Weeds have a pretty bad rep; we spray and pull them out of the earth when perhaps we should have been eating and using them for medicine all along.
It’s hard to see past these invasive pests but it’s all about shifting our perspective, says Ellery Hawkes co-owner of Simon Steeps. “Get curious about the dandelion and understand that it’s medicine and the perfect survival food.”
Ellery and her partner Simon imbue wild herbs and weeds in their organic tea blends, which creates a bridge between store-bought and venturing into your backyard to pluck something wild. Their goal is to get people examining labels, questioning what’s inside and realizing that it’s the weeds we’ve been picking out that are making us feel this good within.
This beginner’s mindset is what got me thinking about the flora in my own backyard, and I couldn’t believe how many edible—and often times medicinal—weeds have been rooted right beneath my feet.
Let’s get curious together and dive into what may be hiding in your lawn, just waiting to be discovered.
Before getting started
Within the limits of curiosity, it’s important be accurate when it comes to harvesting weeds. Many wild plants have dangerous doppelgängers, so it’s best to keep an identifying app or trusty book (like The Wild Wisdom of Weeds) on hand. Or better yet, venture out with a well-versed mentor.
Another thing to consider? If you’re foraging in a park or wild area, make sure the area hasn’t been sprayed with toxic, weed-ridding pesticides.
Most of us have heard of this weed being edible, but did you know that every part of it is? The leaves and flowers are great in soups and salads, whereas the roots can be used in herbal teas or coffees. Dandelion has a history of treating liver problems, kidney disease and is great for heartburn, appendicitis, as a diuretic and appetite stimulant.
Alternately known as Soldier’s Wound Wort, yarrow can be used as an ointment for wounds. If you chew on it, it can relieve a toothache. When steeped as a tea, yarrow can reduce the effects of a cold. Be careful with this one as it’s tricky twin is the poison hemlock.
Wild onion & garlic
You’ll recognize this one for its familiar fragrant smell. Just like its store-bought counterpart, wild onion and garlic share the same antibacterial, antibiotic, antiseptic and antifungal properties, and have been known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well. They can be found in clumps throughout lawns, standing taller than other weeds or grass.
This pesky weed grows in all of your empty garden spots, but it turns out it has beautiful benefits of its own. You can find omega-3, fatty acids, magnesium, calcium and potassium packed in this small–but–mighty weed.
Once known as “white man’s foot” by the Indigenous community, this weed grows almost everywhere. Not only does it make a nice spinach substitute and contain as much Vitamin A as a large carrot, it can be used to treat sore throats, cold symptoms, treat fevers and stimulate cellular growth. Plantain can also heal bug bites, poison ivy or the burn from stinging nettle. All you have to do is chew on it for 10 seconds until the juices are released and rub it directly on the sting or bite.
Do not pick this one with bare hands! Wear gloves and cover your arms while picking stinging nettle (for obvious reasons) and be sure to cook or dry the plant to neutralize the sting. Once that’s done, it is one of the most nutritious wild edibles, containing Vitamins A, B2, C, D, K, antioxidants, amino acids, chlorophyll, calcium, potassium, iodine, and if you can believe it—more!
Red clover has a long history as a useful medicinal weed and is popular for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a great source of food for bees and insects, and in humans it can regulate hormonal imbalances, anxiety, muscle spasms and coughs.
Not only are they beautiful and mild tasting—making them easy to eat raw or cooked— but violets can treat insomnia, nervousness, urinary problems, digestion issues, and congestion. These pretty purples do have laxative qualities though, so go easy.
Yarrow | Markus Winkler
Aside from health benefits, there are so many levels to harvesting and using weeds for medicinal purposes. Weeds empower you to nourish and heal yourself, they ground you to the land and connect you with the energy of these resilient plants.
So, the next time you’re thinking about pulling and tossing that weed, stop to think about which benefits you’re throwing away.
For more foraging references, visit wildedible.com.
For growing seasons, when and how to harvest your weeds and creative uses, read this article published on thespruce.com.
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