Electuaries: 13+ Tips for Making DELICIOUS Herbal Medicines

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Kids can be pretty picky about taking herbal medicines. If it tastes bitter or strange, they don’t want anything to do with it. Some herbs can be tough for adults to ingest, too.

Before reading this article, your options may have been limited to: 1) choke it down, or 2) stay sick. (I guess there is a third option: Add Kool-Aid mix to your nasty herb tea and pray it doesn’t become nasty Kool-Aid.)

But today, I’m going to show you a fourth option, and it’s much better than any of the other three.

Today, I’m going to show you how to make electuaries.

Electuary Basics

An electuary is a mixture of powdered herbs with a sweet binder. You can use honey, maple syrup, or any other sticky substance. My favorite is peanut butter.

For an herb with a pleasant or neutral taste, I typically use equal parts herb and peanut butter. However, the proportions are very flexible and can be altered depending on the taste of the herb and the finickiness of the eater.

One of the reasons I like peanut butter is that it gives you more flexibility with proportions. Add too much honey or syrup, and an electuary will turn into a runny mess. But peanut butter is thick enough to stay in place, no matter what proportion you choose.

Spoon your herb powder and peanut butter into a bowl and stir them up with a spoon. Then roll them into balls and store them in an airtight container. (Wet your hands first before rolling them, or they’ll stick to you.)

Electuaries 1

Refrigeration is not strictly necessary, unless using maple syrup, but it will extend their shelf life. Electuaries should last a couple of weeks in the fridge. I say “should,” because ours always disappear long before then. They’re like herbal cookies—too delicious!

You can also store them in the freezer. This extends the shelf life into months. Also, I think the frozen ones just taste better. If you prefer honey or syrup, the freezer also helps to firm them up. You might even spoon them into molds, like these gummy bear molds I bought off Amazon.Electuaries 2

Texture Tip

I recommend finely ground herb powders for electuaries. Coarser-ground herbs affect the texture and are too noticeable while eating.

Dosing

Dosing electuaries is easier than you may think, because you don’t have to worry about factoring in the binder. Just measure your initial amount of powdered herb, and divide up your finished product to match.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you’re starting out with 4 tablespoons of powdered herb. Add your peanut butter (or other binder) and stir it all up. It doesn’t matter how much peanut butter you add. If your desired dosage is 1 tablespoon, divide the mixture into 4 equal parts. Each part now contains 1 tablespoon of herbs.

Getting Fancy

Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s move on to some fun variations.

Extra Sweet

Sometimes you really need to hide those herbs. Maybe it’s an extra picky child or an extra nasty herb. In either case, a little extra sweetness can go a long way. My favorite option is to add some raw honey to the mix. This doesn’t make the mix too terribly sticky, and the honey adds many medicinal benefits.

Alternately, you could make a peanut-butter-and-jelly electuary. These can be a bit messier, depending on your jelly, but who doesn’t love a good PB&J?

Finally, you could always fall back on sugar. I know it’s not healthy. But desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.

Here is my minimal-sugar suggestion: Don’t add sugar directly to your electuary mixture. Instead, form the electuary into a ball as normal. Then sprinkle sugar onto a plate and roll the electuary around on it. This way you only sweeten the outside, minimizing the sugar content while retaining a burst of sweetness. Plus, this option lets you make some with sugar and some without.

Electuaries 3

Surprise Inside

What’s better than biting into a yummy electuary? Finding a treat inside. To make these sneaky snacks, form your electuaries around the tasty edible of your choice. My suggestions are chocolate chips, nuts, cherries, raisins, or dried cranberries.

Make a few of each and put them all in the same container. Now every bite will be a surprise!

Going Gourmet

Now let’s really turn up the “wow” factor. It’s time to impress your friends and coworkers, and get your family to cheer. These electuary options will make you the talk of your herbal community.

Herbs and Spices

Raid your spice cabinet to add some zing to your electuaries. Try adding a dash of nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon to the mix. Or stir in cocoa powder to craft a truly decadent treat.

Feeling really bold? Add some cayenne pepper. Yum!

Herb Cookies

I said earlier that electuaries were like herbal cookies. Well, these actually are herbal cookies. Note that cooking the herbs is pretty hard on their medicinal components. The cooking time is fairly short in this recipe, but you would still be best off choosing a hardy herb. Something that could handle decoction1)Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time. This method is often used on tougher plant parts, such as roots, twigs, or bark. A decoction is similar to an infusion, but uses more heat over a longer period of time. would be ideal.

Also, this recipe uses a lot of sugar. I’d say we’re on the very outer fringes of herbal medicine at this point. You’ve been warned.

Electuaries 5

Mix 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg, and your desired herbs in a bowl. Oil a cookie sheet and spoon the mixture out as desired. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 10 minutes. Then take them out and let them cool. Optionally, you can add a Hershey’s kiss to the center while they’re cooling. Now you’ve got a delicious desert that’s at least a little bit healthier than a normal cookie.

No-Bake Electuaries

No-bake electuaries involve some heat, but this recipe is much easier on the herbs than the previous one. Combine 1-3/4 cups sugar, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup butter, and 4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder in a saucepan. Bring it all to a boil, and let it cook for about a minute and a half. Now remove it from the stovetop and stir in 1/2 cup peanut butter, 3 cups of quick cooking oats, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and your desired quantity of herbs. Distribute spoonfuls onto wax paper and let them cool.

Electuaries 6

Dosing is easy to figure out. Take your total quantity of herbs and divide it by the number of cookies you ended with. That’s your dose per cookie.

Chocolate-Coated Electuaries

The heading pretty much says it all. Make an electuary as normal, then dip it in melted chocolate. Now pop in into the freezer to harden and you have another gourmet delight. You could do the same thing with any other coating medium. Try caramel-covered or yogurt-covered electuaries.

Electuaries 7

To be perfectly honest, a lot of these last options are not the healthiest, which might partially defeat the purpose of an electuary. However, these can be a fun project to make with the kids, and can be a really good way to introduce herbal medicine to a public who thinks we’re out here chewing on sticks and roots all day.

Now you have everything you need to craft delicious herbal medicines. Mix and match any of these techniques to become an electuary master, and never have your family members turn their noses up at an herbal medicine again.

Have you made electuaries before? Do any of these ideas sound tempting? Do you have any other ideas for spices, fillings, or other variations? Let me know in the comments.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time. This method is often used on tougher plant parts, such as roots, twigs, or bark. A decoction is similar to an infusion, but uses more heat over a longer period of time.

The post Electuaries: 13+ Tips for Making DELICIOUS Herbal Medicines appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Grapes of Youth: 11+ Age-Defying Reasons to Love This Plant

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I grew up picking muscadines, a local wild grape, in the woods around my home. The table grapes from the store were nice, but nothing beats a ripe muscadine. My wife disagrees, but as I tell her, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love muscadines and those who are wrong.” She’s cute when she’s angry.

Anyway, let’s talk about grapes. Or rather, let’s talk about the plant as a whole. The grapevine has much more to offer besides fruit, and you might be surprised by some of its age-defying benefits.

Identification

Grape leaves come in a variety of shapes, which isn’t very sporting of them, if you ask me. They can be rounded, heart-shaped, lobed, hairy, smooth, toothed, etc. Determining the exact species can be maddening. Thankfully, grapes as a whole are easy to identify.

Grapes 1

Grapes 2Grapes grow on woody, clinging vines with tendrils, and they form clusters of berries. Well, I say they form clusters of berries. But anyone who has gone out to hunt wild grapes knows the frustration of coming across bare vine after bare vine. The sad truth is that less than half of the vines are female, and even those will only produce fruit sporadically.

The trick here in the Ozark Mountains is to just walk uphill of a non-fruiting vine. The seed that grew it probably rolled down from the momma plant just uphill. You can often find several generations of plants that have colonized a hillside, and chances are that several of them have decided to fruit that year. But let’s get back to plant identification.

The leaves are alternate and highly variable, as mentioned above. When you find a leaf growing on one side of the stem, you’ll often find it opposite a tendril. The tendrils can be single or forked.

Grapes 3

If you find a woody vine without tendrils, it’s not a grape. It could be the dangerous look-alike, moonseed. Another way to tell is that grapes have multiple, ovoid seeds (not counting seedless grapes), while moonseed has a single, crescent moon–shaped seed.

Grapevines are fairly adaptable, in terms of environment. Given their choice, they’ll take full sunlight, a generous amount of water, and soil with good drainage. They can be found in thickets, fencerows, woods, and forest edges. They grow in all of the contiguous United States and in the eastern half of Canada. Cultivated and wild grapes can also be found in many locations worldwide, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.

Edible Uses

We all know how to eat grapes. Make them into juice, jelly, wine, or raisins, or just eat them whole. Cultivated grapes are usually sweeter than their wild counterparts. Some wild grapes, however, such as my native muscadines, are especially sweet and tasty.

Grape leaves can also be eaten in a variety of ways. Raw is an option, though I find this method to be the least palatable. The young leaves are fine on a sandwich or in a salad. They could also be boiled for 10-15 minutes and served with butter. I like to add them in with a taco salad. Older leaves will need more boiling, and you will hit a point where they’re just too tough to be worth the trouble. But it’s up to you exactly when that point is.

Dolmas

The most well-known edible use of grape leaves is probably in dolmas. Dolmas are stuffed vegetable, rice, and/or meat dishes that use grape leaves as wraps. Just parboil the leaves for a minute or two. Then dip them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Now you can place a spoonful of whatever filling you like onto each leaf and wrap them up like burritos. You can eat them as they are, or place them in the oven for additional baking. Bigger leaves are a lot easier to work with here.

Grapes 4

Leaf Chips

Another tasty option is leaf chips. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Place your grape leaves in a bowl and lightly coat them with olive oil. Next, spread them out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, or the seasoning of your choice. Place them in the oven and let them cook for about 10 minutes. Give it a try.

Grapes 5

The seeds can be pressed for their oil, which is edible and also used in herbal skin applications. Infused grape-seed oil is considered fairly ideal for already oily or blemished skin. It is absorbed quickly and leaves no oily residue.

The sap is edible as well. It could just be a lifesaver if you’re ever lost in the woods and in need of a clean water source.

Medicinal Uses

Resveratrol

Now we get to the really exciting part. In terms of medical properties, grapevines are a veritable fountain of youth. In particular, the chemical resveratrol can help to prevent almost all age-related chronic diseases, and may render many chronic diseases—such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and osteo-arthritis—reversible.1)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.2)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

In one study, middle-aged male mice were fed a high-calorie diet, and were then given resveratrol. While the resveratrol did not keep them from gaining weight or help them lose weight, it did protect them from the negative effects associated with the weight gain. And not only were they protected from weight- and age-associated health problems, but also their health and mobility steadily improved until their test results were within the same range as the control group of normally fed mice.3)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Resveratrol seems to be able to mimic the effects of a calorie-restrictive diet, tricking our bodies into aging more slowly.4) Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. The science on this isn’t completely settled, though it is a very encouraging idea.

Cancer

Resveratrol also has some rather promising anti-cancer properties, particularly as a preventative. It has been shown to interfere with the three major stages of tumor formation—initiation, promotion, and progression.5)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.6)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. In particular, resveratrol has been associated with a significantly lower risk of prostate cancer.7)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Oligomeric Procyanidins

While resveratrol gets most of the glory, grapes produce a number of health-supporting compounds, such as oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs). OPCs are highly antioxidant—many times more powerful than vitamins C and E.8)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

These compounds are commercially extracted from seeds. However, they are 10-100 times more abundant in the leaves. And why buy a supplement when you can pick a leaf?

By the way, OPCs are especially antiviral toward dengue.9)Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013. So just tuck that little tidbit away in the event that you spend some time in a tropical region.

