Thursday, March 31, 2011

Herb of the Week - Weeds!

Okay I am a day late, but the good news is I have three for the price ofone today. A friend pointed out that Monday was “Weed Appreciation Day.”  Now as herb growers we all acknowledge that herbs are weeds.  As I say in my lectures,” they don’t call it herbicide for nothing!”  My friend Leanne also reminded me of a quote by gardener Doug Larson who says “A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”

So in celebration of this auspicious day  I thought it would make
                                   this week’s Herb of the Week – WEEDS

Here are a few good tips so you can appreciate “weeds.” The weeds I will focus on are:
  • Dandelion – which I wrote up as the herb of the week just recently (see this post)
  • Burdock
  • Plantain
  • Mullein 
 

Burdock

Burdock is any of a group of biennial thistles in the genus Arctium, family Asteraceae. Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide. Plants of this genus have dark green leaves that can grow up to 28" (71 cm) long. They are generally large, coarse and ovate, with the lower ones being heart-shaped. They are woolly underneath Arctium species generally flower from July through to October.  The prickly heads of these plants (burrs) are noted for easily catching on to fur and clothing (being the inspiration for Velcro).

For many years I volunteered at the West Chicago Prairie pulling out, cutting down and removing burdock from a natural prairie where it is not a native plant.  It is so prolific a plant that it could easily swamp the more slow growing native species.  My thought once I learned that it has medicinal and food properties was if it becomes popular as a food, wild harvesters would take care of removing it from prairie lands and wonderful things can happen.  As part of my personal eradication campaign, I believe we should find better uses for burdock, including eating it.

The long taproot (up to 3 feet) of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favor in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned or shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes. I have cooked them with and without rice in my rice cooker.  Immature flower stalks may also be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear; their taste resembles that of artichoke, to which the burdock is related.  Julienned or shredded burdock root and carrot, braised with soy sauce, sugar, mirin and/or sake, and sesame oil;

In the second half of the 20th century, burdock achieved international recognition for its culinary use due to the increasing popularity of the macrobiotic diet, which advocates its consumption. It contains a fair amount of dietary fiber (GDF, 6g per 100g), calcium, potassium, amino acids, and is low in calories. It contains a polyphenol oxidase, which cause its darkened surface and muddy harshness by forming tannin-iron complexes. Burdock root's harshness harmonizes well with pork in miso soup. In parts of the US (notably western New York), burdock stalks are eaten as a substitute for cardoon. The stalks are peeled, scrubbed, boiled in salt water, and fried in an egg and breadcrumb batter.

Folk herbalists consider dried burdock to be a diuretic, sweat inducer for fever control and treatment of shock, and a blood purifying agent. Burdock is a traditional medicinal herb that is used for many ailments. Burdock root oil extract, also called Bur oil, is popular in Europe as a scalp treatment applied to improve hair strength, shine and body, help reverse scalp conditions such as dandruff, and combat hair loss. Burdock leaves are used by some burn care workers for pain management and to speed healing time in natural burn treatment. Burn care workers hold that it eases dressing changes and appears to impede bacterial growth on the wound site and that it also provides a great moisture barrier.


Plantain

When we talk about plantain, normally the image of a banana plantation conjures up in our mind. But the common plantain is a small wild plant with leaves that grow mostly from the plant's bottom. The Plantain belongs to the natural order Plantaginaceae, which contains more than 200 species, twenty-five or thirty of which have been reported as in domestic use. The Common Broad-leaved Plantain is a very familiar perennial 'weed,' and may be found anywhere by roadsides and in meadow-land. It grows from a very short rhizome, which bears a great number of long, straight, yellowish roots, and a large, radial rosette of leaves and a few long, slender, densely-flowered spikes. The leaves are ovate, blunt, abruptly contracted at the base into a long, broad, channeled footstalk . The blade is 4 to 10 inches long and about two-thirds as broad, usually smooth, thickish, five to eleven ribbed, the ribs having a strongly fibrous structure, the margin entire, or coarsely and unevenly toothed. The flower-spikes, erect, on long stalks, are as long as the leaves, 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick and usually blunt. The flowers are somewhat purplish-green, the calyx four parted, the small corolla bell-shaped and four-lobed, the stamens four, with purple anthers. The fruit is a two-celled capsule containing four to sixteen seeds.

