The Benefits and Side Effects of Four Common Backyard Weeds

Updated on May 17, 2019
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Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

Spring begins. I venture into my backyard, close my eyes, dream of colorful blooms, fresh veggies, songbirds, other assorted critters, and hard work: Mowing, trimming, raking, weeding. I sigh. That last task never fails to be an exercise in futility. Then I found out that some of those weeds are not only edible but contain a host of health benefits. Weeding suddenly became a worthwhile chore. Here are four common herbs you might find in your backyard that could prove beneficial to you and your family.

Burdock weed
Burdock weed | Source

Burdock

Burdock is native to Europe, China, and Japan. The tall plant found its way into the medicinal chests of Native Americans after arriving on the shores of the United States with early European colonists. It is related to Dandelion, another common weed, and Echinacea, a popular herbal treatment for colds and flu. They are all part of the daisy family or more formerly, the Asteraceae/Compositae family.

Burdock’s botanical name is Arctium lappa. Other common names include wild burdock, beggar’s buttons, gobo, clothbur, harebur, bardana, hardock, and burr. The plant blooms from June to October, in the second and last year of its life. The purple, hook-like flower clusters become seed-containing burs after fertilization; hence the name. Its mainly large, dark green leaves are egg-shaped at the top half of the stem and heart-shaped at the lower half. Stems can be dark green or red in color and may have silvery hairs, especially while still young. The seeds, leaves, and roots of Burdock are used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Culinary Uses of Burdock

Burdock plant parts are best harvested in the spring and fall, and can be eaten fresh or cooked. The roots taste great in stews and soups, and are often used in Asian cuisine. Some say this backyard weed tastes like artichoke.

Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits of Burdock

Burdock as a medicinal herb has not only been used by Native Americans, but also by the ancient Greeks and the Chinese before them. Its medicinal properties come from the following constituents: flavonoids, phytosterols, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and fatty acids. The quantities of calcium, potassium, iron, and fiber in the plant are actually quite high.

Though a common backyard weed, Burdock strengthens the immune system; treats diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels; treats high blood pressure, rheumatism, arteriosclerosis, kidney stones, gout, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, urinary tract infections (UTI), and swelling; it detoxifies the liver and other organs; removes boils, acne, eczema, and other problems caused by bacteria and fungus on the skin and genitalia; treats cancer and other tumors, colds and flu; heals skin wounds, and is a mild diuretic and laxative.

Forms of Burdock Available

Burdock is made into powdered capsules, liquid extracts, tinctures, creams, and Essiac tea blends (with other herbs) to treat cancer.

Side Effects of Burdock

If you are sensitive to other plants in the daisy family, you will be allergic to the Burdock. Pregnant and nursing women should also refrain from using this herb. The website http://www.webmd.com suggests if you are scheduled for surgery; use Burdock at least two weeks prior because it has the tendency to increase bleeding. Using it could also be risky if you are on medication for diabetes or taking anticoagulants.

Burdock’s Availability

If Burdock is not growing in your backyard, you are uncertain of what it looks like, or you want a pre-packaged version, you can purchase it from any health food store. For culinary use, you can find it in Asian stores, farmer’s markets, or specialty food stores.

Chickweed
Chickweed | Source

Chickweed

This foot-long annual backyard herb is described as delicate, but it is quite resistant to most weed- killing products. Though it can be found in any garden in the northern region of the U.S., it is a Eurasian native. It has pairs of green, ovate or egg-shaped leaves; green, straight or intertwining/ matted stems; and small, white flowers, which germinate prolifically. Leaves and stems can be smooth or covered with fine hairs, depending on the species.

Chickweed is a member of the Caryophyllaceae or Pink family. Its botanical name is Stellaria media. Other common names include mouse ear (leaf resemblance), starweed, starwort, Indian Chickweed, winterweed, satinflower, tongue grass, chickenwort, white Bird’s eye, and Adder’s Mouth. The word ‘chick’ in the plant’s name is in honor of birds that seem to enjoy eating it. Chickweed’s flowers, leaves, stems, and roots are used as both food and medicine.

Culinary Uses of Chickweed

The stems, leaves, and flowers of this common backyard herb can be used fresh or dried and cooked in soups, green salads, stir-fries, marinades, and teas. Some say chickweed tastes like spinach.

Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits of Chickweed

The entire chickweed plant is used for medicinal purposes. Used topically by Native Americans for centuries, the herb contains the following constituents: flavonoids including rutin, fiber, fatty acids, mucilage, saponins, vitamins A, B-complex, C, and D, minerals calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.

Chickweed is used to treat fatigue, respiratory ailments such as asthma, colds, and flu, rheumatism and other joint and muscle pain, varicose veins, stomach issues such as ulcers, and urinary tract infections; it is a detoxifying agent; an appetite suppressor so good for weight loss; it reduces inflammation in the body; clears the skin of boils, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and treats other bacterial and fungal conditions such as venereal diseases. It also treats burns, insect stings and bites.

Forms of Chickweed Available

Chickweed can be used dried, in powdered form, as a tonic, tincture, cream, oil, or poultice/ compress.

Side Effects of Chickweed

Chickweed seems to have no recorded side effects, but one should still be careful, especially if using it orally. Interaction with other drugs is also unknown. Having said so, pregnant and nursing women are advised not to use chickweed. It is also advised the herb not be used in large quantities due to its large supply of nitrates.