Circulatory System

The Vitis genus also seems to have a special affinity for the circulatory system. Many of its effects may be linked, directly or indirectly, to this affinity. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, prevent blood clots, prevent and repair varicose veins, treat hemorrhoids, and protect against atherosclerosis.10)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.11)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.12)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

It also supports and protects the microvascular systems of the body, such as the delicate blood vessels in the eyes and fragile capillaries throughout the body. This circulation enhancement is used to treat macular degeneration and eye strain, and may help to prevent cataracts.13) Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.14)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.15)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014. Increased circulation to the brain may explain the neuroprotective benefits, such as its potential to help improve and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.16)Ma, Teng, Meng-Shan Tan, Jin-Tai Yu, and Lan Tan. Advances in Pediatrics. 2014. Accessed May 23, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261550/.17)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

Connective Tissue

Grapes and grape leaves strengthen, stabilize, and repair connective tissue throughout the body and have been used to help strengthen the intestinal walls to prevent or stabilize diverticular disease.18)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.19)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007. They also help to prevent bruising, particularly in the elderly.20)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. This may be related to the plant’s circulatory effects, connective tissue effects, or a combination of both.

Antimicrobial

Compounds within the grape plant also have selective antimicrobial properties—a dampening effect on pathogenic bacteria—while having only a minimal effect on healthy gut flora.21)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. They also have some antiviral properties, especially toward dengue, as mentioned above.22)Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.

Other Properties

The leaves are astringent, anti-inflammatory, and help with asthma and allergies by reducing histamine production.23)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.24)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.25)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014. Leaf tea has traditionally been used for diarrhea, stomachache, thrush, hepatitis, and uterine bleeding.26)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.27)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Leaves have also been used as a poultice for rheumatism, headaches, fevers, and blisters on the feet.28)Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.29)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Selecting Grapes

Medicinal properties tend to be stronger in grape varieties with darker fruit, though exceptions exist and growing conditions can also have an effect. Resveratrol production, for example, is greater in grapes that have had to endure a fungal attack.30)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Grapes that have been treated heavily with pesticides, such as most store-bought grapes, have fewer medicinal benefits.31)Magee, J.B. “J.B. Magee.” HortScience. April 01, 2002. Accessed May 23, 2018. http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/37/2/358.short.

Resveratrol is usually associated with the skin of grapes, where it tends to be the most concentrated. However, resveratrol can also be found in significant quantities in the leaves, though this, too, depends on variety and growing conditions.

Method and Dosage

While the fruit gets the most glory, grape leaves contain the same medicinal compounds in varying proportions. Use whichever you prefer or whichever is available.

The leaves can be eaten directly or used in infusions or tinctures. Grapes are most famously used in wine, though juice can be used fairly interchangeably. The juice may even have longer-lasting antioxidant protection.32)Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

Due to the variability between grape varieties and species, recommending a standard dosage is problematic. This is one place where standardized supplements have an advantage over wildcrafting. My best advice would be to listen to your body. Try a bit every day and see how you feel in a couple of weeks. Up the amount as needed.

Also, resveratrol metabolizes quickly, so more frequent doses may be advisable. And, no, I’m not giving you permission to drink all the wine you want. A little wine is fine, but remember the non-alcoholic sources, as well.

Lastly, for maximum medicinal effect, consume grape products separately from fatty meals. Fats significantly reduce the bioavailability of resveratrol.33)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Caution

When combined with blood-thinning medications, grapes may increase the bleeding risks.34)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

I hope you’ll be motivated to ditch the pesticide-laden, store-bought grapes and grow some of your own.

Are you already growing grapes, or do you have any wild vines nearby? Let me know in the comments!

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

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References   [ + ]

1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 18, 21, 30, 33. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
2, 11, 19, 23, 34. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
4. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
6. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
8, 14, 17. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
9, 22. Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging Resistant & Epidemic Viral Infections. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.
12, 15, 25. Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The Worlds Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.
13. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.
16. Ma, Teng, Meng-Shan Tan, Jin-Tai Yu, and Lan Tan. Advances in Pediatrics. 2014. Accessed May 23, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261550/.
20, 27, 29. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
24, 26, 28. Chevallier, Andrews. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. DK, 2000.
31. Magee, J.B. “J.B. Magee.” HortScience. April 01, 2002. Accessed May 23, 2018. http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/37/2/358.short.
32. Johnson, Rebecca L., Steven Foster, and Andrew Weil. National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2014.

The post The Grapes of Youth: 11+ Age-Defying Reasons to Love This Plant appeared first on The Grow Network.

From Dinner to Detox: 15+ Ways to Get Healthy With Cleavers

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This article on cleavers is one in a series on growing a weed garden, and how to identify and use the plants commonly found there. Check out the rest of the series here.

Plants are great, right? But you don’t always have time to go out and harvest them. Life gets busy. That’s why, today, I am bringing you a plant that is so easy to harvest, it picks itself.

Cleavers 1

Cleavers (Galium aparine), also known as goosegrass, clivers, clingers, and a whole host of other names, is an annual weed, growing about 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) tall. It has square stems, with 6 to 8 small, lance-shaped leaves arranged in a whorl1)Whorl: A leaf arrangement of three or more leaves around a single point. at the nodes.2) Node: A point along a plant’s stem at which one or more leaves or branches can form. Certain plants can also grow roots at nodes.

Cleavers 2

Cleavers produce tiny white flowers with four petals each. These turn into tiny, round, green, dry, bristly, 2-lobed fruit.

The entire plant is covered in tiny, curved prickles. They don’t hurt to touch, though they do feel very rough when you run your hand over them. Some stories name cleavers as the inspiration for Velcro. The tactile sensations are very similar.

Cleavers 3

Most of the common names for cleavers come from its prickly nature . . . except goosegrass. That’s just from watching the birds eat it.

You’ll find this plant growing in rich, moist soil; in thickets, the woods, or waste spaces; and probably in your yard if you don’t mow often, like me. It likes to form clusters, if given half a chance, and will recline on whatever vegetation is around it.

Cleavers 4

This little guy didn’t come up in my weed garden, but he’s reaching over to drop his seeds into it for next year’s crop. That’s so neighborly.

Cleavers’ combination of weak stems and clinginess make it a marvelous self-harvesting plant. You walk by and brush up against it. Then it grabs hold of your pant leg and hitches a ride to drop its seeds off somewhere down the line. It’s not a bad reproductive strategy, given that you can find cleavers all over North America, Europe, and many of the other temperate regions of the world, including Australia. Cleavers can be found in Greenland, in all of the southern provinces of Canada, and in every U.S. state except Hawaii. (Chin up, Hawaii. You have pineapples.)

Cleavers has such a wide growing range that telling you their growing season becomes tricky. April to September would not be an unreasonable generalization. But like anything else, it depends. Down south, you’ll get them popping up and fruiting a lot sooner. Here in my Arkansas yard, they’re definitely through with the flowering stage and have set their seeds. Give it another month and most of them will be gone with the heat. In cooler climates, you might have them all through the summer.

Edible Uses for Cleavers

Cleavers can be used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. It’s supposed to taste just like coffee. They’re in the same family, so I guess that makes sense. Slow roast the seeds in your oven or on the stovetop until dark brown. They’re small, so watch that they don’t burn. Then, send them through your coffee grinder and prepare the grounds as you would regular coffee.

I’m not a fan, but I’m not a big coffee drinker to begin with. Give it a try, and then come back here to tell me what you think.

Other foragers will tell you how great the young shoots are when you cook them. Boil them for 10 to 15 minutes, then add them to omelets. Boil, then chill and add to salads. Enjoy the young tips raw, or boil and serve them with butter, etc.

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not in with the majority here. I just don’t care for cleavers, raw or cooked. But I’ll tell you what I do enjoy. The juice! If you don’t have a juicer, just fill up your blender. Add a little water to help it get started, and then strain out the pulp when you’re done. Jelly straining bags work great. Or just use a clean sock. I won’t tell.

The juice doesn’t store well, so you’ll want to drink it right away. The taste is mild, green, and refreshing. Add a splash of lemon and apple juice to taste, and now you really have something special. The flavors mingle together and really complement one another. It’s a perfect drink for cooling down and reinvigorating yourself after a hard day of yard work.

Eat only the young shoots or growing tips. Ideally, you’d gather them before they flower. Older plants accumulate silica and are just too tough to eat. They’re still okay for juice and cleavers coffee, though.

Medicinal Properties of Cleavers

Cleavers are a general nutritive herb, and can be used safely for prolonged periods of time to support growth, renewal, and overall health.3)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.4)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. The aerial5)Aerial: The aboveground parts of a plant. parts are used medicinally.

One of the more common uses of this herb is as a gentle diuretic. It helps to flush out and sooth irritations of the urinary tract and kidneys.6)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.7)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. Cleavers tea is often recommended for dissolving kidney stones and for other urinary issues.8)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.9)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

Cleavers are cooling herbs, useful for bringing down fevers and for helping skin conditions related to heat and dryness.10)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.11)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.12)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009. They are also strongly anti-inflammatory, which likely contributes to these successful uses.13)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

They are often taken for diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, and seborrhea.14)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016. Again, tea is a popular choice. Because this herb is gentle and safe, I would drink several glasses a day.

One of cleavers’ most impressive functions is as a liver protector. Most other liver herbs will support normal liver function or cleanse the liver, but cleavers has the ability to protect the liver from harm and to actually help the liver heal.15)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004. Herbs that do this are relatively few and far between, so it’s nice to make a mental note when you find one. (Milk thistle would be another example.)

Another equally impressive function of cleavers is as a lymph mover. It helps keep everything moving, clear swollen lymph glands, strengthen the immune system, and generally improve a wide range of lymphatic issues.16)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.17)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.18)Deane. “Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too. December 17, 2017. Accessed May 13, 2018. http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/.19)Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2012.20)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. It’s an excellent tonic for the whole lymphatic system.21)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

In this respect, cleavers is much like pokeweed. But if you read my blog on that topic, you’ll remember that, while pokeweed is a powerful medicine, it doesn’t go out of its way to be user friendly. In fact, it’s quite dangerous. Cleavers offers a much safer alternative for this function, without sacrificing potency.

Read More: “Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend”

Cleavers’ detoxifying properties also give it a place in holistic cancer strategies.22)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.23)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. This is especially true of the juice.24)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.

Older plants are a source of silica. Silica is a compound that aids the body in innumerable ways, many of which we may not yet understand.25)Martin, K. R. “The Chemistry of Silica and Its Potential Health Benefits.” Advances in Pediatrics. Accessed May 14, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951/.

In Alternatives to Dentists, Doug Simons talks about the importance of silica for tooth health. His plant of choice, however, is a specific species of horsetail (Equisetum hyemale). If you’d like to learn more about Doug’s tried-and-true method of healing teeth and keeping them healthy, click here.

Amounts and Methods

Common methods of application are tea, powder, tincture, and juice. Fresh juice is generally considered to be the most potent, though you could also make an argument for the tincture. The juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, as mentioned above, and saved for later in the year. (Incidentally, this happens to be a nice dosing size.)

Younger plants are more potent for most medicinal applications. Once they start to flower or form their fruit, their energy goes into reproduction, and they become less potent.

However, if you’re looking for silica, everything is backwards. Older plants have more silica than younger ones, so don’t harvest those tender young shoots. Wait until they’re too tough to eat. A lot of that toughness is the silica.

The preferred methods are backwards, too. Fresh juice is okay, but if you strain out the pulp, you’re losing a lot of the silica-rich body of the plant. Dried plant powder is best because it retains the full silica content. It can be made into tea, or stirred into liquid and swallowed whole.

The following amounts and frequencies are fairly general. Consult an herbalist if you’d like to tailor a protocol to suit your particular needs.

Tincture of Fresh Plant

1:2 ration in 25% alcohol. Use 1–2 dropperfuls, up to 4x daily.

Fresh Plant Juice

Drink 1–2 Tbsp. (or the equivalent of one ice cube), as needed.

Infusion

Use 2–3 tsp. of dried herb. Pour boiling water over it and steep for 10–15 minutes. Drink 3 times per day, or as needed.

