Although you may already be familiar with many of your neighborhood “weeds” and their myriad uses (such as using dandelion leaves in salad), it’s quite possible that you pass by several other important plants on a daily basis, completely unaware of their awesomeness. Those listed below are usually torn from manicured gardens because some people believe that they’re not as refined or pretty as peonies or hollyhocks, but their healing properties are so spectacular that they should earn a place of esteem amongst the most prized rose species. Take a look at these humble little plants, and if you find them popping up around your own yard, maybe you’ll find a new appreciation for them.
Commonly considered a weed and often ripped out of cultivated gardens everywhere, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) might not be the prettiest or most graceful of flowers, but it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years. Known as “soldier’s woundwort”, this plant can staunch bleeding like you would not believe, and Roman soldiers took it with them to the battlefield so they could treat their wounds with its feathery green leaves. Not only does yarrow staunch blood flow—it also prevents infection and speeds healing, which is ideal for cuts and open wounds.
Taken as a tea or tincture, it can alleviate heavy menstrual bleeding, and can also lessen menstrual cramps and spasms due to endometriosis.
Easily identifiable by its soft, fuzzy, silver-grey leaves, mullein (Verbascum spp.) is another plant whose medicinal properties have been lauded since time immemorial. It’s one of the safest herbal allies out there, with roots, leaves, and flowers all usable to treat a variety of conditions. A tea made from the leaves is excellent as an expectorant, and brings great relief from wheezing, hacking coughs. Smoking dried mullein leaf can also alleviate asthma, and oil in which the flowers have been steeped is ideal for treating ear infections. The entire plant is anti-inflammatory, and a tincture of the leaves and flowers can bring great relief from joint pain, arthritis, and even lymphatic congestion.
In its first year, mullein will grow quite low to the ground in an almost cabbage-like formation, and in its second year, a tall, spear-like, yellow-flowered central stalk shoots skyward, reaching up to six feet in height.
You’ve likely heard of echinacea before, especially if you’ve taken herbal remedies for cold and/or flu symptoms, but would you recognize the plant if you walked past it? Commonly known as “purple coneflower”, this plant (Echinacea spp.) is one of the most powerful immune boosters on the planet. While Echinacea angustifolia is often taken as immune system support, Echinacea purpurea tends to be taken for urinary tract infections. The plant’s roots, leaves, and flowers can all be used.
*Note: Because of its popularity, echinacea varieties have been over-harvested in recent years. If you find some growing on your property, please only harvest it very sparingly, and allow it to self-propagate. You could even help it out by planting a few more around the property! They’re wonderful for attracting pollinators, and are really quite lovely in their own way.
It’s more than likely that you’ve walked past this unobtrusive plant on several occasions and never even noticed that it was there. Known here in Quebec as “Fils avant le père” (son before the father) because its dandelion-like yellow flowers spring up well before its leaves appear, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) loves to grow in sandy soil near rivers and lakes, and is an exceptional herb for treating coughs of all kinds. In fact, the prefix in its Latin name derives from “tussis”, which means “cough”. You can recognize coltsfoot leaves from their characteristic heart-shape, similar to that of, well, a colt’s hoofprint, and the leaves’ unique texture: they’re smooth and glossy green on top, and a velvety grey-green underneath.
*Note: Coltsfoot should not be taken by pregnant women, nor should it be used for more than a few successive weeks.
Although this plant might seem a bit daunting to approach, as it’s covered in spines and seems altogether unfriendly, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is immensely beneficial for many different health issues. Milk thistle seed powder is excellent for cleansing the liver, kidneys, and gallbladder, and is exceptionally effective at treating gallstones and kidney stones. The powder can be taken in tincture or decoction form, or can even be added to smoothies, but it takes a lot of seeds to make even a small amount of powder: although you can gather the seed heads in autumn after they’ve dried out and stopped flowering, it might be better to purchase the powder or extract from a retailer instead.
IMPORTANT: Before You Make Anything…
Please keep in mind that people react to herbal remedies in different ways, and what works well for one person might not work well for another. Herbal remedies are not guaranteed to cure ailments, nor is it a good idea to mix and match them without having a thorough knowledge of contraindications and such. If you’re feeling ill, it’s important to go to a healthcare professional (be that a physician, naturopath, or herbalist) to get their advice before attempting to self-diagnose and/or self-medicate. Herbs have medicinal properties that may have different effects on those who take them, so it’s vital that you ensure that you know what it is you’re treating before you make/take anything.
Additionally, it’s of the highest importance that you know exactly what plant you’re using if you decide to make a tincture, decoction, or poultice for your own use. Going out and foraging for leaves and twigs that bear a vague resemblance to the plant you’re aiming to use can be incredibly harmful, so unless you have total certainty about the plant you’re using, don’t use it. When in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of caution and pick up a product from a licensed retailer instead.
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