Disclaimer: I am but an incidental farm girl … I have studied and learned information from generations of other former farmgirls, I am not a doctor, use your judgment and seek a professional’s opinion if you feel inclined to do so … the following is just my knowledge and research on common medicinal weeds.
There was a time, not even 100 years ago, where most people could remedy common problems with the knowledge they had and some weeds they foraged. Grandma's medicine cabinet was much simpler than ours today, and with far fewer side effects too. My grandmother tells stories of the fern-like plants that flowered tiny white flowers with yellow centers growing by the outhouse in her childhood, when there was a stomach issue she was to eat 4 yellow centers of the flowers, not more than that, and the stomach and bowel issues would be put at bay.
This knowledge seems to have been lost in the proverbial cracks of time as we have moved forward, industrialized, and become far removed from not only our food sources but also our ancestors’ ways of living and caring for our bodies. This is knowledge we should seek and hold tight too, there was a reason that grandparents and parents taught it to their children, we just have to look a little harder these days as many of those readily knowledgeable sources didn’t impart the knowledge because they saw that people afforded little value to it in modern times. It's time to get back to knowing our weeds.
PLANTAIN (Plantago major)
If you subscribe to avoiding Monsanto’s Roundup and all other chemical treatments, you likely can find this in your backyard or growing in the cracks of your walkway or driveway. Usually considered a nuisance plant, it wasn’t until I saw firsthand what a poultice of this plant can do for wasp stings to a 3-year-old that I was SOLD! This weed can be used successfully for scrapes, cuts, burns, stings and even for relief of poison ivy. It works as a drawing agent and is fantastic for skin. In a pinch, since it is edible, you can chew it up and apply the chewed leaves to a sting for fast relief (as in the case of my son and the attack of the wasps).
LAMBSQUARTER (Chenopodium album L.)
Another pretty easy one to locate, this one aids significantly with inflammation and can be used similarly to the Plantain, or even in conjunction with it for added relief.
Another one to chew, totally edible and compared and likened to spinach in its edibility department. Made into a poultice and applied to the body, it also aids in insect bites, minor scrapes, inflammation reduction, and even sunburn. Used as a tea, it is reported to be beneficial for diarrhea, stomach upset and even the occasional loss of appetite. (Just be sure to strain the leaves as they can irritate the throat)
MULLEIN (Verbascum Thapsus Linnaeus)
Mullein, a tall formidable, flowering fuzzy plant that can often be found growing in fields. It is often touted for its antibiotic-like properties; even WebMD posts the following:
“Mullein is used for cough, whooping cough, tuberculosis, bronchitis, hoarseness,pneumonia, earaches, colds, chills, flu, swine flu, fever, allergies, tonsillitis, and sore throat. Other uses include asthma, diarrhea, colic, gastrointestinal bleeding,migraines, joint pain, and gout. It is also used as a sedative and as a diuretic to increase urine output. Mullein is applied to the skin for wounds, burns, hemorrhoids, bruises, frostbite, and skin infections (cellulitis). The leaves are used topically to soften and protect the skin.”
When mullein flowers are infused into an oil base this is what many an old timer used as a treatment for ear infections. The leaves are often used in strongly brewed teas for coughs and congestion.
MALLOW (Malva parviflora)
Another one that favors cracks in walkways and gardens, all Mallow species (over 3,000) are edible, medicinal and totally devoid of any harmful properties one is rich in a sticky mucilage often extracted from the flowers, leaves, stalks, seeds, and roots. This can often be made into a medicinal vinegar to sooth sore throats, constipation, food poisoning and all around stomach upset. This is another one that is also useful for stings, bug bites and skin irritations.
YARROW (Achillea millefolium)
This fernlike perennial weed is what I think may have grown by grandma’s outhouse growing up. Many use the flowering tops (use only white-flowering yarrow) with strong alcohol to make a tincture that you can take internally to prevent colds and the flu. (A dose is 10-20 drops, or up to 1 ml). This is also purported to be a HUGELY beneficial natural insect repellent, even studied by the United States Army where it was shown that a yarrow tincture was more effective (and safer) than DEET at repelling ticks, mosquitoes, and sand flies. You can also make a healing ointment with yarrow flower tops and your oil or fat. Yarrow oil is antibacterial, pain-relieving, and incredibly helpful in healing all types of wounds.
A diuretic that is often used in treating liver disorders the common dandelion can be eaten in salad greens, cooked with and even made into wine. This common weed can also be used to treat mild constipation.
With any luck, your interest should be at least slightly piqued. When we look to the old ways of doing things, it is often so very simple that we feel slighted that we didn’t see some of the ease of information available to us. Your yard is likely a plethora of medicinal value, as long as you aren’t killing off all that free medicine with synthetic weed killers. Go outside and see what you have on the shelves of your medicine cabinet!
Dawn, the Incidental Farm Girl