Isn’t it a wonderful feeling to watch your lovingly nurtured flowers bloom? To harvest a meal from your well tended veg patch?
If only we could feel the same enthusiasm for weeds….
Do No Harm
As I’m sure you already know, weedkiller products pose a harmful risk to our health and our planet, yet sadly the destructive practice persists among thoughtless gardeners and farmers!
But surely there is a better option for the more conscientious gardener than a lifetime of tedious weeding?
What Is A Weed?
Weeds With Virtues
Meet Your Weeds
Weed Number One
Name: Taraxacum Officinale
In the garden:
Weed Number Two
Name: Geranium Robertianum
It is said that the crushed leaves are effective as an insect repellent when rubbed on the skin. One of the common names Stinking Bob relates to an apparent unpleasant aroma, though it seems to effect some more than others (I’ve only noticed it once and didn’t find it offensive, although I use it often).
Another recommended use is to pour boiling water over the leaves and soak your feet in the cooled liquid to remove toxins, heavy metals and radiation.
Weed Number Three
Name: Plantago spp
There are something like 200 species of plantain but the two most often found in UK gardens are Greater Plantain (P.Major) commonly known as Broadleaf plantain or Rats-tail, and Lesser Plantain (P.lanceolata) commonly called Ribwort or Narrowleaf plantain.
It is a very good plant to know…
In The Garden:
It also attracts helpful insects like hoverflies and is great for wildlife attracting certain moths and butterflies and the seeds provide food for birds.
Plantain is a great plant to have in your first-aid knowledge!
If you remember being stung by nettles as a child, chances are you may have been instructed to look for dock leaves to relieve the sting?
Well, you may want to sit down before I tell you this…
You were looking for the wrong plant!
It’s ok, take a moment.
Yes, it’s true, I’m afraid. Beyond distraction, placebo and the cooling effect of plant juice, Dock has little to offer as a treatment for nettle stings (although, of course, it does have many virtues of it’s own).
Plantain, however, is an effective treatment, not only for stings or bites but for cuts and grazes too. Applied directly to the wound as a poultice, it draws out toxins as well as stemming the flow of blood and accelerating the healing process. It’s also mildly anti-sceptic.
A popular form of application is to chew a leaf to release the juices before pressing onto the skin to provide quick relief.
It can even be used for splinters, bringing them to the surface for easy removal.
I wonder how many Plantain leaves we stepped on in our haste to find those Dock leaves! (Tell the children!)
A source of calcium, vitamin C, carotene, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and more, Plantain provide a healthy and abundant food source!
I must admit, I have not really explored the culinary potential of Plantain yet, my experience is mostly limited to using it as a topical medicine.
However, whilst writing this article, I became very hungry and unable to divert my focus very far, I went into the garden, gathered Leaves of Dandelion, Herb Robert and Plantain and cooked them with garlic and lemon juice. I ate them seasoned and tossed with wholemeal spaghetti!
I wouldn’t particularly recommend this dish as an introduction to wild food, there are much better ways to enjoy these plants but it did provide the fuel for what you see before you now.
Some ways I have heard to enjoy plantain are cooked into crisps (or chips for Americans) as is popular with kale.
I’ve heard that the seeds can be ground to make flour or added to baked goods and some say that both parts of the plant have a mushroom flavour!
I don’t know about you, but I am definitely intrigued to explore some of the ways to enjoy this nutritious plant!
So, there you have it. Thank you for reading and I apologise if the title seemed misleading. Although I cannot offer a magical vanishing trick for the weeds in your garden, I hope I can help you to transform them into something nicer by viewing them through a different lens.
After all, harvesting a delicious and healthful meal is far less of a toil than pulling out weeds for the compost and much more rewarding!
I hope you will go outside and acquaint yourself with these and other plants that grow voluntarily.
A note about traditional medicine:
I have only mentioned some of the attributes known to these plants and have tried to include scientific data where possible.
I feel it’s important to acknowledge though, that many wild plants were recognised for their medicinal value by our ancestors way before the birth of modern science. There is a certain lack of incentive to fully investigate the facts of the wisdom passed down through generations.
Where studies are undertaken, compounds are often isolated, rather than tested as a complete formula.
Learn More About Wild Plants
I will be introducing more common “weeds” and their virtues soon but in the meantime, if you would like to further explore the joys of foraging and discover the wonderful world of wild plants and their uses, there are many different resources available:
Books are a great way to learn about plants, I shall be adding some of my recommendations to the blog soon.
You can also attend foraging courses in your local area; For a list of UK based foraging guides click here.
There are several really good plant identification groups on facebook. (when asking for ID it’s best to try to take a picture of the whole plant where it is growing and try to include leaves, stems and flowers)
My own local foraging guru, Robin Harford has recently opened up a great online resource called Gather!* It includes a helpful introductory course and invitation to a private facebook group, as well as full access to Robin’s own collection of extensive plant notebooks, enriched by his wealth of experience. I have found it to be a fantastic asset to my foraging skills!
I would love to hear your thoughts! Let me know what you thought in the comments below and share any tips or recipes and uses for these or other misunderstood plants.
Please remember, you should always be absolutely certain of correct identification before consuming wild plants. Some are toxic to humans and can cause unpleasant side effects, including death.
It’s also wise to sample small amounts when trying a wild food for the first time as different people can react differently.