Powder (For Silica)

Stir 1–2 tsp. of powder into water. Drink it, powder and all, once or twice a day.

Cleavers has no reported drug interactions.26)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. However, as a diuretic it could theoretically amplify the effects of diuretic drugs. Also, cases of contact dermatitis from touching the sap have occasionally been reported.27)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

What are your experiences with using cleavers as food and/or medicine? Do you have any tips beyond what I included in this article? Leave me a note in the comments below!

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

 

References   [ + ]

1. Whorl: A leaf arrangement of three or more leaves around a single point.
2. Node: A point along a plant’s stem at which one or more leaves or branches can form. Certain plants can also grow roots at nodes.
3, 11, 13, 20, 21, 23, 26. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
4, 7. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstars Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009.
5. Aerial: The aboveground parts of a plant.
6, 10, 22, 27. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
8, 14, 16, 24. Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.
9, 15, 17. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
12. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2009.
18. Deane. “Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too. December 17, 2017. Accessed May 13, 2018. http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/.
19. Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2012.
25. Martin, K. R. “The Chemistry of Silica and Its Potential Health Benefits.” Advances in Pediatrics. Accessed May 14, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435951/.

The post From Dinner to Detox: 15+ Ways to Get Healthy With Cleavers appeared first on The Grow Network.

Making and Using a Poultice … Even On Hard-To-Treat Areas!

Click here to view the original post.

Today, I’m going to empower you with several potent poultice variations to bring your herbal medicine game to the next level.

Making and Using a Poultice 1

The benefits of a poultice are that it is very localized, primarily affecting the area of application, and that it allows for prolonged contact with the medicinal plant components. Tinctures and essential oils are more concentrated than poultices, but they also absorb very quickly, spreading around the whole body. Poultices are longer lasting and much more targeted.

Poultices have another advantage in that they typically have a lot of drawing power.1)Bone, Kerry, and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingston, 2013. This makes them popular treatment choices for objects stuck in the skin, venomous bites, stings, and contact poisons, such as poison ivy.

Are you ready to become a pro poulticer? Then read on to learn the tips, tricks, and techniques to get the most out of this powerful herbal application.

How to Make a Basic Poultice

To make a standard poultice, mix dried or fresh herbs with water, stir or mash into a paste, and apply to the skin. Wrap it all up with a cloth or bandage to hold everything in place. Then congratulate yourself on a job well done.

“That’s awfully vague,” you may be saying. Well, yes, I suppose it is. But poultices are simple things, when you get down to it. They’re basically just a paste of herbs and water held against the skin. Rest assured, I will get into more details below. Check out this short video for a demonstration:

Consistency

How much water do you mix with your herbs? It’s more of an art than a science. You can find different recommendations for proportions all over the Internet, but it more or less boils down to using the “Goldilocks” method. This poultice is too dry. This poultice is too wet. This poultice is just right.

Making and Using a Poultice 2

The drier you make it, the better it stays in place. The wetter you make it, the better it conforms to your body and the better the herbal constituents will interact with or absorb into your skin. You want it wet enough to spread easily, but firm enough to keep it from running.

If you’ve added too much water, add some more of the herb. If you’ve added too much herb, add some more water.

Fresh or Powdered Herbs?

Use either. Powdered herbs are easier to work with, but fresh herbs are more potent (at least theoretically). Fresh herbs will require much less water, but will require a lot of grinding and mashing with your mortar and pestle. (Or you can just stick them in a blender.)

Using a Basic Poultice

When applying a poultice, you’ll usually want to cover about twice the size of the affected area.

Again, this may vary. Size may not be very crucial when dealing with a splinter. But if I had a rattlesnake bite on my foot, you’d better believe I’d make a whopping big poultice. No point in taking chances.

(By the way, that’s exactly what Marjory did when she got bitten by a copperhead snake. She wrote about it in her book, Snakebite! How I Successfully Treated a Venomous Snakebite at Home; The 5 Essential Preparations You Need to Have.)

The bottom line is that a bigger poultice isn’t going to hurt anything, but a smaller one may be ineffective. When in doubt, go bigger.

That goes for thickness, too. You can often get away with thinner poultices for minor things, but somewhere around the size of a thick hamburger patty (or veggie burger) would be ideal.

Making and Using a Poultice 3

Duration and Frequency of Use

How long should you leave it on and how often should you apply a new one? Again, you can get all manner of answers from herb books and websites.

For typical applications, an overnight poultice is a good choice. This is based on my theory that it’s a lot easier to deal with a poultice when you’re not walking around doing stuff. Repeat as needed.

Of course, poultices can be worn during the day, too. Six hours on and six hours off is a good general timing. You could also do anywhere from four hours on and four off to 12 on and 12 off.2)Jones, Patrick, DVM. The HomeGrown Herbalist. HomeGrown Herbalist, LLC, 2015. I like to give the skin at least half of the day free from the poultice to breath and relax.

Removal

Poultices usually come off without much trouble. However, if you had a particularly sensitive area, or just wanted to hedge your bets, you could apply a thin layer of oil to the area before applying the poultice.

What If It Won’t Stay Put?

Are your herbs sliding around? Try placing a gauze pad or folded washcloth on top of the herbs before wrapping it all up. Now when the outer wrapping is bumped or jostled, the herbs will have an extra layer of insulation from movement.

Fastening Options

Remember, poultices don’t have to be fancy. A roll of duct tape works just as well as an ACE elastic wrap. Often, you can wrap the area with a towel and fasten it by tucking it back in on itself. No additional fastener needed.

That being said, sometimes getting a little fancy can be fun, too. Consider sewing a pocket into your poulticing cloth to hold those herbs in place. Another option is to sew Velcro straps to your cloth. You’ll appreciate this if you ever have to poultice your own arm. One-handed poultices can be tricky.

Super-Charged Poultices

Instead of mixing your plants with water, why not use an herbal tea or a decoction?3)Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time. This method is often used on tougher plant parts, such as roots, twigs, or bark. A decoction is similar to an infusion, but uses more heat over a longer period of time.

The benefit of using a decoction or an infusion instead of plain water is that you’ll pack twice the power into the same-sized package.

Should Your Poultice Be Hot or Cold?

Temperature can influence your poultice’s effect. A hot poultice will have more drawing power, as well as stimulate relaxation and blood flow. A cold poultice will help reduce inflammation and dull pain.

Plastic Wrap

If you’re applying a hot poultice, add a layer of plastic wrap directly over the herbs to reduce the amount of heat lost to the air. Reduced airflow also reduces cooling from evaporation.

Fomentation

Technically speaking, fomentations aren’t really poultices. They’re more like a close cousin.

Rather than applying herbs to the skin and wrapping them with a towel, a fomentation soaks the cloth directly in an herbal tea or decoction and then applies that cloth to the skin. Wrap this in a warm towel, changing as needed to keep up the heat.

You may want to add a layer of plastic wrap between the two fabric layers to keep your fomentation from soaking up into the outer layer. Heating packs can also be used, if desired.

Herbal Ice

Making and Using a Poultice 4

Let’s not forget the power of ice. It cools, sooths, and reduces swelling. But why stop with plain old ice? Let’s get some herbs in there. Caution: With any of these options, a layer of cloth between your skin and the ice is advisable, to prevent any damage from the cold.

First, a note of practicality. While you absolutely can make a regular poultice and freeze it, I recommend that you make it much thinner than normal. A thin application is easier to bend, even while frozen, and is safer if you plan to leave it on for an extended time.

Another option is freezing plant juice in ice cube trays. If you don’t have a juicer, you can use your blender and strain out the pulp.

Wrap a cube or two of frozen juice in a wash cloth and hold it on the affected area as you would with regular ice. You can also crush the ice with a hammer or blender, and wrap it on your arm as a frosty poultice. It feels a bit like having a snow cone wrapped around your arm.

If you don’t have any frozen juice, you can also soak a cloth in fresh juice and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes. You might call this a reverse-fomentation. Be sure you take the cloth out before it freezes.

Weird Locations

Sometimes an area does not lend itself to easy poulticing. This may be a matter of creative wrapping, or, in more challenging cases, you may need additional strategies.

Consistency (Again)

Altering the amount of liquid in a poultice can often get it to behave the way you want. A wetter poultice will flow in between cracks and crevices to touch every bit of skin. It also penetrates hairy areas better than a thick poultice. The downside is that it tends to be messy and get into a lot of areas you weren’t intending to treat.

A thicker poultice is much easier to keep in place. It’s especially useful in difficult-to-bandage areas, where a normal poultice would tend to fall away from the skin. The downsides to a thicker mixture is that it tends to crumble if too dry, and the herbal constituents may not absorb into the skin as well.

Ear

The insides of ears can be tricky. You really don’t want little pieces of plant material lost down in there. That’s just asking for trouble. However, you do have options.

You can cover the opening of the ear with a thin fabric to prevent plant materials from falling in. Then apply a hot poultice to the ear and cover to retain heat. The heat will carry any vaporizing constituents through the air, into the ear. This tends to be most effective with highly aromatic plants.

The classic example is to take an onion slice, heat it up, place it directly over the ear, and cover it with a towel. In this case, no fabric is needed to cover the opening to the ear canal.

Mouth                          

You can’t exactly wrap up the inside of your mouth. But you can pack herbs between your teeth and cheek, or directly onto a tooth. This is usually done overnight, since it won’t get in the way of talking and eating.

Be aware that some herbs will stain your teeth. I once used plantain in my mouth to help resolve a blocked salivary duct. It was effective, but gave me “zombie teeth” for a few days. If you’re concerned about staining, a grape leaf can be used to shield your teeth from direct contact.

A poultice can also be applied on the outside of the mouth if tenderness or other factors prevent you from placing herbs inside.

Special Applications

Spit Poultice

You won’t get to use your fun herbalist toys, but spit poultices are often just as effective as anything you’d get from a fancy apothecary. Think of it as a field-expedient poultice.

Making and Using a Poultice 5

To make a spit poultice, take the plant material and chew it up thoroughly in your mouth, mixing it with your saliva. This may sound gross, but saliva speeds wound healing4)Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Licking Your Wounds: Scientists Isolate Compound In Human Saliva That Speeds Wound Healing.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723094841.htm (accessed April 30, 2018). and has antimicrobial properties.5)Tenovuo, Jorma. “Antimicrobial Agents in Saliva—Protection for the Whole Body.” Journal of Dental Research 81, no. 12 (December 1, 2002): 807-009. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/154405910208101202. Still, you’d rather touch your own spit than someone else’s, right? So let the poultice’s recipient do the chewing.

Then apply the plant material, spit and all, to the desired area. If you don’t have anything to wrap it with, you might take a strip of cloth from your shirt, use a clean handkerchief, or just hold it in place until you can find something better. If you’ve got the right plants around and a little crafty know-how, you can create a wrapping from leaves.

Making and Using a Poultice 6

Adhesive Bandages

If your affected area is small enough, a simple adhesive bandage makes a super-easy poultice wrapping. It also works well to hold a thin slice of plant material in place, or to cover an area without fully wrapping it up.

 

Making and Using a Poultice 7

I used this method with a stubbornly infected cut on my thumb. I used a thin slice of garlic and a Band-Aid to poultice the cut overnight. In the morning, my thumb joint was a little stiff from the intensity of the garlic, but the infection was 100% dead.

Indirect

Some herbs can be over-stimulating to bare skin. In these cases, you can lessen the effect by first covering the area with a few layers of cheesecloth or a thin, clean dish towel. Then apply the poultice normally. This slows down the skin’s interaction with the herb, reducing any zingy sensations.

Making and Using a Poultice 8

Beauty Treatment

We’ve all seen pictures of someone at a spa. Maybe you’ve been that person. You’ve seen the clay masks on the faces and cucumber slices on the eyes. Well, those are basically poultices without any fancy wrapping. You now have my permission to go to a spa and tell your family that you’ve got an appointment at a holistic treatment facility.