Plantago major
(you know you've see this at the playground)
Plantain has been used internally for inflammation of the skin, malignant ulcers, intermittent fever, etc., and externally as a stimulant application to sores. Applied to a bleeding surface, the leaves are of some value in arresting hemorrhage. The fresh leaves are applied whole or bruised in the form of a poultice. Rubbed on parts of the body stung by insects, nettles, etc., or as an application to burns and scalds, the leaves will afford relief and will stay the bleeding of minor wounds.

The common plantain has multiple medicinal uses and is highly valued by most herbal practitioners. In case on any injury, the herb is able to instantly check the flow of blood and also restore the smashed tissues. According to many herbal practitioners, the common plantain may be used as a substitute of comfrey to effectively treat bruises and broken bones. Ointments or lotions prepared with the common plantain leaves may be used to cure hemorrhoids, fistulae or anomalous channels in the skin as well as ulcers. When used internally, the herb acts as a diuretic increasing the outflow of urine, expectorant (a medication to treat coughs) as well as decongestant (a medicine that clears blocked nose). Herbal practitioners recommend the common plantain to treat conditions such as gastritis, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, dysentery, irritable bowel syndrome, congestion of the respiratory tract, loss of voice as well as bleeding in the urinary tract.

REVITALIZING GREEN JUICE
3 cups (180 g) fresh plantain leaves
1 cups (250 ml) pure liquid honey
1 opaque glass bottle

Crush the leaves in a food processor, drain and squeeze in cheesecloth. Combine 1 cup (250 ml) of the green juice with the honey and simmer for 10 minutes at low heat, stirring regularly. Let cool and pour into the opaque bottle.

Take this nectar 1 spoonful at a time like syrup to treat a cough; also use it to treat a sore throat, anemia, fatigue and eczema: 1 T (15 ml), 3 times daily.

Mullein

The Mulleins also known as velvet plants are a genus of about 250 species of flowering plants in the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). They are native to Europe and Asia, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean region.  They are biennial or perennial plants, rarely annuals or sub shrubs, growing to 0.5–3 m tall. The plants first form a dense rosette of leaves at ground level, subsequently sending up a tall flowering stem. Biennial plants will form the rosette the first year, and during the following season is when the stem emerges. The leaves are spirally arranged, often densely hairy, though glabrous (hairless) in some species. The flowers have five symmetrical petals; petal colors in different species include yellow (most common), orange, red-brown, purple, blue or white. The fruit is a capsule containing numerous minute seeds. It gows in edge regions , on hedge-banks, by roadsides and on waste ground, more especially on gravel, sand or chalk. It flowers during July and August.

The plant has a long history of use as a medicine, and is an effective treatment for asthma and respiratory disorders. Extracts made from the plant's flowers are a very effective treatment for ear infections. Although this plant is a recent arrival to North America, Native Americans used the ground seeds of this plant as a paralytic fish poison due to their high levels of rotenone. One species, Verbascum thapsus (Great mullein), is used as an herbal remedy for sore throat, cough, and lung diseases. The leaves and flowers are the parts used medicinally. Fresh Mullein leaves are also used for the purpose of making a homoeopathic tincture.

Mullein is also the active ingredient in many alternative smoking blends.  It’s most unique use is as rod for use in the hand drill method of friction fire lighting.


Disclaimers – although these weeds have many medicinal properties, I do not recommend self medicating with them without experience or proper advice.  If you are interested in these plants, may I recommend some additional reading in:
  • Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung  (2011)
  • The Natural Remedy Bible by Michael Tierra (2003)
  • The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chavallier

1 comment:

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