By Grace Bryce, MH, CNHP
In Central Texas, we begin to notice a little green emerging here and there in January. For some people, it is time to remove the early weeds before they take over. Many of these little winter weeds are useful medicinally or as edible plants. Many of them are rich in nutrients. Plants have been used for medicine for thousands of years, and can be reliable medicine. It is interesting that many of the same herbs are found in many parts of the world and will grow in various climates, although happier in some places, than others. Perhaps you have wondered what these plants are, or if they are good for anything. Hopefully, this will help you identify the “weeds” in your yard and maybe inspire you to make good use of them.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
There are so many plants that could be confused with dandelions, but fortunately, none of the look-a-likes are poisonous. The only stems are the flower stems, which along with the leaves, grow directly from the root. Dandelions get their name from the French “dents de lion” or “teeth of the lion”, because the leaves are shaped like lion teeth. They are smooth and not prickly. They may also have a little red coloring to them. The leaves are a little bitter and are tasty in salads. Dandelion has a diuretic effect and helps remove urinary waste, without depleting minerals. Traditionally, Dandelions have been used for liver, kidney, spleen and skin support. I think of these yellow flowers as “little drops of sunshine”.
Chickweed Stellaria media
This cute little herb is found worldwide. It contains Vitamin C & flavonoids. Traditionally used internally for rheumatism, gout, stiff joints, tb and diseases of the blood. It is commonly used externally for hemorrhoids, inflammation, poorly healing wounds, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin disease, cuts or wounds, especially when there is irritation or itching. Juice it with pineapple juice for an extra boost or throw it in your soup. The little flowers look like stars.
This early spring herb has fruit that looks like little hearts. You have a Valentine in your yard! Shepherd’s Purse has been used traditionally to regulate blood pressure and for excessive and difficult menstruation issues. It works as a diuretic, styptic and vasoconstrictor. This is one of our early spring plants, in bloom now.
Cleavers Galium aparine
This delightful herb has a sticky feel to it. This is an old spring tonic herb. Culpepper said “It is a good remedy in the spring to cleanse the blood and strengthen the liver, thereby to keep the body in health, and fitting for the change of season that is coming.” Add it to your juicing or steam it and eat it as a veggie. It doesn’t dry well, so use it now, while it is fresh.
Wild Lettuce Lactuca serriola
This one is emerging now as a bunch of upright leaves. It will eventually form a stalk that can be a couple of feet tall and bloom yellow flowers. If you pull a leaf near the stem, a white liquid will bleed out. This bitter substance is a very mild opioid and at best might help a headache, if you are lucky. Harvesting the resin is a tedious task. It will grow throughout the summer and too easily will re-seed itself and can take over.
Plantain Plantago lanceolata
Plantains are beginning to emerge now, if you look for them. Traditionally, Plantain has been used for bites and stings to stop pain, itching and inflammation. You can make a spit poultice by chewing the leaves and then applying them to the sting. Plantain is also one of the remedy plants for poison ivy along with jewel weed. Another traditional use of Plantain is for hemorrhoid relief. Do you have any Plantain growing in your yard?
Henbit Lamium amplexicaule
This cheerful weed with purple flowers, is a member of the mint family and has square stems like the other family members. It is edible and can go into salads or soups. It is high in vitamins, iron and fiber. Chickens like it, but livestock should not eat it. Medicinally, it has been used externally in a poultice for bleeding, burns, bruises, stings, wounds and reduces inflammation. Internally, as a tea, it has been used for diarrhea, fever, inflammation and rheumatism. It is also an astringent, which helps to tone and strengthen tissues.
More than likely, you have one or more of these plants growing around you. Some have a longer growing season than others. If you plan to eat them, I would suggest putting them in a bowl of water first. If there are any aphids or other insects or worms on them, they will fall off in the water. Of course, you want to avoid any that have been sprayed with pesticides or poisons and only harvest, when there is abundance. Avoid harvesting along roadsides where auto exhaust will contaminate the plants. Remember to leave enough of the plants after harvest, for them to re-seed themselves for the next season.
Enjoy your winter weeds while you can.