Medicinal Weeds

Spring is unfolding up here in northern Vermont. The red trillium is up (though not flowering yet). I’ve seen pictures of people getting ramps, but I haven’t checked my ramps patch yet. If fiddleheads aren’t up yet, they will be. Trees are budding, and the gardens are in need of attention.

Capitalizing on the beautiful weather, I went out to clear, weed, and collect. It’s amazing to me that the weeds that I am fighting are also medicinal allies. By trying to take up space in my gardens, they force me to harvest them in a timely manner. As a procrastinator, I can appreciate this.

In the bigger picture, these “weeds” are all part of mother nature’s plan to claim and cover soil, prevent erosion, and begin the process to grow a forest. Garden’s aren’t exactly natural, however eco-conscious and organic your methods are. A garden is an attempt to keep the waves of nature’s growth cycles static and in favor of one species… namely, us. Ecosystems create systems that rely on change and diverse interactions. In gardens, we are intervening to create something that works for us in production and aesthetics.

Weeds can be advantageous to us, though. As I said, a lot of these tenacious plants that invade our garden are really medicinal plants that are growing where we don’t want them. Some of these plants, I’m giving in and letting them take over some space. Why weed them and search for them in the wild when I need them when I can have them in my garden?

The first weed that I had to tackle was the ever present burdock (Arctium lappa). If you live around here, I’m sure you’ve ran into this plant before. This biennial looks a little like rhubarb when it’s young. When it gets into its second year of life, it grows tall and makes the burrs it’s famous for. My dogs have a knack for getting these stuck in their fur after a few minutes of running around outside. The sticky burrs of burdock were the inspiration for velcro, with the hooked ends of their seed pods easily latching onto hair or clothing.

It’s astrology is Venus in Leo, and it has been used in protective work. Medicinally, the root is used in medicines for the liver and skin. It’s deep taproot is full of nutrients that the plant has mined from the earth. It should be harvested in the spring before the second year of its life. If it’s the first year, at this time of year it’s small. The second year, the root has had a year to grow. The taproot can grow up to 6 feet long, so it’s unlikely you’d be able to get all of it. I mean, look at that root!

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Now is the perfect time to get it. The sugars that it stored to make it through the winter are still present, so it’s not as bitter as it will be once those sugars are used to produce the plant. You can actually eat it now. It’s a bit like a carrot, but that bitterness is a little present already so it may not be suitable for everyone’s palate.

After I harvested a bucketfull of burdock root, I noticed this little patch of green in a nearby garden bed. This is one of my favorites, stinging nettle (Urtica dioica).

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I could harvest these young plants if I wanted to, but I’m going to transplant them elsewhere. This also gives it time to get a little bigger. At this young age, the hairs full of formic acid that give nettles their sting have yet to form well. While these hairs aren’t a problem once nettles are dried or cooked, they are not a pleasant experience when carelessly handling the older plant. The rash they give last for about a day and is more annoying than painful. I don’t necessarily suggest going out of your way to experience it, though (unless the idea of urtification appeals to you).

The astrology of nettles is Mars in Aries, and is used in matters of handling crisis, strength of will, and anything that would be considered martial. Medicinally, it’s used for arthritis, prostate support, the urinary system, and more! It can also be eaten, as long as it’s steamed or cooked. If you’re interested in getting some dried nettle to try out in magic or tea, you can buy some from me here.

As I continue through the garden, a third invader keeps popping up. The lowly dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)! This lawn invader originally came from Europe, but has happily naturalized, annoying both lawn purists and gardeners alike.

Dandelion is a Jupiter in Libra sort of plant used in protection, vision, and success. It is a great diuretic that also has high levels of potassium, a mineral that is often depleted by other diuretics. It’s also good for your liver, your skin, and a bitter. Many of us who grew up in rural areas have memories of eating dandelion greens in a spring salad. At this point of the year, it’s time to go for the roots. They will have some of that winter sugar, like the burdocks. Getting them now is also easier then fighting with them later in the year.

Together, these three can make a great spring tonic to do some body spring cleaning. They are all relatively easy to identify, and are incredibly safe. They are also probably growing in your garden where they shouldn’t be, so harvesting is made easy. You can weed and collect at the same time.

I hope everyone has been enjoying the beautiful weather as of late. I know that I have. In fact, I think that I will go out and enjoy it some more. Invasive medicinals, watch out!

 

Until next week

 

-The Green Mountain Mage