Making and Using a Poultice 9

The Wrap-Up

This wraps up my discussion of poultices. (See what I did there? Because you wrap a poultice around you? No? Nothing? Alright.)

Can you think of any variations that I missed? Do you have any special techniques or tricks? Maybe a favorite poultice formula? Share them with us in the comments below, and help us power up those poultices.

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Bone, Kerry, and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingston, 2013.
2. Jones, Patrick, DVM. The HomeGrown Herbalist. HomeGrown Herbalist, LLC, 2015.
3. Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time.
4. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Licking Your Wounds: Scientists Isolate Compound In Human Saliva That Speeds Wound Healing.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723094841.htm (accessed April 30, 2018).
5. Tenovuo, Jorma. “Antimicrobial Agents in Saliva—Protection for the Whole Body.” Journal of Dental Research 81, no. 12 (December 1, 2002): 807-009. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/154405910208101202.

The post Making and Using a Poultice … Even On Hard-To-Treat Areas! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Making and Using a Poultice … Even On Hard-To-Treat Areas!

Today, I’m going to empower you with several potent poultice variations to bring your herbal medicine game to the next level.

Making and Using a Poultice 1

The benefits of a poultice are that it is very localized, primarily affecting the area of application, and that it allows for prolonged contact with the medicinal plant components. Tinctures and essential oils are more concentrated than poultices, but they also absorb very quickly, spreading around the whole body. Poultices are longer lasting and much more targeted.

Poultices have another advantage in that they typically have a lot of drawing power.1)Bone, Kerry, and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingston, 2013. This makes them popular treatment choices for objects stuck in the skin, venomous bites, stings, and contact poisons, such as poison ivy.

Are you ready to become a pro poulticer? Then read on to learn the tips, tricks, and techniques to get the most out of this powerful herbal application.

How to Make a Basic Poultice

To make a standard poultice, mix dried or fresh herbs with water, stir or mash into a paste, and apply to the skin. Wrap it all up with a cloth or bandage to hold everything in place. Then congratulate yourself on a job well done.

“That’s awfully vague,” you may be saying. Well, yes, I suppose it is. But poultices are simple things, when you get down to it. They’re basically just a paste of herbs and water held against the skin. Rest assured, I will get into more details below. Check out this short video for a demonstration:

Consistency

How much water do you mix with your herbs? It’s more of an art than a science. You can find different recommendations for proportions all over the Internet, but it more or less boils down to using the “Goldilocks” method. This poultice is too dry. This poultice is too wet. This poultice is just right.

Making and Using a Poultice 2

The drier you make it, the better it stays in place. The wetter you make it, the better it conforms to your body and the better the herbal constituents will interact with or absorb into your skin. You want it wet enough to spread easily, but firm enough to keep it from running.

If you’ve added too much water, add some more of the herb. If you’ve added too much herb, add some more water.

Fresh or Powdered Herbs?

Use either. Powdered herbs are easier to work with, but fresh herbs are more potent (at least theoretically). Fresh herbs will require much less water, but will require a lot of grinding and mashing with your mortar and pestle. (Or you can just stick them in a blender.)

Using a Basic Poultice

When applying a poultice, you’ll usually want to cover about twice the size of the affected area.

Again, this may vary. Size may not be very crucial when dealing with a splinter. But if I had a rattlesnake bite on my foot, you’d better believe I’d make a whopping big poultice. No point in taking chances.

(By the way, that’s exactly what Marjory did when she got bitten by a copperhead snake. She wrote about it in her book, Snakebite! How I Successfully Treated a Venomous Snakebite at Home; The 5 Essential Preparations You Need to Have.)

The bottom line is that a bigger poultice isn’t going to hurt anything, but a smaller one may be ineffective. When in doubt, go bigger.

That goes for thickness, too. You can often get away with thinner poultices for minor things, but somewhere around the size of a thick hamburger patty (or veggie burger) would be ideal.

Making and Using a Poultice 3

Duration and Frequency of Use

How long should you leave it on and how often should you apply a new one? Again, you can get all manner of answers from herb books and websites.

For typical applications, an overnight poultice is a good choice. This is based on my theory that it’s a lot easier to deal with a poultice when you’re not walking around doing stuff. Repeat as needed.

Of course, poultices can be worn during the day, too. Six hours on and six hours off is a good general timing. You could also do anywhere from four hours on and four off to 12 on and 12 off.2)Jones, Patrick, DVM. The HomeGrown Herbalist. HomeGrown Herbalist, LLC, 2015. I like to give the skin at least half of the day free from the poultice to breath and relax.

Removal

Poultices usually come off without much trouble. However, if you had a particularly sensitive area, or just wanted to hedge your bets, you could apply a thin layer of oil to the area before applying the poultice.

What If It Won’t Stay Put?

Are your herbs sliding around? Try placing a gauze pad or folded washcloth on top of the herbs before wrapping it all up. Now when the outer wrapping is bumped or jostled, the herbs will have an extra layer of insulation from movement.

Fastening Options

Remember, poultices don’t have to be fancy. A roll of duct tape works just as well as an ACE elastic wrap. Often, you can wrap the area with a towel and fasten it by tucking it back in on itself. No additional fastener needed.

That being said, sometimes getting a little fancy can be fun, too. Consider sewing a pocket into your poulticing cloth to hold those herbs in place. Another option is to sew Velcro straps to your cloth. You’ll appreciate this if you ever have to poultice your own arm. One-handed poultices can be tricky.

Super-Charged Poultices

Instead of mixing your plants with water, why not use an herbal tea or a decoction?3)Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time. This method is often used on tougher plant parts, such as roots, twigs, or bark. A decoction is similar to an infusion, but uses more heat over a longer period of time.

The benefit of using a decoction or an infusion instead of plain water is that you’ll pack twice the power into the same-sized package.

Should Your Poultice Be Hot or Cold?

Temperature can influence your poultice’s effect. A hot poultice will have more drawing power, as well as stimulate relaxation and blood flow. A cold poultice will help reduce inflammation and dull pain.

Plastic Wrap

If you’re applying a hot poultice, add a layer of plastic wrap directly over the herbs to reduce the amount of heat lost to the air. Reduced airflow also reduces cooling from evaporation.

Fomentation

Technically speaking, fomentations aren’t really poultices. They’re more like a close cousin.

Rather than applying herbs to the skin and wrapping them with a towel, a fomentation soaks the cloth directly in an herbal tea or decoction and then applies that cloth to the skin. Wrap this in a warm towel, changing as needed to keep up the heat.

You may want to add a layer of plastic wrap between the two fabric layers to keep your fomentation from soaking up into the outer layer. Heating packs can also be used, if desired.

Herbal Ice

Making and Using a Poultice 4

Let’s not forget the power of ice. It cools, sooths, and reduces swelling. But why stop with plain old ice? Let’s get some herbs in there. Caution: With any of these options, a layer of cloth between your skin and the ice is advisable, to prevent any damage from the cold.

First, a note of practicality. While you absolutely can make a regular poultice and freeze it, I recommend that you make it much thinner than normal. A thin application is easier to bend, even while frozen, and is safer if you plan to leave it on for an extended time.

Another option is freezing plant juice in ice cube trays. If you don’t have a juicer, you can use your blender and strain out the pulp.

Wrap a cube or two of frozen juice in a wash cloth and hold it on the affected area as you would with regular ice. You can also crush the ice with a hammer or blender, and wrap it on your arm as a frosty poultice. It feels a bit like having a snow cone wrapped around your arm.

If you don’t have any frozen juice, you can also soak a cloth in fresh juice and stick it in the freezer for a few minutes. You might call this a reverse-fomentation. Be sure you take the cloth out before it freezes.

Weird Locations

Sometimes an area does not lend itself to easy poulticing. This may be a matter of creative wrapping, or, in more challenging cases, you may need additional strategies.

Consistency (Again)

Altering the amount of liquid in a poultice can often get it to behave the way you want. A wetter poultice will flow in between cracks and crevices to touch every bit of skin. It also penetrates hairy areas better than a thick poultice. The downside is that it tends to be messy and get into a lot of areas you weren’t intending to treat.

A thicker poultice is much easier to keep in place. It’s especially useful in difficult-to-bandage areas, where a normal poultice would tend to fall away from the skin. The downsides to a thicker mixture is that it tends to crumble if too dry, and the herbal constituents may not absorb into the skin as well.

Ear

The insides of ears can be tricky. You really don’t want little pieces of plant material lost down in there. That’s just asking for trouble. However, you do have options.

You can cover the opening of the ear with a thin fabric to prevent plant materials from falling in. Then apply a hot poultice to the ear and cover to retain heat. The heat will carry any vaporizing constituents through the air, into the ear. This tends to be most effective with highly aromatic plants.

The classic example is to take an onion slice, heat it up, place it directly over the ear, and cover it with a towel. In this case, no fabric is needed to cover the opening to the ear canal.

Mouth                          

You can’t exactly wrap up the inside of your mouth. But you can pack herbs between your teeth and cheek, or directly onto a tooth. This is usually done overnight, since it won’t get in the way of talking and eating.

Be aware that some herbs will stain your teeth. I once used plantain in my mouth to help resolve a blocked salivary duct. It was effective, but gave me “zombie teeth” for a few days. If you’re concerned about staining, a grape leaf can be used to shield your teeth from direct contact.

A poultice can also be applied on the outside of the mouth if tenderness or other factors prevent you from placing herbs inside.

Special Applications

Spit Poultice

You won’t get to use your fun herbalist toys, but spit poultices are often just as effective as anything you’d get from a fancy apothecary. Think of it as a field-expedient poultice.

Making and Using a Poultice 5

To make a spit poultice, take the plant material and chew it up thoroughly in your mouth, mixing it with your saliva. This may sound gross, but saliva speeds wound healing4)Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Licking Your Wounds: Scientists Isolate Compound In Human Saliva That Speeds Wound Healing.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723094841.htm (accessed April 30, 2018). and has antimicrobial properties.5)Tenovuo, Jorma. “Antimicrobial Agents in Saliva—Protection for the Whole Body.” Journal of Dental Research 81, no. 12 (December 1, 2002): 807-009. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/154405910208101202. Still, you’d rather touch your own spit than someone else’s, right? So let the poultice’s recipient do the chewing.

Then apply the plant material, spit and all, to the desired area. If you don’t have anything to wrap it with, you might take a strip of cloth from your shirt, use a clean handkerchief, or just hold it in place until you can find something better. If you’ve got the right plants around and a little crafty know-how, you can create a wrapping from leaves.

Making and Using a Poultice 6

Adhesive Bandages

If your affected area is small enough, a simple adhesive bandage makes a super-easy poultice wrapping. It also works well to hold a thin slice of plant material in place, or to cover an area without fully wrapping it up.

 

Making and Using a Poultice 7

I used this method with a stubbornly infected cut on my thumb. I used a thin slice of garlic and a Band-Aid to poultice the cut overnight. In the morning, my thumb joint was a little stiff from the intensity of the garlic, but the infection was 100% dead.

Indirect

Some herbs can be over-stimulating to bare skin. In these cases, you can lessen the effect by first covering the area with a few layers of cheesecloth or a thin, clean dish towel. Then apply the poultice normally. This slows down the skin’s interaction with the herb, reducing any zingy sensations.

Making and Using a Poultice 8

Beauty Treatment

We’ve all seen pictures of someone at a spa. Maybe you’ve been that person. You’ve seen the clay masks on the faces and cucumber slices on the eyes. Well, those are basically poultices without any fancy wrapping. You now have my permission to go to a spa and tell your family that you’ve got an appointment at a holistic treatment facility.

Making and Using a Poultice 9

The Wrap-Up

This wraps up my discussion of poultices. (See what I did there? Because you wrap a poultice around you? No? Nothing? Alright.)

