Spring Weed Medicine
As the days lengthen and spring blooms, if you look, there is new growth and life to be found in every corner. Tucked behind garden sheds, on roadsides, even in the middle of a city, plants force their way through the earth to reach the sun’s warming rays. Common weeds are overlooked treasures. When left to grow, they provide a banquet for wildlife, and offer us some incredibly cleaning remedies.
Below discover three underappreciated weeds and how they can be used for a spring cleanse:
The best part to pick is the young leaf tips, as these are the most nutritious. Plus, by picking just the tips, the plant’s growth is not impaired. They can be juiced, cooked (just like spinach), stewed in hot water for a refreshing drink or dried for use in tea & tinctures. The heat causes the leaves to lose their sting, making them safe to eat.
Nettle leaves are traditionally used to improve skin, hair and nail health - which would suggest that from a traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the leaves have a tonifying effect on the kidneys and lungs. Additionally, In Russia, for example, freshly squeezed nettle juice is considered a must-have tonic after a period of illness as it aids in flushing out toxins, and is loaded with iron, vitamins and other minerals.
Nettle roots are also considered to have an optimizing and regulating effect on our hormonal health. Traditionally used for prostate health, they are also very valuable to women and are starting to be included in female specific blends, for example in remedies for PCOS. Tonifying and supporting our hormonal system has far-reaching benefits. Even the seeds of this remarkable plant are very valuable in traditional medicine for building kidney jing.
Dandelions are a common weed to be found growing on many lawns. Unfortunately often sprayed or removed from gardens before their distinctive bright yellow flowers turn into those cloud-like domes that disperse the plant’s seeds on the wind.
Dandelions are a favourite source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators throughout their long and colourful flowering season. Whilst the wildlife enjoys the flowers, both the plant’s roots and leaves are highly beneficial to us. Throughout spring you can pick just the leaves, allowing the root to grow and the flower to benefit wildlife. The leaves are high in calcium, iron, folate, vitamin E, C, A, K and beta-carotene, and make an excellent addition to salads or in green smoothies. Older leaves or too many can create a bitter taste, so they are best picked when young or used sparingly. As a diuretic, they help to cleanse and flush out excess fluids from the body.
The root’s beneficial properties increase as it ages. It acts as a cleansing tonic for the liver, blood, digestive tract and gallbladder. It is also a diuretic and a gentle laxative. Traditionally, it has been used to treat skin problems such as acne, and to alleviate stomach complaints and rheumatic conditions.
The root, once scrubbed clean, can immediately be used fresh in cooking or in brewing tea. Alternatively, it can be dried out by hanging it somewhere cool and dry until it is brittle. The inner flesh, when used, must still be white. Dried dandelion root can be made into an alcohol tincture; boiled and strained to make a tea or blended into a powder for use in smoothies. The dried root can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year, so you can enjoy a taste of sunshine even in midwinter.
Later in spring, the long stems and ‘sticky’ leaves of cleavers grow and are perfect for picking before their small clusters of star-shaped white or green flowers grow. Similar to many ‘greens’, cleavers are high in vitamin C. It has been traditionally used as a gentle detoxifying herb and is known to help cleanse the kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas and the blood and lymphatic systems.
The plant is versatile in its uses. Many of the beneficial properties of cleaver are lost if it is heated or dried, and so it is best to use fresh cleavers by adding them to a juice or making an infusion (to do so, steep the leaves in water and refrigerate for up to two days).
It’s easy to find these common weeds almost anywhere. Yet, many urban weeds are treated with harmful chemicals that you definitely don’t want in your tea! Such chemical use and widespread habitat loss are seriously impacting biodiversity and in Europe it has been found that flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. Therefore, even in the heart of the countryside, every cluster of nettles & stumpy hedgerow must be respected as important habitats for wildlife and not be over-picked.
Perhaps the best way to use these common weeds and at the same time support the natural world to which we owe them, is to encourage their growth. In a garden set aside a corner and let it grow wild. When not picking the leaves and shoots, a whole host of pollinators will be enjoying the wildflowers that bloom. Or a windowsill box, regular watering and a patch of sunlight is all that’s needed to grow nourishing remedies.
This spring, look out for delicate flowers of nettle, or the sun-like heads of dandelions and recognise them as so much more than weeds.