Chickweed’s Availability

If you prefer, you can purchase the backyard weed from any health food store or farmer’s market.

Plantain weed
Plantain weed | Source

Plantain

This perennial backyard herb is a small weed that can be found growing in yards and along the roadsides of North America. As a matter of fact, the plant is so hardy it springs up from the cracks of concrete and asphalt. Its thick stems bear large, ovate leaves with deep veins and either straight or uneven edges. The green-white flowers with their brownish bracts and sepals grow on stems that are between seven to twenty inches long. They bloom from April to November. Like Burdock and Chickweed, it is native to Europe and Asia.

Plantain is a member of the Plantaginaceae family. Its botanical name is Plantago major. Other common names include Ribwort, ripple grass, buckhorn plantain, narrowleaf plantain, English plantain, waybread, lamb’s tongue, and snake weed. The parts of the plant used for culinary and medicinal purposes are mainly the leaves and the seeds. Plant parts are harvested in the summer.

Culinary Uses of Plantain

Leaves can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked. Younger leaves are better to use, but cooking tenderizes all parts, especially the seedpods. Serve it in soups, stews, stir-fries, salads, or as tea and juice. Plantain’s taste is likened to spinach.

Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits of Plantain

Herbal applications come mostly from the leaves and seeds of the common Plantain weed. The backyard plant contains flavonoids such as tannins, iridoids such as aucubin, vitamins A, B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), C, and K, minerals calcium and iron, and mucilage.

Plantain is used to treat colds, flu, and other respiratory ailments, toothaches, swollen gums, digestive and intestinal issues such as heartburn, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, ulcers, hemorrhoids, kidney and bladder problems, venereal diseases, skin problems such as boils, insect bites, stings, poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac symptoms, rashes, burns, wounds, and bruises; it reduces inflammation; heals broken bones; and lowers cholesterol and blood sugar.

Forms of Plantain Available

Use plantain as a powder, syrup, tincture, ointment/ salve, cream, lotion, gargle, wash, and poultice.

Side Effects of Plantain

The only known side effect of plantain herb is bloating and gas, but it could cause allergies. Pregnant and nursing women, and diabetics, who take insulin, should not use plantain.

Plantain’s Availability

If there is no plantain in your backyard or you prefer a prepackaged form, try health food stores.

Sheep Sorrel Flowers, Danali National Park and Preserve
Sheep Sorrel Flowers, Danali National Park and Preserve | Source

Sheep Sorrel

The perennial Sheep Sorrel plant is so-called because its succulent or fleshy, shiny-green, arrow-pointed leaves resemble the heads of the wooly four-legged animals we call sheep. Maturely, it stands about two feet tall with a red tint or maroon-colored stem. Female plants bloom reddish flowers, and male plants bloom yellow-green flowers. These flower clusters occur from late spring to early winter. Fruits are round, rust colored, nutty, with three ridges. This common backyard herb grows throughout North America, and like the other weeds, it is indigenous to Eurasia.

Sheep Sorrel belongs to the Polygonaceae or Buckwheat family. The Rhubarb vegetable is also a family member. Sheep Sorrel’s botanical name is Rumex acetosella. Other common names include red sorrel, field sorrel, cow sorrel, dog-eared sorrel, red weed, sour grass, and sour weed. The parts of the plant used for culinary and medicinal purposes are mainly the leaves, roots, and seeds. They can be harvested from spring to summer.

Culinary Uses of Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel can be eaten fresh/ raw or cooked. There is evidence that Native Americans used every part of the Sheep Sorrel weed as a food source. Its lemony, sour, acidic taste makes it a good addition to stews, soups, salads, rice, and sandwiches. The roots can be dried and made into powder to make noodles or mashed like potatoes. Sheep Sorrel also makes a great salad dressing, sauce thickener, puree, jelly, beverage similar to lemonade (the seeds or leaves), and tea.

Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits of Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel’s medicinal and health benefits are attributed to the following constituents: flavonoids including tannins, vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, and K, minerals calcium, copper, chlorine, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, silicon, and sulfur, protein, polysaccharides, oxalic and tartaric acids.

Sheep Sorrel is used to treat urinary issues, kidney disease, tumors and cancer (the leaves are used to make an Essiac tea), bacterial and viral infections such as Staphylococcus and Salmonella, scurvy, eczema, and other skin problems; it strengthens the immune system; it is a detoxifying agent; a mild diuretic; it eradicates intestinal worms and parasites, and harmful free radicals from our cells; it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent in reducing fevers and swelling; it lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, and heavy menstrual bleeding.

Forms of Sheep Sorrel Available

Sheep Sorrel can be found dried, in capsules, as powder, tea blends, liquid extracts, tinctures, vermifuges/ vermicides, and poultices.

Side Effects of Sheep Sorrel

Using excessive amounts of Sheep Sorrel can result in poisoning because of its tannin and oxalic quantities. The symptoms of poisoning would be severe headaches, nausea, and diarrhea. Sheep Sorrel is especially dangerous for people with kidney and bladder stones, and people suffering from arthritis, gout, rheumatism, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. This common backyard weed should also be avoided by pregnant and nursing women.

Sheep Sorrel Availability

If not in your backyard, Sheep Sorrel can be purchased from health food stores and farmer’s markets.

Most Beneficial Backyard Weed

If you have used Burdock, Chickweed, Plantain, or Sheep Sorrel, which offered more effective health benefits?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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