You know those weeds out in the yard? Yeah, those weeds that you’ve spent the summer trying to eradicate. Those weeds that have survived the heat and lack of water, even when the lawn and garden, which you’ve pampered, watered, hoed and fertilized, persist in wilting and barely eeking out survival in South Dakota. Well those weeds are the very foods and medicines so treasured by our ancestors that they ever so carefully brought plants and seeds with them from their homes far away to their new homes in the New World. In fact they’re still the same foods grown in many countries as an agricultural product. About a month ago, I met a woman, new to this country, who had come to Earth Goods looking for organic produce. One of the vegetables she wanted to order was Dandelion greens, which incidentally retails for about 7.00 per pound, anyway when told that it grew wild everywhere she absolutely did not believe it. When taken outside and showed the abundance of her favorite green veggie one would have thought that she was shown where to pick up gold nuggets – she was that excited! At this point I can hear what you’re thinking, “ I don’t care what they’re good for! I am never gonna let a dandelion set root in my yard”. Well hear me out and just maybe I can persuade someone to leave just a little bit of yard space for dandelions and other tasty nutritious plants – AKA weeds.
Let us start with that bane of the Kentucky Blue Warrior Society; the mighty dandelion. Dandelion is listed as number four on the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s list of nutritious greens. Incidentally among the top 3 are two other “noxious” weeds, Lamsquarters and Pigweed. With the remaining cultivar the ever-popular Collard green. Dandelion is very high in calcium, containing twice as much as Spinach. It is also high in many other vitamins and minerals, and is higher in both vitamin A and magnesium than any other green. Taraxacum, the Latin name of dandelion, is from the Greek taraxos meaning disorder, and akos meaning remedy. So here we have a remedy for nearly any disorder. The leaves made into a tea are a very good and safe diuretic that does not cause a loss of potassium. They are an aid to weight loss and are known as a spring tonic, which helps remove the winter toxins from the blood. The French call it “piss-a-bed”, attesting to its strong diuretic action. The roots are a wonderful liver herb, which helps to increase the flow of bile from the liver. This has many health implications such as improved digestion, lower cholesterol levels, and detoxification which in itself may help reduce pain and stiffness, improve mental clarity and improve general well being. It also makes a tasty coffee substitute. The trick is to gather it at the right time. Leaves are best in spring and fall when they are young and before it blooms. Roots are best gathered in the fall. Both roots and leaves can be dried for tea or one can freeze or can the leaves to enjoy later.
Another great wild food which I am sure most everyone is battling since I see it everywhere, is the above mentioned, #1 nutritious green – Lambsquarters. This fabulous tasting green which is related to Spinach, has a whooping 30% of the daily need for calcium in only a 3 ½ ounce serving. It is also high in vitamins A, B2, B3, C, Phosphorus and fiber. To top it off, I think this is the most delicious green there is! Collect it anytime, young leaves are best. Treat it just as you would spinach.
One of the most useful weeds in the yard, especially if one spends lengthy time outdoors, is Plantain. This plant’s leaves can be mashed up and put on any type of skin irritation that can occur, abrasions, insect bites, poison ivy or any various skin rash imaginable. Just pluck a leaf, chew it up and plop it on the problem. If that isn’t to your liking you can also make a simple oil by chopping a bunch of leaves and soaking them in oil for a few weeks. Strain and you have healing skin oil. Plantain also acts as a great drawing salve for things like splinters, pimples and again insect bites.
Many other so-called noxious weeds make great medicine, plants such as mullein, burdock, purslane, nettle and chickweed. I would wager that all of these plants are found within a block of all of our homes. There’s also the whole issue of pesticide and herbicide use, which could be drastically reduced if we just started harvesting some of what nature is so generously providing. This would be good for us, our kids, our pets, and our planet., and just think how easy it would be to grow “a garden” of weeds. It makes perfect sense to utilize these fabulous natural resources which are so safe and best of all free. It also seems sensible to subscribe to the adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em”.