Can you think of any variations that I missed? Do you have any special techniques or tricks? Maybe a favorite poultice formula? Share them with us in the comments below, and help us power up those poultices.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Bone, Kerry, and Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingston, 2013.
2. Jones, Patrick, DVM. The HomeGrown Herbalist. HomeGrown Herbalist, LLC, 2015.
3. Decoction: A preparation in herbal medicine in which the medicinal components of a plant are extracted through boiling or simmering in water for an extended time.
4. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “Licking Your Wounds: Scientists Isolate Compound In Human Saliva That Speeds Wound Healing.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723094841.htm (accessed April 30, 2018).
5. Tenovuo, Jorma. “Antimicrobial Agents in Saliva—Protection for the Whole Body.” Journal of Dental Research 81, no. 12 (December 1, 2002): 807-009. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/154405910208101202.

The post Making and Using a Poultice … Even On Hard-To-Treat Areas! appeared first on The Grow Network.

Dandelions: 31+ Medicinal and Culinary Uses for the King of Weeds

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This article is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

As you can see, the weed garden is really starting to come to life. I’ve got henbit, sedges, dayflowers, wood sorrel, pokeweed, and a few other visitors. But one weed I would gladly welcome has yet to show up. Dandelions!

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelions are pretty much the unofficial mascots for foraging and herbal medicine. They can be found on every continent (except Antarctica) and have tremendous value as food and medicine. They invade lawns, fields, and waste spaces despite every effort to control, contain, and kill them.

Dandelions are survivors, and they pass on a little of that to us when we consume them.

Identifying Dandelions

While dandelions do have a few look-alikes, none of them are toxic. Among the common fakers, you’ll find cat’s ear, chicory, shepherd’s purse, and hawksbeard. Here’s your guide to telling the real thing from the fakers.

Dandelions are perennials1)Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years. that grow in a basal rosette.2)Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level. You’ll never find leaves growing from the stem. Leaves are anywhere from 2 inches to over a foot (5 to 40 centimeters) long and have jagged teeth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The jagged pattern of the leaves can vary quite a bit. On some plants, the indentations will go nearly to the midline of the leaf, while others will have fairly shallow teeth. The tips of the teeth tend to point backward, toward the center of the plant. Leaves are virtually hairless at all stages of growth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

By the way, the name “dandelion” is said to come from “dent de lion” or “teeth of the lion.” And depending on who you ask, this either refers to the jagged leaves or the flower petals.

The scientific name, Taraxacum officinale, could be translated as “the official cure for every disorder.”

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The yellow blooms are composite flowers. That is, they look like one flower, but are technically a cluster of tiny flowers. The ends of the petals tend to be flat, rather than tapering to a point, and they overlap all the way to the center of the flower. Blooming happens mostly in spring, and again in fall, with sporadic blooming at any time.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

These flowers turn into the puffballs that kids love to blow on to make wishes. A single dandelion plant may produce many stems and flowers, but each stem will have only a single flower. The stems are hollow and can range in length from 2 to 18 inches (5 to 45 centimeters).

All parts of the plant contain a white, milky sap. This would normally be a warning sign, but dandelions are an exception to the rule.

Read More: “How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely”

There are even some rather useful applications for this sap, which we’ll get into below. Be aware that dandelion sap has occasionally been reported to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

Dandelions can be found throughout the U.S., Canada, and most of the rest of the world, especially around people. This is another plant that loves us and wants to be near us. You can find them in lawns, fields, pastures, waste spaces, and disturbed ground. They seem to survive everything from drought, to over-picking, to digging, to mowing, to herbicides. But why would you want to get rid of these happy little guys? They’re beautiful, and they’re trying so hard to help us.

Edible Uses and Dandelion Recipes

If you do an Internet search for dandelion recipes, you’ll find page after page of preparations for this versatile vegetation. Recipes abound!

I, myself, have only scratched the surface of dandelion delicacies. There are just so many!

Nutritional Value

And why shouldn’t there be? Every part of the plant is edible, raw or cooked. And not only are dandelions plentiful, they’re very nearly a perfect food. Dandelions are rich in potassium; magnesium; manganese; phosphorus; sodium; copper; choline; calcium; iron; lecithin; biotin; inositol; chlorophyll; fiber; and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, D, and E.3)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,4)Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.,5)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.,6)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,7)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,8)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

That’s quite a mouthful. Literally.

They have more vitamin A than any other green plant—six times more than carrots—and a single cup of fresh greens will meet your daily requirement of beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and potassium!9)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

That tap root really reaches down to bring up the good stuff. You can see why I call them the king of weeds.

Furthermore, when eaten as a whole (roots to flowers/seeds), the dandelion forms a complete protein, with all 9 essential amino acids.10)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014. That’s a pretty good trick for a plant.

Dandelion also seems to help with the absorption and balance of minerals.11)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Overcoming the Bitter Taste

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Dandelions are bitter. Very bitter. Involuntarily-spit-them-out-and-go-wash-your-mouth-out-with-ice-cream bitter.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But how is one to get past the bitterness to access those amazing nutrients? I’ve got you covered.

First, you should select the best dandelions. The best-tasting leaves have had the easiest life. Don’t pick any sunbaked, twice-stepped-on leaves. Harvest from a plant in a shady, well-watered location. Harvest younger greens, earlier in the year. Leaves toward the center of the rosette also tend to be less bitter.

Next, choose the right preparation. It’s the rare individual who enjoys eating a handful of dandelion greens raw. It’s a lot easier to moderate their taste by chopping them up and mixing them with other greens. They also pair well with savory dishes.

Of all the cooking methods, boiling does the best job of reducing bitterness. Drop the leaves into boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’ve picked a good plant, it shouldn’t take much more than this. If not, you can always boil them longer. Use plenty of water so the bitterness has someplace to go.

Eating the Roots: Stir-fried, Pickled, and as a Coffee Substitute

The root can be eaten raw, but tastes better when cooked. Try them sliced and stir-fried with other veggies. Cooking breaks down the root’s inulin into fructose, bringing out a much sweeter taste. They’re also a fine addition to soups and stews, and—although I’ve never tried it—they are reportedly quite tasty when pickled.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelion Coffee Recipe

The root is typically harvested from late fall to early spring. Second-year roots are preferred, but good luck on guessing how old a dandelion is by looking at it. If it’s too old and woody to eat, you can still use it to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Slice up the root and slow-roast it in your oven until it turns dark brown and becomes brittle. This should take about 30 minutes at 350°F (175°C). Let it cool, and then grind it up to use like coffee grounds. I’m usually not a fan of coffee substitutes, but this is one I really enjoy.

Dandelion Mocha Recipe

If you’d like to take your dandelion coffee to the next level (and who wouldn’t?), you can turn it into a dandelion mocha. This recipe comes from Rosemary Gladstar, and it is delightful.

Use 1 tbsp each of dandelion coffee grounds and cacao nibs. Simmer in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes. Then strain and add ½ cup milk (or milk substitute), ½ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tbsp. honey (or other sweetener), and a dash of ground nutmeg or cloves.

It’s excellent. I highly recommend you try it.

Eating the Flowers: Sautéed, Fried, and Infused

The flowers make a colorful addition to salads, soups, ice creams, or just about anything else. Two of my favorite ways to eat them are sautéed in butter and as an ingredient in dandelion lemonade.

  • Sautéed blooms are easy. Just melt some butter and sauté away. (Alternately, you could make a simple egg-and-flour batter and fry them. Yum!)
  • To make dandelion lemonade, just add about a quart of dandelion flowers to a half gallon of lemonade. Let the mixture infuse in the fridge overnight, then strain out the blossoms and enjoy.

The less green you have from the base of the blossoms, the less bitter they will taste. Here’s a brief clip demonstrating a super easy way to separate the petals from the bitter greens:

https://youtu.be/fWyA35Cs5e0

The last way to get past the bitterness is simply to build up an appreciation for it. Sure, it’s not the most popular option, but you really can develop a taste for a food by consistently consuming small portions of it. Gradually, your aversion turns into tolerance. And then tolerance can even become a craving. It really works. Try it!

Medicinal Uses for Dandelions

Dandelion’s medicinal effects are not limited to its impressive nutritional profile. It sports a bevy of benefits. Let’s dive in!

As a Digestive Aid

Dandelion’s bitter taste is likely also its best-known medicinal property. It’s a bitter. Bitters are plants that encourage optimal digestion by stimulating the secretion of enzymes and digestive juices.12)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,13)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Dandelion stimulates appetite, aids the liver in its detoxification duties, helps to regulate the release of pancreatic hormone, is stimulating to the spleen, supports correct bile duct function, and even helps to repair the gut wall.14)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,15)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,16)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It may even help to resist the progression of cirrhosis of the liver.17)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion is a remarkable plant!

To Treat Colitis

In one experiment, participants with non-specific colitis were given dandelion along with calendula, lemon balm, and St. John’s wort. Complete relief from spontaneous and palpable pains was reported by 96% of participants, and stools were normalized in those with diarrhea symptoms.18)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

As a Spring Tonic and Diuretic

Dandelion is also well-known as a spring tonic. It helps to flush and tone the body after enduring the rigors of winter.

The entire plant is diuretic, flushing excess water from the body and generally giving us a good cleansing. The leaf is more powerful than the root, and is comparable to the drug furosemide in terms of strength.19)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Don’t take it right before bed or you’ll be up all night. Trust me. I know.

Dandelion’s diuretic properties help to relieve fluid retention.20)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It is also used to dissolve calcium stones and to prevent new ones from forming, and can be used safely over long periods.21)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,22)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion’s diuretic nature may also help to explain its effectiveness in relieving arthritic complaints.23)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

With conventional pharmaceuticals, as the body flushes out water, it’s also flushing out our supply of potassium. This can be rough on your heart and cause problems for anyone with a heart condition.24)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so rich in potassium that even while it flushes out the body, it still provides a net gain in potassium.25)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016. This makes it an ideal diuretic herb for people with heart issues.26)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

For Skin Health

The natural latex in its sap is helpful in getting rid of warts.27)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012. However, this is not a quick process. The sap must be applied several times a day for 2 to 3 weeks. Direct application of the sap can also help with moles, pimples, canker sores, and other skin blemishes.28)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014., 29)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

To Fight Cancer and Harmful Bacteria

Dandelion may have anti-tumor/anti-cancer properties, though it is not clear whether this would be from a direct action or indirectly through its ability to cleanse and support normal body function.30)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,31)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion also appears to have selective antimicrobial properties, supporting healthy gut bacteria while discouraging unhealthy ones.32)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,33)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,34)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It even helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth.35)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

Other Medicinal Uses

Dandelion is also cooling and drying, and can be used as a fever reducer.36)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It’s a mild laxative and has an alkalizing effect on the body.37)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,38)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,39)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion may also help some people with allergies and food intolerances.40)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

In animal studies, dandelion has been shown to have hypoglycemic activities.41)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. This may make it a helpful plant for those with diabetes, but could be a contraindication for those with hypoglycemia.42)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,43)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

Medicinal Formats and Dosages

You can use dandelion via any of the normal methods: fresh, dried, tincture, decoction, infusion, etc. The dried leaves make an excellent addition to green powders.

Outside of some very specific circumstances, dandelion is widely considered to be safe. Recommendations vary from herbalist to herbalist as to how much you should take.

I will present some amounts that I think are reasonable, but you should view them as suggestions, rather than rules. Other quantities/frequencies could be equally valid, depending on your situation.

Root Tincture

1:5 ratio in 60% alcohol. Use 2.5–5 ml, 3 times daily.

Root Decoction

Use 2–3 tsp of root material in 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Leaf Tincture

1:5 ratio in 40% alcohol. Use 5–10 ml, 3 times daily.

Leaf Infusion

Pour boiling water over ½ tsp of dried leaf and allow to steep for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Long Live the King!

Dandelions are so impressively versatile that I could never fit everything into a single article.

For example, did you know that the sap can be used as glue, or that the stem can be fashioned into a working flute?

