the countryside, up into the mountains for a vast selection of trees, plants, berries, nuts and mushrooms. God’s medicine cabinet is all around us. There are numerous books available to help to identify what’s safe to eat and what’s not. Enjoy His Bountiful Harvest.