Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains why a garden full of weeds is a garden full of medicine.
The most persistent garden invaders survive because years of evolution have nurtured powerful plant constituents that we can utilise to support our own health.
Speaking to a friend the other day, we were making jokes about the erratic mood of British weather. “At least the garden will get a watering,” he said, “it’s just a shame that my weeds don’t look prettier.”
Well, you do not (and I do not say this lightly) bad mouth your weeds to a
A garden full of weeds is a garden full of medicine and rather than an untended mess, I see a thing of beauty and resilience.
There’s a reason many of our medicinal herbs are weeds. The most persistent garden invaders survive because years of evolution have nurtured powerful plant constituents that we can utilise to support our own health. See how a dandelion can grow from the smallest crack in concrete? How decorative flowers die to disease while nettles thrive, despite your best efforts to stop them? Before you go out weeding, see if any of these common garden weeds might be more suited to your medicine cabinet rather than the compost.
Dandelion is one of the most versatile weeds out there. The root can be washed and roasted on a low heat before being ground up to make coffee. Dandelion coffee works as a gentle laxative, by stimulating digestive secretions and supporting liver function. Unlike store-bought laxatives that often contain powerful herbs like senna, dandelion root shouldn’t give you diarrhoea and you cannot become reliant on it. It works to gently regulate and normalise bowel function, rather than forcing it.
In contrast, the leaves act as mild diuretics, so if you’re prone to water retention, using the leaf dried as a tea or eaten raw in salads, could help ease this. If eating raw, choose the younger leaves, as the older ones can be tough and bitter.
Ribwort plantain grows in bunches with long fibrous leaves, among which you’ll find stalks punctuated with little brown seed heads that look like mini cotton spools. The Latin name is plantago lanceolata, as the leaves are thin and shaped like lances, jabbing upright towards the sun.
Plantain works better than dock leaves for nettle stings, insect bites and other skin irritations, so it’s a great one to teach the kids and grandkids about.
Rich in silica, it acts as a natural tissue healer and I use it eaten or as a tea to bring down inflammation in the ear, sinuses and gut to address snotty noses, excessive wax and diarrhoea.
Plantain leaves are tough, so chop finely if eating fresh to avoid the stringy fibres or use it to make fresh tea.
For bites and stings, I’m not adverse to chewing up some leaves into a wad when out and about to ball up and press into the skin. My friend’s children think I’m gross for this, so your young ones are equally sensitive or you’re not sure about what else might be on the ground, you can achieve the same effect by mashing it between your palms.
Nettle, known as a traditional blood tonic, is rich in nutrients that help to build healthy blood cells but it also acts as a natural antihistamine. I use nettle in my hay fever mixes and it can be eaten fresh, cooked just the way you would with any other leafy green or made into tea. Nettle would have been one of the first edible greens to show itself after the long winter, so it’s not surprising that it became famed for it’s nutrient content.
If you’re digging up nettle, the root is known for supporting prostate health and I use nettle tincture or dried tablets to help gentlemen who begin having trouble with their water works as they age.
If you’re consuming something from the garden (or the wild) please ensure you are 100 per cent sure of what it is before you do so, as some plants can be toxic.
Maybe see if a local herbalist is running a herb walk in your area if you’d like to learn more about the beauty and usefulness of weeds. Just don’t be too surprised at the weeds you might fall in love with afterwards.
For more information, to book an appointment or to learn about Nicola’s herb walks and workshops, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.