What else did I leave out? What’s your favorite recipe or medicinal use? Do you have any dandelion stories (or horror stories about the bitter flavor)? Are dandelions really the king of weeds, or should that title belong to a different plant? Let me know in the comments!

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_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years.
2. Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level.
3, 32. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
4. Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
5, 25. Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.
6, 9, 10, 28, 33, 35. Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.
7, 12, 27. Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.
8, 14, 21, 37, 42. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
11, 13, 15, 19, 23, 24, 26, 30, 38, 41. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 31, 34, 36, 39, 40. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
29, 43. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

The post Dandelions: 31+ Medicinal and Culinary Uses for the King of Weeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely

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Walking out into the forests or fields and coming back with an armload of food and medicine is a rewarding experience. With every new plant you learn to identify and use, you become more empowered to care for yourself and your family. You also become less dependent on—and less vulnerable to—big, corporate entities. But this expanding freedom also comes with the responsibility of ensuring your own safety.

Poisonous plants exist. Some of them look like the good plants. Some plants are good or bad, depending on the quantity. And even the safest plants can harm if harvested from a contaminated environment.

I want to help you maximize your rewards while minimizing your risks. That’s why I am presenting you with 15 rules for safe wildcrafting. The more experienced you become, the more you’ll see exceptions to the rules and know when to ignore them. But I advise the novice to follow them all, because nobody wants to become a cautionary tale.

 

1) Go Slowly

The No. 1 rule with any new plant is to go slowly. You can have allergies and intolerances to wild plants, just like you can to conventional foods. The first couple of times you sample a plant, use a small portion. Also, you should only try one new plant at a time. This way, if you have a reaction, you’ll know which plant caused it.

2) Talk to a Local Expert

Local experts will often know little tips and tricks that the books and websites won’t mention, and they will have specific knowledge about how the plants look and behave in your area.

If you can’t find an expert in your area, books and websites are an acceptable way to learn wildcrafting. However, they can’t warn you if you’re about to make a mistake. Use caution and consult multiple sources to minimize your risks.

3) Don’t Eat a Plant Just Because Someone Said It Was Okay

I really hope this one goes without saying. If you watch someone harvest it, prepare it, and eat it—and if they’re still alive the next day—then maybe you could try a little.

4) Know Your Environment

Physical hazards include thorns, holes, ledges, wild animals, moving vehicles, quicksand, and volcanoes. Just keep your eyes open and don’t stick your hands and feet anywhere you won’t be able to see them.

Chemical hazards can be a bit trickier to detect. Don’t wildcraft from locations that get sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. (If you don’t know, ask. You don’t want to eat that stuff.)

Avoid foraging beside busy roads. When it rains, the ditches are irrigated by vehicle-waste runoff. Many municipalities will also spray herbicides along the sides of rural roads. Apparently, this saves money compared to running the mowing trucks. But it also ruins many lightly trafficked areas that I would otherwise love to forage from. Areas around trash storage, treated wood, and industrial waste should also be avoided.

Only harvest plants from pure waterways. Streams and rivers can carry dangerous waste for miles.

Respect private property. Don’t go foraging around someone’s house after dark. Getting mistaken for a burglar and shot would just ruin your evening. And why were you foraging in the dark, anyway?

Lastly … you know what poison ivy and poison oak look like, right?

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Poison Ivy

5) Use All of Your Senses    

How does the plant look? What patterns do you see? What colors? What’s the overall shape? How does it feel? (Rough? Smooth? Fuzzy?) What does it smell and taste like? (Ideally, you would be reasonably sure it wasn’t poisonous before tasting it, or even touching it.) Does it have a peculiar sound? Yes, plants can have telltale sounds.

6) If a Plant Doesn’t Match, Don’t Use It

Sometimes you’ll come across a plant that looks ALMOST right, but something doesn’t quite fit. You may have found a subspecies or variation. Then again, it might be a dangerous look-alike. It’s best just to leave that one alone until you can get a firmer identification.

7) Avoid Plants With White Sap

This one has a number of exceptions. Some plants, like dandelions, are perfectly safe. Others might be safe once they’ve been correctly prepared. But as a general rule, if a plant has white sap, leave it alone.

8) Avoid Plants With White Berries

This rule has almost no exceptions. Plants with white berries are plants that do not mess around. Don’t even touch them.

9) Be Humble With Umbels

If you see a plant with umbels,1)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers. you’d better be 110% sure of what it is before you harvest and use it. Elderberry, yarrow, and carrots all form umbels, and they’re great. Poison hemlock has umbels, too, and it will render you in the permanent past tense.

Unfortunately, a lot of these plants will look very similar. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever wildcraft them, but you should probably build up your skills on safer plants first. When you’re ready for the umbels, double-check their characteristics every single time.

No matter how smart you are or how much experience you have, anyone can poison themselves if they get cocky or careless. Do yourself a favor and be humble with the umbles. 

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Umbels

10) Be 115% Sure About Mushrooms

Mushrooms take the term “poisonous” as a personal challenge. Some of them, like the death cap mushroom, reportedly taste good. To make things worse, mushroom look-alikes can be very tricky to tell apart.

On the flipside, mushrooms are delicious and a lot of fun. They can be wildcrafted safely, if you choose the right type. Some mushrooms, like morels and puffballs, are reasonably safe for beginners to gather. Just exercise due caution, research their appearance and look-alikes, and go out with an experienced guide until you get the feel for it.

11) If It Looks Like an Onion AND Smells Like an Onion, It’s an Onion

This rule works for garlic too, but the plant you find has to both look and smell oniony or garlicy. There are some dangerous look-alikes, but none of them are also “smell-alikes.”

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Wild Onion

12) All Mustards Are Edible

You can find mustards (Brassicaceae family) all over the world, and they’re all edible. Great. So what does a mustard look like? The surest way to identify them is by the bloom. All mustard family plants have 4 petals and 6 stamens2)Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower. (4 tall and 2 short). The flowers are often small, so you may need a magnifying lens. Some members of this family may be too spicy to eat in any quantity.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Mustard Family Bloom

Read More: “Mustard Greens: What You Need to Know Before You Grow (With Recipe)”

13) If It Looks Like a Mint AND Smells Like a Mint, It’s an Edible Mint

Mints (Lamiaceae family) usually have square stems and opposite3)Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem. leaves. These leaf pairs will rotate back and forth 90 degrees as they move up the stem. If a plant looks like a mint, but doesn’t smell minty, avoid it. It might be fine. It might not.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Lemon Balm

14) Seeing an Animal Eat It Does Not Make It Safe

Animals can eat a lot of things that would make us sick or dead. They usually know what’s good for them. They don’t know what’s good for us. Don’t copy the animals.

15) Experience Trumps Theory

It may be very helpful to watch a video or read a book about wildcrafting. But until you’ve actually gone out to harvest and use a plant yourself, you can’t rely on that skill. Issues will often come up that books and videos can’t prepare you for. Theory is great for laying a foundation of knowledge, but experience is the ultimate teacher.

Whether the grid goes down or you just have a kid with a tummy ache, do you want to know that you’ve read about it in a book or that you’ve successfully harvested and used these plants before?

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has encouraged you, rather than scaring you off. Wildcrafting is a wonderful way to empower yourself, and it’s just a really fun way to spend an afternoon. If you follow the rules, and use a bit of common sense, you’ll come back in one piece.

What are your favorite plants to wildcraft? Do you have any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and we can get a good plant talk going.

 

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers.
2. Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower.
3. Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem.

The post How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely

Walking out into the forests or fields and coming back with an armload of food and medicine is a rewarding experience. With every new plant you learn to identify and use, you become more empowered to care for yourself and your family. You also become less dependent on—and less vulnerable to—big, corporate entities. But this expanding freedom also comes with the responsibility of ensuring your own safety.

Poisonous plants exist. Some of them look like the good plants. Some plants are good or bad, depending on the quantity. And even the safest plants can harm if harvested from a contaminated environment.

I want to help you maximize your rewards while minimizing your risks. That’s why I am presenting you with 15 rules for safe wildcrafting. The more experienced you become, the more you’ll see exceptions to the rules and know when to ignore them. But I advise the novice to follow them all, because nobody wants to become a cautionary tale.

 

1) Go Slowly

The No. 1 rule with any new plant is to go slowly. You can have allergies and intolerances to wild plants, just like you can to conventional foods. The first couple of times you sample a plant, use a small portion. Also, you should only try one new plant at a time. This way, if you have a reaction, you’ll know which plant caused it.

2) Talk to a Local Expert

Local experts will often know little tips and tricks that the books and websites won’t mention, and they will have specific knowledge about how the plants look and behave in your area.

If you can’t find an expert in your area, books and websites are an acceptable way to learn wildcrafting. However, they can’t warn you if you’re about to make a mistake. Use caution and consult multiple sources to minimize your risks.

3) Don’t Eat a Plant Just Because Someone Said It Was Okay

I really hope this one goes without saying. If you watch someone harvest it, prepare it, and eat it—and if they’re still alive the next day—then maybe you could try a little.

4) Know Your Environment

Physical hazards include thorns, holes, ledges, wild animals, moving vehicles, quicksand, and volcanoes. Just keep your eyes open and don’t stick your hands and feet anywhere you won’t be able to see them.

Chemical hazards can be a bit trickier to detect. Don’t wildcraft from locations that get sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. (If you don’t know, ask. You don’t want to eat that stuff.)

Avoid foraging beside busy roads. When it rains, the ditches are irrigated by vehicle-waste runoff. Many municipalities will also spray herbicides along the sides of rural roads. Apparently, this saves money compared to running the mowing trucks. But it also ruins many lightly trafficked areas that I would otherwise love to forage from. Areas around trash storage, treated wood, and industrial waste should also be avoided.

Only harvest plants from pure waterways. Streams and rivers can carry dangerous waste for miles.

Respect private property. Don’t go foraging around someone’s house after dark. Getting mistaken for a burglar and shot would just ruin your evening. And why were you foraging in the dark, anyway?

Lastly … you know what poison ivy and poison oak look like, right?

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Poison Ivy

5) Use All of Your Senses    

How does the plant look? What patterns do you see? What colors? What’s the overall shape? How does it feel? (Rough? Smooth? Fuzzy?) What does it smell and taste like? (Ideally, you would be reasonably sure it wasn’t poisonous before tasting it, or even touching it.) Does it have a peculiar sound? Yes, plants can have telltale sounds.

6) If a Plant Doesn’t Match, Don’t Use It

Sometimes you’ll come across a plant that looks ALMOST right, but something doesn’t quite fit. You may have found a subspecies or variation. Then again, it might be a dangerous look-alike. It’s best just to leave that one alone until you can get a firmer identification.

7) Avoid Plants With White Sap

This one has a number of exceptions. Some plants, like dandelions, are perfectly safe. Others might be safe once they’ve been correctly prepared. But as a general rule, if a plant has white sap, leave it alone.

8) Avoid Plants With White Berries

This rule has almost no exceptions. Plants with white berries are plants that do not mess around. Don’t even touch them.

9) Be Humble With Umbels

If you see a plant with umbels,1)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers. you’d better be 110% sure of what it is before you harvest and use it. Elderberry, yarrow, and carrots all form umbels, and they’re great. Poison hemlock has umbels, too, and it will render you in the permanent past tense.

Unfortunately, a lot of these plants will look very similar. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever wildcraft them, but you should probably build up your skills on safer plants first. When you’re ready for the umbels, double-check their characteristics every single time.

No matter how smart you are or how much experience you have, anyone can poison themselves if they get cocky or careless. Do yourself a favor and be humble with the umbles. 

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Umbels

10) Be 115% Sure About Mushrooms

Mushrooms take the term “poisonous” as a personal challenge. Some of them, like the death cap mushroom, reportedly taste good. To make things worse, mushroom look-alikes can be very tricky to tell apart.

