Wild Edible Wednesday
Welcome to our first blog about weeds. Those terrible, invasive, lawn ruining weeds. You know, the kind that grow up between the cracks in the sidewalks and demand that they should have a special place between your perfect rows of green beans. And no matter the time spent hunched over pulling them, hoeing them, or spraying them (please don't spray herbicides)...they return with a vengeance.
Have you ever really considered that? I mean, if something is that persistent in living no matter the outside force being applied, there must be a darn good reason. Well, there is. Manna.
You see, when God fed the Israelites in Exodus 16:4 saying, "The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day." God did not say, "Sit comfortably at your dining room table with forks in hand and Uber eats will bring you sustenance." He said, "I will provide nourishment, but you have to go out and get it." Now, obviously weeds in the side walk are not honey flavored bread flakes, but they are no less valuable or nutritious. It is still our job to go outside and find the manna, gather what we need, and enjoy what God has provided in abundance. We just have to know where to look, and what we are looking for. And just like the ancient Israelites, we are blind to it.
So, friends, let's change that.
There is a palpable wind shift happening in our culture. People are yearning for a more simple life, one that does not require an abundance of electronics, gadgets, flashing lights, digital coupons and traffic, Gardening has become fashionable again, as is keeping a few backyard chickens. But the most noticeable shift lately has been the foraging craze; the desire to gather and provide. Full disclosure: I am happily one of those crazy folk. :So, before we begin delving into all the wonderful benefits and uses of backyard weeds, I should probably preface this with, "I am not a medical professional and all information presented in the following text should be thoroughly researched prior to implementing the advice, as well as consulting with your medical provider before ingesting any unknown plant species." Also, "All resources are listed at the bottom of this blog for your reference." And, "all photographs included in this blog were taken by me, and I give you full permission to copy, paste, and share them at will." There. That should cover it.
What is my number one favorite wild edible?
Scientific name: Plantago Major
This prolific perennial can be found across the entire U.S., generally in patches where the ground has been disturbed. For this reason, Native Americans called this plant White Man's Footsteps. Plantago major is in the family Plantaginaceae – the plantain family – a family that consists of at least 90 genera, several of which include common species of ornamental plants such as Veronica (speedwells), Digitalis (foxgloves), and Antirrhinum (snapdragons). The genus Plantago consists of around 200 species commonly known as plantains.
This plant quickly became my favorite wild edible after tasting it the first time. The leaves, when harvested as young, tender, center leaves, taste just like buttered spinach! This discovery has led to many morning stir fry combos. This is also the easiest wild edible to identify: The distinctive leaves have a ruffled texture, are oval or almost round and have a chunky footstalk. The leaves grow in a rosette at the base of the plant with the most tender leaves located closest to the center. It is very similar in color and shape to spinach.
Edible Use: Both the leaves and seeds are edible. As the seeds age, they become tough and fibrous, but they can be cooked in soups and stews. The seeds are sometimes ground into a flour extender or substitute, but they are so tiny that it takes a lot of time and energy to gather enough to make it worthwhile. (See additional information about these seeds at the bottom of the blog).
My personal note on this: be aware of where you are harvesting your plants. Anywhere they have been driven on, walked on, sprayed with pesticides or peed on by your dog is not an ideal place. Find an undisturbed area in your yard or garden.
Key Constituents: Mucilage, fatty acids, protein, starch, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, allantoin, bitters
Medicinal Use: The plantain herb is anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, hepatoprotective, immune modulating, and a weak antibiotic. In other words, it's a super food.
1. A poultice made from crushed plantain leaves is a good choice to promote healing in minor wounds, sores, and insect bites or stings. It will ward off infection, help stop bleeding, and reduce inflammation, taking away the sting or itch. A spit poultice is easily made when you are bitten, something I have done numerous times over the years, as it has an excellent drawing effect when those dang wasps hit you with a surprise attack.
2. The juice of common plantain leaves is beneficial for calming inflammation of the mucous membranes, including the membranes of the respiratory tract, digestive tract, and urinary tract. Relieves Cystitis, Diarrhea, Respiratory Tract Infections, Ulcers, and Colitis.
3. Toothache: The direct application of plantain on a toothache or dental infection is very effective in relieving swelling, infection, and pain.
4. Sore throat: Add a tablespoon of pressed plantain juice to a half cup of water and use as a gargle at the first sign of a sore throat.
5. Constipation, Intestinal Worms and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Plantain seeds are excellent at relieving constipation and intestinal worms because of the fiber and mucilage released in the infusion. To relieve constipation, try drinking 1 cup of Plantain Seed Infusion (see recipe below) at bedtime. Be sure to consume the liquid and seeds for its full laxative effect.
Plantain Seed Infusion: Take 1 teaspoon plantain seeds and 1 cup boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the seeds and allow it to steep while it cools. Drink the mucilage tea and the seeds. (Will be like thin tapioca pudding)
Plantain Tincture: You’ll need plantain leaves, 80 proof vodka or other drinking alcohol (Everclear works well too) and a glass jar with a ight-fitting lid. Fill the jar with fresh plantain leaves that have been chopped into small pieces or half a jar of dried plantain. Pour alcohol over the leaves and fill the jar, making sure all the leaves are covered. Cap the jar tightly. Let the tincture marinate for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking the jar occasionally. Pour the alcohol through a fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter to remove all of the herbs. Store the tincture in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 5 years. Dosage: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon.
To infuse Plantain Oil: substitute organic olive oil for the vodka and follow the same instructions.
Plantain Tea: Place 1 teaspoon dried plantain leaves or 1 tablespoon of fresh plantain leaves into a cup of boiling water. Let steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the leaves and drink.
You can propagate Plantain by planting the seeds, or transplanting small clumps in the garden and mulching around them. These pictures are from my garden this year, where I purposefully replanted Plantain in order to grow huge leaves and seed stalks. They are not only beneficial, they are really attractive!
Before I sign off, I have one more thing to share about this amazing plant. Psyllium.
What is Psyllium? I'm so glad you asked!!! Those individuals who are intense about their health food and supplements will recognize that name, and will cringe because they have seen the prices at the store. Known as "The poor man's Ozempic", and commonly found in products like Metamucil. Psyllium husk is harvested from a Mediterranean cousin of Plantain called Plantago Ovada, or "Blonde Plantain". It is typically sourced as a capsule or a powder, and can range from $12.00-$37.00 with most products averaging a 3-week supply. It can also be purchased in bulk to give to horses for relief of sand colic.
But here's the secret...The seed pods from the Plantain in your back yard do the same thing! For free! How amazing is that?
Another benefit? No additives, sugars, or preservatives.
If we are going to wean ourselves off of "store bought" supplements, this is exactly the kind of information we need.
So my crazy foraging, gathering friends, I hope you enjoyed this foray into the first of many backyard wild edibles. I will present one each week for at least 8 weeks, and even longer if there is enough interest from you all! I would also like to extend my appreciation for your support and positive comments on this endeavor. There are hundreds of websites, books, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts about this topic, and the fact that you chose this one means the world to me. God bless you all.
(The references I promised: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, Andrew Chevallier; The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies, Nicole Apelian, PhD, and Claude Davis; and The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, Thomas Easley and Steven Horne)