Claire enjoys growing fruit, herbs and vegetables and studying and creating natural remedies. She strives to live a low-impact lifestyle.
Working with herbal remedies can feel complex and out of reach for some people. Those that don’t have lots of money to stock up on herbs or who live in cities and cannot forage are particularly disadvantaged. However, herbal remedies do not need to be made using expensive, exotic or difficult-to-locate ingredients. Many items can be bought cheaply and easily in supermarkets or sourced secondhand, for example buying jars from thrift and charity shops or reusing food jars. With regards to wild plants, do not feel that you cannot forage because you live in a city or are unable to travel to the countryside. With a little dedication and care, you will find that many beneficial plants are growing in even the most built-up areas. Many can be grown at home in your garden or in pots. In fact, you may pass by healing plants every day without realising, particularly those such as dandelions and plantain that are often considered weeds and a nuisance.
Lots of common plants can be used to create beneficial and healing remedies. Growing these at home, even if others may consider them weeds, is a good way to ensure that they are not contaminated by things such as pesticides, exhaust pollution or weed killers. In many cases, plants do need a lot of space or difficult to achieve environments. Consider how dandelions push their way up through paving or grow in tiny patches of soil along roads and flourish all the same. Many beneficial plants can also be foraged in many places including woodland, parks or wasteland.
When collecting plants from the wild it is vital to be certain that you have identified them correctly and to remember that just because they are natural, does not mean that they are safe. Some plants can look similar to others that can be harmful or even fatal when eaten or cause skin irritation and other difficulties. A well-illustrated plant guide is essential when foraging and there are also many websites and online groups that can help identify wild plants. In some areas, it is also possible to find day or weekend courses in which experienced foragers teach others how to safely find, identify and harvest wild plants. Avoid harvesting plants from areas that may have been sprayed by weed killers, fertilisers or pesticides as well as alongside roads and areas heavily used by dog walkers or other animals.
Another important factor to consider when harvesting plants from the wild is the impact on the other plants and wildlife in the area. A plant should never be stripped of all of its seeds, flowers or leaves. Nor should whole plants be taken unless necessary. Instead, small amounts should be taken from many plants or from one or two plants in different areas. This method causes less stress to the plants and helps to prevent the loss of habitat and food for animals living in the area. It also means that there are plants left for other foragers that may visit the area to harvest without causing harm.
Although they are made using natural materials care should always be taken when making and using herbal remedies. Not all remedies will be safe for everybody and may still cause an allergic reaction or unpleasant side effects. Care should be taken if a person has allergies, particularly if these are related to plants such as pollen allergies. One example of this is a person may experience similar reactions to other plants in the same family group. Taking the time to learn a little about each plant and its taxonomy can help to avoid this. Special care should also be taken when using remedies with babies and children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and the elderly. Not all plants are safe in all circumstances and many are not recommended for use during pregnancy, breastfeeding or with young children. There are also some remedies, such as St John’s Wort that are known to interact with prescription medications and may change how they are processed in the body or cause them to be less effective. It is wise to seek advice if you wish to use plants in medicinal quantities while taking prescribed medications. Prescription medicines and treatments should not be discontinued without professional guidance even when herbal remedies are working well.
1. Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe Vera is a relatively easy to care for succulent that can be grown on a warm windowsill or in a greenhouse. It has long been used in traditional medicine and was reputed to be part of Cleopatra’s secret beauty regime. In modern times aloe is a popular choice for use in face and hand cream, lotions and other body products. When cut, the long fleshy green blades of the plant reveal the healing gelatinous sap. This is excellent for treating burns, dry skin, sunburn and eczema and can be used directly from the leaf. Aloe Vera is also said to aid in healing inflammation and in helping to soothe arthritic pain.
Aloe Vera is believed to have many benefits to the digestive system including alleviating constipation and reducing inflammation of the digestive tract. To be used for this purpose it can be consumed as a juice or added to smoothies and other food.
2. Borage (Borage officinalis)
This hardy annual plant has beautiful blue star-shaped flowers and grows to around 80cm tall. Borage is a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins. An infusion made using borage leaves is believed to help strengthen the kidneys and ease irritable bowel syndrome, eczema and hangovers. The flowers have a cucumber-like taste and can be added to salads, along with young leaves or made into a drink. Since ancient times people have believed that borage was able to drive away melancholia and increase a person’s courage. Due to its natural sedative qualities, it may also help to ease anxiety, depression and mood swings.
3. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is an easy to grow and pretty plant that has a wide range of healing applications. It is believed to stimulate the liver and gallbladder, soothe the digestive system and aid in fighting infections. In folk medicine, calendula has been used internally to treat ulcers, hepatitis and menstrual problems. This plant has strong anti-inflammatory properties, protecting again free-radical damage and aiding in the healing of inflammatory conditions.
Calendula is commonly used externally as a salve or ointment and is useful in treating nappy rash, eczema, dry skin, burns, insect bites and stings as well as in wound healing. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and can be added to salads. The fresh or dried flowers can also be used to make a tea. This tea is thought to help in easing symptoms of premenstrual tension and soothe painful menstrual cramps. Due to its antibacterial, astringent and antimicrobial properties, calendula is sometimes added to natural toothpastes and mouthwashes to combat gingivitis, cavities, plaque, bacteria and gum inflammation.
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4. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Most people are familiar with these bright yellow wildflowers. Although they are generally considered to be a weed and nuisance, the root, leaves and flowers can all be used and have many beneficial effects.
Dandelion leaves contain potassium, magnesium, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, iron, sulphur, zinc and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E. Young leaves can be eaten in salads, stir-fries and sandwiches as you would with other salad leaves. Dandelion leaves or root can be made into a tea, which stimulates the body to eliminate waste and toxins. The leaves also have diuretic properties. Dandelion roots can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute or eaten in salads. The flowers of this plant can be brewed into wine or combined with sugar to make dandelion jam or honey.
5. Elder (Sambucus niger)
Both the elder’s flowers and berries can be used in healing. Elderflowers are believed to boost the immune system, soothe respiratory tract and ear infections, stimulate circulation and help to reduce fever. The tiny white flowers can be made into herbal tea or added to bathwater, which is believed to calm the nerves and soothe itchy skin. Elderflowers can be eaten and are often made into fritters using batter or used in jams, cordials and wine.
Elderberries are rich in vitamins and minerals and so have a good overall beneficial effect on the body. They are reported to be an excellent treatment for coughs and colds of all types and are often made into syrup that can then be taken as needed. They are also delicious added to fruit pies and crumbles or when made into jam.
6. Plantain (Plantago major and Plantago ianceolata)
This common plant is often regarded as a weed or lawn invader to be eliminated by those who do not understand its healing abilities. It can be found growing in almost any environment including lawns, grassland, footpaths, woodland and roadsides. Plantain has a wide range of uses and can be used in several ways, for example, as a tincture, tea, poultice and salve. The young leaves can be added to salads and contain calcium, beta-carotene and other minerals. The large older leaves tend to be quite tough and fibrous but can be cooked in stews if desired.
Plantain tea is said to have natural antihistamine properties and a salve made using plantain can be used in soothing insect bites, stings, cuts and skin scrapes. These can also be eased using crushed leaves or a poultice. Crushed leaves can be used in reducing inflammation and on boils and sores. A compress or poultice of plantain leaves can be used to aid slow-healing wounds.
7. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Jack by the Hedge is also known as garlic mustard and is often found growing wild in Europe, western and central Asia and northwest Africa. It is most commonly found in woodland and hedgerows but may also grow in gardens, parks and other open space.
The chopped leaves and flowers can be eaten and are mostly used in salads, sandwiches and pesto. These are best when they are young and have a garlicky mustard flavour. Jack by the hedge has a high content of vitamins A and C as well as being rich in magnesium, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids and flavonoids. This plant is believed to have and anti-asthmatic properties making it a good choice for soothing this and other respiratory issues such as coughs, colds and catarrhal congestion. As a member of the mustard family, garlic mustard has a pungent, fiery nature that has long been considered to be excellent for improving circulation. A poultice made using the leaves can be used to treat ulcers and wounds.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Claire
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on June 04, 2013:
You're welcome. I deliberately planted some 'weeds' in my garden to use and as food for my tortoise. Many wild flowers are so pretty too.
idigwebsites from United States on June 03, 2013:
I love this hub, very educational. We should look those plants beyond being a weed, they may save your health and your life... Thanks for posting. :)
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on April 25, 2013:
Thank you both for your kind comments. I find the topic really interesting and many of these plants can be found growing wild for free. I am the only person I know that deliberately plants 'weeds' in their garden and is happy to see the grass covered in dandelions. My tortoise loves to eat them too, especially the flowers.
Joan Whetzel on April 25, 2013:
This is good to know. I'm saving this to my favorites list and passing it along.
Catherine Taylor from Canada on April 25, 2013:
Amazing! What a useful hub, bookmarking and sharing. This really drives home that everything we need to heal ourselves is growing around us. Lovely pictures and well written. Sharing and voted way up!