On the flipside, mushrooms are delicious and a lot of fun. They can be wildcrafted safely, if you choose the right type. Some mushrooms, like morels and puffballs, are reasonably safe for beginners to gather. Just exercise due caution, research their appearance and look-alikes, and go out with an experienced guide until you get the feel for it.

11) If It Looks Like an Onion AND Smells Like an Onion, It’s an Onion

This rule works for garlic too, but the plant you find has to both look and smell oniony or garlicy. There are some dangerous look-alikes, but none of them are also “smell-alikes.”

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Wild Onion

12) All Mustards Are Edible

You can find mustards (Brassicaceae family) all over the world, and they’re all edible. Great. So what does a mustard look like? The surest way to identify them is by the bloom. All mustard family plants have 4 petals and 6 stamens2)Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower. (4 tall and 2 short). The flowers are often small, so you may need a magnifying lens. Some members of this family may be too spicy to eat in any quantity.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Mustard Family Bloom

Read More: “Mustard Greens: What You Need to Know Before You Grow (With Recipe)”

13) If It Looks Like a Mint AND Smells Like a Mint, It’s an Edible Mint

Mints (Lamiaceae family) usually have square stems and opposite3)Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem. leaves. These leaf pairs will rotate back and forth 90 degrees as they move up the stem. If a plant looks like a mint, but doesn’t smell minty, avoid it. It might be fine. It might not.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Lemon Balm

14) Seeing an Animal Eat It Does Not Make It Safe

Animals can eat a lot of things that would make us sick or dead. They usually know what’s good for them. They don’t know what’s good for us. Don’t copy the animals.

15) Experience Trumps Theory

It may be very helpful to watch a video or read a book about wildcrafting. But until you’ve actually gone out to harvest and use a plant yourself, you can’t rely on that skill. Issues will often come up that books and videos can’t prepare you for. Theory is great for laying a foundation of knowledge, but experience is the ultimate teacher.

Whether the grid goes down or you just have a kid with a tummy ache, do you want to know that you’ve read about it in a book or that you’ve successfully harvested and used these plants before?

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has encouraged you, rather than scaring you off. Wildcrafting is a wonderful way to empower yourself, and it’s just a really fun way to spend an afternoon. If you follow the rules, and use a bit of common sense, you’ll come back in one piece.

What are your favorite plants to wildcraft? Do you have any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and we can get a good plant talk going.

 

Subscribe to TGN's bi-weekly newsletter

_______________________________________________________

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers.
2. Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower.
3. Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem.

The post How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely appeared first on The Grow Network.

Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend

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This article on pokeweed is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a milestone plant for many foragers. It’s the first plant that many of us eat that could also kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Correctly prepared, pokeweed is absolutely safe. It’s also highly nutritious and delicious. But it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel at least a little trepidation when cooking and eating it for the first time.

Pokeweed = Poison?

My most vivid memory of pokeweed isn’t from painting with the berries as a child, or from the smell coming from the boiling pot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s from just last year. Our (then) 2-year-old came up to me with a big purple-stained grin on his face.

“Have you been eating elderberries again?” I asked him.

He shook his head and led me to a tall pokeweed plant. I saw that berries were missing. Lots of them. One of us might have said a swear word. I’ll let you guess who.

It’s funny how panic will totally wreck your ability to think. My mind was racing to recall everything I knew about pokeweed, but all I was getting was the word “poison.”

I took several slow, deep breaths to calm myself. Gradually, my brain started to work again. The berry is the least poisonous part of the plant. The juice from the berry is safe. It’s the seed that’s poisonous 1) http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2. The seeds are designed to pass safely through the digestive tract so that the plant can spread. So unless he chewed up the seeds, any poisons would likely remain safely locked away. And at this age, our boy was more of a gulper than a chewer.

My wife and I decided to wait and see if any symptoms developed. As it turned out, he was fine. He never had any problems with the pokeberries at all.

That day, two things happened:

  1. One was that I cut down all of the pokeweed plants in our yard.
  2. The other was that I became skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of 10 berries (or even 1 berry 2)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.) being enough to poison a child.

One study tried to determine the lethal dose of pokeberries for mice. What the researchers found was that it was impossible to give the mice a large enough dose to kill them. After three doses, one per hour, of as much as the mice’s bellies could hold, some finally died. The equivalent amount for an adult, male human would be about 45 pounds (20 kilograms).3)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf Just for the record, 45 pounds of water would also kill an adult, male human.4)http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html

Of course I wouldn’t recommend you eat a big bowlful of the berries. Humans may not be very much like mice. But this study does give credence to some people’s claims of having eaten pokeberry pie.

Let’s Eat Some Pokeweed!

Our grandparents would have thought all this caution and fear was far overblown. For them, pokeweed was a mundane food—a staple of spring. But at some point that familiarity with our wild, native plants began to dwindle, and now pokeweed is something of a daredevil food for aspiring foragers. Let’s take back our horticultural heritage and eat some pokeweed (after preparing it correctly, of course).

This video should help:

Plant Identification

Adult plants are the easiest to identify, so let’s start there. Mature pokeweed (also called poke salad, poke sallet, pokeberry, and others) stands 5–10 feet (1.5–3 meters) tall.

Pokeweed leaf close

The leaves are alternate,5)Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem. large (4–10 inches or 10–25 centimeters), toothless, oval- or lance-shaped, fairly succulent, somewhat wavy along the edges, and prominently veined.

They also make a neat, rubbery sound when you rub a handful of them together.

The flowers are white, pink, or green; grow on a pink stem; and form a drooping, finger-shaped cluster. Flowers appear in spring through summer and turn into glossy, deep purple-to-black berries toward the end of summer and into fall. The berries are about the size of a pea and are flattened at the top and bottom. A mature pokeweed stem is red or magenta, darker near the base, and has a mostly hollow core.

Pokeweed has a perennial root, with the aboveground parts dying back every winter. The dead stalk can remain through the winter and are one of the easiest ways for beginners to safely ID young plants. Mark the location of a dead stalk and come back in the spring to harvest the new stalks growing where it stood. Once you do this several times, you’ll start to recognize the young leaves by sight even without the older stalk to give it away.

Look-alikes

Overall, the mature plant is very easy to identify, though it might be confused with elderberry. Elderberry does not have alternate leaves, and the berries grow in an umbel,6)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower. rather than a spike.

The berry clusters resemble wild cherries, though cherries don’t have that garish stem color, their leaves are toothed, and they grow on a tree.

Some people say that pokeweed is a grape lookalike. I don’t see it, myself. But if you’re having trouble, remember that grapes grow on a vine. Pokeweed does not.

Where to Find Pokeweed

Pokeweed is native to the U.S., growing throughout most of the contiguous states, except for in the Rocky Mountain States and North and South Dakota. It can also be found in the eastern provinces of Canada and has been naturalized in the Mediterranean region.

It prefers damp woodlands and open area.

Birds help spread the seeds in their droppings, as well. You can often find pokeweed shoots beneath popular perches. Try fence rows.

Harvesting Pokeweed

The conventional wisdom is to harvest leaves and stems from young plants, no more than 6-10 inches (15-25 centimeters) tall.7)Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.

Pokeweed young plant

Berries can be harvested whenever they are ripe, from summer into fall.

I do not recommend harvesting the root, as it contains the highest concentration of poison. (However, those who do opt to take the risk typically harvest the root in the fall, after the main stalk has died back.)

Some people harvest from taller plants, even taking the newer growth from mature pokeweed. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the plant and your level of experience, this might or might not be a good idea.

The Pokeweed Boogeyman

And this would probably be a good time to talk about the pokeweed boogeyman.

In my opinion, the poisonous nature of pokeweed has been exaggerated. People tend to repeat warnings about poisonous plants without verifying them. This can cause errors or exaggerations to be perpetuated until they assume the rank of “fact.” This seems to be what has happened with pokeweed.8)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf

Don’t misunderstand me. Pokeweed is poisonous and has killed people. You have to respect it, and you have to use it correctly. But the level of fear exceeds the reality.9)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.

To further muddy the waters, some people are more sensitive to the toxins in pokeweed than others.

  • For example, the plant juice causes dermatitis in some people (like my wife) and not in others (like myself).
  • Some people get a stomachache if they boil the leaves only once, while others may have no ill effects and always boil once.
  • I’ve even seen a man claim that he saved the cooking water for use in soups. That one’s a bit much for me, but you can see how the claims of pokeweed’s relative toxicity might get confused.

A Common-Sense Caution

So what’s a forager to do?

Go slowly.

Just cook a little bit your first time, and use one of the longer boiling methods described below. The next time, you can cook more.

Just use your own wisdom, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In all likelihood, you’ll be fixin’ a big mess of greens in no time.

Culinary Uses: Cooking and Eating Pokeweed

Nutritionally, pokeweed is a powerhouse plant. It’s a dynamite source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium and iron, too.10)http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2 But how do you get to that nutrition without poisoning yourself?

Poke leaves are boiled before eating. Opinions differ as to how long they must be boiled and in how many changes of water. This is how I do it:

  1. Boil the leaves for 1 minute.
  2. Pour out the water and bring new water to a boil.
  3. Now boil the leaves for another full minute.
  4. Change out the water and boil for 15 minutes.

The whole process looks like this:

Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 15 minutes

Remember, your timer doesn’t start until the water reaches a full boil. You can keep a second pot of water boiling so that you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up every time.

If you want to err on the cautious side, you can always boil it longer. Two boils of 15 minutes each, or three boils of 10 minutes each, are common cooking protocols.

Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Some people like to add vinegar or olive oil, as well. I like to add a pinch of brown sugar. My way isn’t the healthiest, but it gets the kids to eat it. Another popular option is to toss the cooked pokeweed into a pan and scramble it with eggs. I like to add barbecue sauce. (Try it, then tell me if I’m crazy!)

Young shoots can be peeled, breaded in cornmeal, and fried. Some people boil them first, but many (including myself) don’t. Another option is to boil and then pickle the stalks. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds tasty.

Medicinal Uses: Properties and Contraindications

Used correctly, pokeweed is a powerful medicinal plant. However, the margins of safety are smaller than with most popular herbs.

The berry is the safest part of the plant to use medicinally. The root, while a very powerful medicine, is also the most poisonous. Use caution, and get in touch with an experienced herbalist before experimenting with it yourself.

Pokeweed has a wide variety of medicinal uses, both traditional and modern. Most of these likely stem from its antiviral, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Properties

Pokeweed has terrifically potent antiviral properties against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and coronavirus. Pokeweed is a powerful lymphatic-system stimulant, helping to prevent cytokine storms.11)Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses. Isolated compounds from the pokeweed plant have even been used to inactivate the HIV virus in rats, rendering them HIV-negative.12)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. That’s a lot of antiviral potential.

Pokeweed is also strongly anti-inflammatory, and has a long history as an arthritis herb.13)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. Some people take 1 berry a day to ease their symptoms. Others use the root in powder or tincture14)Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper. form. One suggested dose of root powder is 60–100 milligrams.15)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. A 1:5 tincture of the dried root in 50% alcohol has also been suggested with a dose of 5–15 drops up to 3 times a day.16)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012. 

Again, use caution and seek a trained expert before putting any of this into your body.

Contraindications

Pokeweed has the potential to interact with drugs that have sedative properties. Possible side effects include lowered blood pressure, confusion, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death.17)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. Pregnant women should not use pokeweed.18)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.

If you’re looking for similar effects from safer plants, try skullcap or cleavers as alternatives.19)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. Red root also has some similar properties, though it has safety issues, as well.

Hopefully I’ve scared you just the right amount—not so much that I scared you away, but not so little that you jump in with abandon. Pokeweed is a powerful, nutritious, delicious plant that is safe when it’s given proper respect, and dangerous when it’s not.

What are your experiences with pokeweed? Were they good or bad? Have any of you every tried pokeberry pie and lived to tell the tale? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.
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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
2. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
3, 8. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf
4. http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html
5. Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem.
6. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower.
7. Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.
9, 16. Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.
10. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
11. Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses.
12, 19. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.
13, 18. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.
14. Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper.
15, 17. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.

