Weed or Beneficial Plant?

Dandelion's flower, root and leaves have many benefits in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dandelion’s flower, root and leaves have many benefits (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

As we get older, and hopefully wiser, we start to soften our opinion of some things. For me, one of those “things” were weeds . . . or what I always considered to be weeds. As a responsible gardener, I’ve always tried to tolerate most weeds and refrained from any chemical usage to remove them. Instead, I would allow them to proliferate in designated wild areas and remove them by hand from my gardens and surrounding lawn.

Then I started a class on herbalism and discovered that many of our native (or naturalized) weeds were considered beneficial and necessary for the overall health and wellbeing of our Native Americans. In fact, until the 1940’s (when pharmaceutical companies took over) many native/naturalized plants were the only source of treatment for ailments, dating back as far as 2000 BC. To be clear, modern medicine certainly has its merits, but there may be an occasion when a cup of herbal tea may provide the same benefit (or better) as chemical pills. Here are a few “wonder weeds” used frequently by modern herbalists:

Dandelions prolific flowers help it to spread quickly in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

Dandelions prolific flowers help it to spread quickly (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): A North American native found in meadows, lawns and woodlands, this was a favorite food of my European relatives. The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C, with smaller percentages of calcium and iron, and can be eaten in a salad, smoothie or sautéed with oil and garlic. The root can be used in tea to help lower stress, increase energy and aid digestion, among other applications.

The well recognized plantain is abundant in most lawns in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

The well recognized plantain is abundant in most lawns (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Plantain (Plantago major): Originating from Europe and Asia, plantain was also called “White Man’s Footprint” due to its fast spreading nature, and is now commonly found throughout our lawns. Plantain leaves are considered one of the best poultice herbs for treating minor scrapes or insect bites, and the root and leaves can be eaten or used in a tea to help lower fever, and sooth an irritated stomach.

The prickly nettle has a lot of medicinal benefits in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer http://agardenforall.com

The prickly nettle has a lot of medicinal benefits (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Nettle (Urtica dioica):  A favorite for its many uses, stinging nettle originates from North America. Despised by me for the annoying burning itch every time I encountered it, when its leaves are dried they actually make a very pleasant tea. I know many people that like nettle for its spinach taste (when thoroughly cooked), but it is actually rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. As a tea or tincture, nettle (in combination with other herbs) is considered beneficial for overall health, vitality, joint pain, allergies, even kidney and liver ailments.

Now I’m not saying that dandelions, plantain and nettle won’t be removed when they show up near my house or in my gardens, but I am definitely viewing them without as much disdain. This year I plan to sample dandelion leaves in my salad, use a few plantain leaves next time I get stung, and (very carefully) dry some nettles for tea. After all, we gardeners are always up for another experiment ♥

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