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Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins

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This article is the second in a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

How long does it take for weeds to invade a garden? Not long. But in a weed garden, that’s a good thing!

Checking back in on the weed garden, we find that it’s mostly still a patch of bare soil.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

But upon closer inspection, we can see several guests starting to invite themselves in. It’s a bit too early to tell what they are at this stage, though I expect the larger leaves to be pokeweed.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Plant Identification

While we’re waiting on the weeds to properly introduce themselves, let’s take a look at two weeds that have probably welcomed themselves into your gardens: purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). The name deadnettle comes from the fact that the plant resembles a nettle, but does not sting. Thus, it is a dead nettle. The name “henbit” comes from farmers watching hens eat it.

These two jokers love confusing people. Like a pair of mischievous twins, they’re often mistaken for one another. I’ll help you put an end to those shenanigans by showing you what they have in common and how they’re different.

Purple deadnettle and henbit are both members of the mint family, with the characteristic square stems and opposite leaves.

Aromatically, they aren’t very well-behaved mints, having no distinct minty smell. They do have an interesting earthy scent, however, that reminds me of Easter Sundays as a child. Your nostalgia may vary. Both also have small, pink-to-purple, tubular blossoms with two lips on the bottom outside edge.

Characteristics                                                                                                                                

Being mints, they naturally want to take over the world, but they’re hoping we won’t notice because they’re fairly low to the ground and have such pretty little blossoms. You can find them all throughout the U.S., as far north as Greenland, and through their native home of Eurasia.

They love cool, spring weather and rain. If you have that, there’s a good chance you have henbit and deadnettle.

Both plants love rich, moist soil … and people, too. They’ve long followed humans around with the intent of moving into any soil we happen to disturb.

Purple deadnettle has triangular leaves with petioles (leaf stems). It has a fuzzier texture than henbit, and the entire top of the plant tends to be shaded purple. Henbit has scalloped, heart-shaped leaves with no petiole, and it’s not noticeably hairy.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Toxic Look-alikes

They have no toxic look-alikes, though ground ivy (edible in moderation) is fairly similar. Ground ivy differs from our plants by having larger flowers and by rooting at nodes along the stem.

Culinary Uses

All aboveground parts of purple deadnettle and henbit are edible raw or cooked. The best-tasting bits are the blossoms, which are tender and sweet. I’m not a huge fan of either plant raw, but I love them chopped fine on weed pizzas or mixed in with a stir-fry. They’ll also mix well with a salad, and I’ve snuck them into stews a few times.

Henbit has the superior texture and taste, in my opinion. Both henbit and purple deadnettle are good sources of iron, vitamins, and fiber. 1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/henbit-top-of-the-pecking-order/

As a sidenote, stews are great for introducing people to eating weeds, or for hiding a plant that you’re still trying to build an appreciation for. The weeds in question just disappear into the mix and become part of a happy fellowship.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinally, these weedy relatives have a fair bit of overlap, though purple deadnettle is better known and more widely researched. I’ll be focusing on purple deadnettle here, both to avoid any confusion, and because I have more practical experience with it as a medicinal plant.

Lab tests have confirmed that purple deadnettle has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, comparable to Vitamin C.2)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410800189X

This helps to validate its traditional use as an arthritis herb.

Purple deadnettle can also be used to stop external bleeding and has been shown to have moderate antimicrobial properties.4)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php5)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey

Chew up the fresh leaves and make a spit poultice, as you would with yarrow. I assume this would work with dried leaves as well, though I’ve never done it that way. I’ve always had yarrow at hand.

Read More: “Drying Herbs the Easy Way”

A decoction of deadnettle is also said to be effective for any type of bleeding (internal or external)6)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php

I’m more familiar with yarrow in this regard, but for people allergic to plants in the Aster family (which includes yarrow), purple deadnettle could be a good alternative plant to try. (But, as with all edible wild plants that you’re trying for the first time, remember to start slowly, in case you have an unexpected sensitivity to it.)

One of the more interesting properties of purple deadnettle is its ability to ease allergy symptoms. This might be linked to its anti-inflammatory properties, or perhaps to its flavonoid constituents. Whatever the reason, it really seems to work.

I don’t have much trouble with allergies myself, but I’ve given dried deadnettle to other people. I’ve got a “plant buddy” (client) using it right now. She tells me that when she drinks a cup of deadnettle tea (1 heaping teaspoon with 1 cup of water) before bed, she wakes up with clear sinuses and no drainage. But on the days that she forgets, she’s wakes up stuffy and coughing. And if she goes ahead and makes a cup, she’ll dry right up. If you want to try it, I recommend adding a little cream and sweetener.

So go gather up some henbit and purple deadnettle, and put these powerful spring weeds to work for you before the weather gets hot and they disappear again!

Do you use either of these plants for something I didn’t mention? Do you have any good deadnettle or henbit recipes you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

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References   [ + ]

The post Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins appeared first on The Grow Network.

Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed

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“Why in the world would I WANT to grow weeds?” That’s what you were just thinking, right? Either that or, “Is this about marijuana?”

As it turns out, I’m writing on the former. And if you’re still with me after learning that this article isn’t about cannabis, let me answer your question with some questions of my own.

Are you interested in growing your own herbal medicines? Grow a weed garden! Many common weeds are also powerful medicines.

Do you want to grow your own highly nutritious, homegrown food? Grow a weed garden! Most wild edibles are ridiculously nutritious; often much more so than the foods you’re already growing in your garden. (I will admit, however, that a potato is much more user-friendly than stinging nettles.) Plus, you’ll know for sure that these weeds haven’t been sprayed with any (gasp!) weed killer.

Are you cursed with gardening failures? Grow a weed garden! Unless you’re growing it inside a chicken coop or downstream from a glyphosate factory, you literally cannot mess this up. Those weedy little boogers are a hale-and-hearty crew, just chomping at the bit to take over any scrap of substandard, underwatered, compacted, nutrient-poor soil.

Are you preparing for the electromagnetic-zombie-pandemic-peak-water-financial-collapse apocalypse? Grow a weed garden! Looters might make off with your tomatoes, but they’ll never think to steal your thistles. Actually, I think I’d like to see them try that. But my point is that these are food and medicine resources unknown to the majority of the population. You can think of them as your backup-backup food supply.

Getting Started With Your Weed Garden

So I’m going to assume that you’re all fired up and ready for a weed garden, or at least not starkly opposed to the idea, and I’ll move on to the “how to” section. Making a weed garden is stunningly easy. At bare minimum, all you have to do is point to a part of your yard and say, “This is my weed garden.” Done! I’ve got a whole bunch of them out back. I’ll leave it up to you to convince your significant other that it’s time to sell your lawn mower. I mean, who mows their garden, right?

But let’s say you want to be a bit more official.

Sure. I knew I liked you. You want to grow weeds the right and proper way. Good for you.

For a “real” weed garden, do the following:

  1. Prepare a garden bed as you would for any other plant.
  2. Stop.

That’s it. Just loosen the soil, because even weeds like fluffy soil, and remove any pre-existing weeds to give everybody a fair chance to compete.

This is especially true of grasses. If you want a really good weed garden, get rid of the grass. No-good, dirty, rotten, grass (grumble, grumble). I’m slightly prejudiced, in case you couldn’t tell.

This is zero maintenance. No need to fertilize, water, weed (apart from the initial weeding), or sow seeds. Trust me. The seeds are already there, just waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s a before-and-after picture of a weed garden I just set up:

Weed garden - pre weeding
My Weed Garden, Before

 

Weed garden - post weeding

My Weed Garden, After

This was formerly an experimental garden, set up a few years back and eventually surrendered to the grasses. A morning of TLC with a digging fork and an audiobook brought it back into fighting condition. During the clean out, I discovered a goji berry stem that had snaked its way through the sea of grass and was setting out roots where it contacted the soil.

Weed garden - goji

Goji

I couldn’t bring myself to uproot such a tenacious survivor, so it got to keep its place. Also, I added a wood chip border, because, “by golly I’ve got a big pile of wood chips, and I’m gonna use it!”                                                           

Now let’s take a look at the weeds in the… Oh, right. This is day one. Even weeds don’t pop up that fast. Okay. We’ll come back to this later on. For now, let’s take a look at one of the weeds that was growing in that maelstrom of grass before I cleared it out.

I give you … chickweed!

Weed garden - chickweed

Chickweed

Chickweed is a sweet little plant with a love for cool, wet weather. It can be found in every state in the U.S. and throughout much of the world, even growing as far north as the arctic circle.

Where I live, in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, you can find chickweed in the early spring and often again in the fall. The further north you go, the more it can stretch toward summer. Further south it leans more toward winter. If you have just the right climate (or microclimate), it can grow year-round. If you’ve got cool, pleasant weather, you’ve almost certainly got chickweed.

Chickweed tends to pop up in yards, gardens, pastures, and along the edges of paths. It likes rich, moist soil, and doesn’t seem too particular about sunlight. It must really like people, too, because it grows around us a lot. You’ll also occasionally find large patches growing in entirely the “wrong” place, because plants never read a plant book.

This is a great early plant to identify in your weed garden. First, it’s delicious. Some compare the taste to lettuce or corn silk, though I would describe it more like a snap pea. It’s also highly nutritious. Chickweed is a good source of beta-carotene, ascorbic-acid, magnesium, niacin, calcium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/ It also has more iron, zinc, and potassium than any of your garden greens.2)Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010 It can be used in salads, soups, fritters, and almost anywhere else you want something green. I’m partial to homemade weed pizzas, myself.

Do yourself a favor. Mix up some freshly rinsed chickweed with flour, salt, and pepper. Form it up into patties and fry it in coconut oil. Then dip the resulting crunchy goodness in honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Delicious!

Identifying Chickweed

By this time, I’m sure you’re practically salivating for some chickweed. And who could blame you? So let’s move on to identification.

Note that I’m focusing on common chickweed (Stellaria media). There are other varieties of chickweed, such as mouse-ear chickweed, that will match some, but not all, of these criteria. For more information on other types of chickweed, you really should look at a more exhaustive guide or talk to a local plant expert.

Common chickweed is a thin-stemmed plant with small (¼” to ½”), opposite leaves. The leaves vary a bit in shape, but are usually oval, and always have a tiny point at the tips. She’s usually a small plant, but can grow stems more than a foot long when conditions are right. The sap is NOT milky. If you pluck a stem and discover white sap, you’ve got the wrong weed. The bloom is white with 5 deeply notched petals, which will look like 10.

Weed garden - chickweed flower

It has two more dead giveaways. One is a single line of hairs growing down the stem. This line will switch sides after every pair of leaves.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Hair Line Arrows

The hairs are tiny, and you may need to either hold it up to the light or use a magnifying lens to see them. The other telltale sign is an inner core. It takes a little practice, but you can bend the stem back and forth, and twist slightly, to break apart the outer stem, revealing a slightly elastic inner stem.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Broken Stem

All of the aboveground parts are edible. On younger plants, the entire stem is tender. As they age, the lower stems become tough and stringy. You can chop them up, if you’re desperate. But I prefer just cutting off the last 2 or 3 inches at the growing tips.

Medicinally, chickweed is no slouch, either. Its primary claim to fame is in skin care. Owing to its wound-healing, soothing, and cooling properties, chickweed is an obvious choice for various skin irritations. It can be used in poultices, sprays, and creams—both as a beauty aid and for the treatment of rashes, bites, burns, and blemishes. It is also a digestive aid, helping to relieve excess gas in the intestinal tract.3)Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

I hope I’ve gotten you interested in the idea of a weed garden, or at least in trying out some chickweed. Next time, we’ll check back in with my weed garden to see how it’s coming along and choose a new weed to feature.

Meanwhile, let me know in the comments section: What’s your favorite way to use chickweed?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/
2. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010
3. Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

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