Healing Weeds - Getting a closer contact with the healing world of herbs and wild plants.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lady's Mantle

 Alchemilla vulgaris / Alchemilla mollis

NL: Vrouwenmantel / F: Alchémille

This plant, as its latin name suggests ("Alchemilla" = "little magical one"), is historically linked to a long list of “magical uses”. The water secretion from its leaves was used in various mystical potions, including potions from alchemists trying to produce gold. Its sacredness was shared in different cultures around the world, and it was believed to help to keep youth and beauty and it was even used to uplift breasts.

While the “magical” applications of Lady’s Mantle are now left behind in history books, many of its medicinal properties have been scientifically recognized. Some of these properties include wound healing, astringent, soothing, anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhagic.

Alchemilla contains various substances that help regenerate skin and connective tissue, making it known as one of the best vulnerary plants. It has been widely applied in herbal medicine to treat eczema, ulcers, rashes, burns, insect bites, cuts and bruises. 

Currently Alchemilla has been “prescribed” by herbalists around the world to help treat conditions of women’s reproductive system, such as excessive and painful menstruation, vaginal discharge, fibrosis and endometriosis. It is also said to reduce menopausal symptoms and to help regulate the menstrual cycle. Some report its use to reduce spasmodic and convulsive conditions and to improve sleep. Also used to treat water retention, diarrhea, sore mouth and throat .

Next to all that, the young leaves are edible, raw or cooked.

Alchemilla is found growing in the wild but as this plant has won the hearts of many conventional gardeners, we can find it growing pretty much everywhere, even in urban areas. Lovely!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Symphytum officinale

NL: Smeerwortel / F: Consoude 

Comfrey is another amazing perennial herb, essential to any herbal first aid kit as well as to any healthy organic and permaculture garden. 

Comfrey in the garden: it contains more Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) than most commercial fertilizers. Its long roots draw nutrients from deep in the soil and transfer it all to the leaves. The nutrient-rich leaves can then be used directly as a mulch, added to compost piles as a compost activator or chopped and added to a container with rain water to allow it to ferment and be later used as liquid compost. 

Comfrey not only enriches the soil but it can also speed up heat processes, which is pretty handy to have near and around fruit shrubs and other fruit trees or larger crops that require higher soil temperatures. Do not allow it to grow near to smaller plants, as it is a pretty strong, large and rather dominant plant.

it also comes in white
Comfrey as first aid herb: it has been used in folk medicine to help reduce bruising and to speed up tissue repair: broken bones and ligaments, damaged cartilage or connective tissue. Its tissue healing properties (mainly attributed to a substance called allantoin) are so strong that it is not advisable to be used in case of open wounds, as it risks “closing” the wound much faster than the time the body might need to get rid of any harmful microorganisms. It is also useful externally in the treatment of varicose veins, joints inflammation, to stop bleeding and in eye injuries. Its tincture or tea made out of the dried leaves or roots have been used internally to reduce heavy menstruation flow and to relieve gastric ulcers.

The leaves can be used freshly squeezed, dried and made into a strong tea or macerated in oil for 3-4 weeks, the drained oil can be used to make salves to be applied in bruises and rheumatic joints to help relieve pain and swelling.
hairy leaves and stems
Comfrey in the kitchen: it has also a long history of being used as an edible but in the light of recent studies this is no longer advised, since the plant contains varying amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids - which are toxic. The young leaves contain little amounts of the harmful alkaloids and can therefore be consumed in moderate amounts (I personally would do that only in case where there is no other food source available). Dried leaves and roots can be made into tea and its roots can be roasted into coffee, such as with dandelion and chicory roots. 

More on Comfrey:

Nice videos:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Wild Chervil

Anthriscus sylvestris

NL: Fluitenkruid /F: Cerfeuil sauvage

Wild chervil or cow parsley is found covering wide areas wherever humans have not worked out the land. Leaves and seeds are all edible, raw or cooked and its taste  is stronger than that from garden chervil, similar to carrot leaves. Young leaves taste much milder, somewhat between parsley and fennel. The root is also edible and it is said to be a general tonic, where soaked for several days in rice water (water from washing the rice), and then cooked with other vegetables.

This plant has poisonous look-alikes, such as hemlock   (Conium maculatum or Cicuta spp.) and fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium). One of the distinguishing features between them being that wild chervil has stout, pale green furrowed and slightly hairy stems. In contrast fools' parsley has thin, hairless ribbed and hollow stems. 

Hemlock has stout, smooth stems that are often (not always!) purple-spotted. Please, do not count only on these identification criteria and if you're going to pick wild chervil always take a proper field guide with you and look at the leaves and flowers as well as the stems. Other, most “innocent” look alike plants are yarrow, wild carrot, sweet cicely, angelica and valerian

Cow parsley has three or four subspecies and about 15 different varieties. Studies have shown that the plant contains chemical compounds which have been reported to have anti-proliferative, anti-tumor, and anti- viral activities against human cancer cells.

The root from Anthriscus sylvestris has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat fractures, contusions, strains, cough, bronchitis and asthma due to lung weakness. 

Here are some videos that help identify and differentiate cow's parsley from hemlock and from fool’s parsley:

More on Wild chervil:

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Arctium minus / A. lappa
NL: Grote klit / F: Bardane

One more amazing plant, with both great nutritional value as well as a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine.

The young stalks and leaves are edible, raw or cooked, but the young roots are the most popular part of this plant. The roots should be harvested when they reach up to 60 cm, since they can get “woody” as they grow further. The seeds can be sprouted and used in raw salads or lightly stirred in olive oil.

It is a powerful cleansing herb and, similarly to curly dock, it has been traditionally used in the treatment of a wide range of skin illnesses, infections and even cancer. Its blood purifying properties are so effective as in helping the body to get rid of heavy metals and a wide range of toxins. The roots also have antibacterial and anti-fungal action and combining that with its depurative properties, makes it a great herb to help healing eczema, rheumatic conditions, acne, rashes, and several types of inflammatory illnesses.

More on burdock:

Survival Plants Memory Course: Arctium Minus

Burdock in Trational Chinese Medicine:

Niu Bang Zhi - Chinese Herbal Medicine

Here are two recipes with burdock roots to inspire your culinary talents:

Japanese style pickled burdock

Classic Kinpira Gobo

Curly Dock

Rumex crispus
 NL: Zuring / F: Oseille

Most plants of the Rumex genus, docks and sorrels, are edible, rich in protein, vitamins A and C, bioflavonoids, iron and magnesium. But most of them also contain varying levels of tannins and oxalates. For that reason, in their raw form, they should be eaten moderately. They can be freely consumed when boiled 2 to 3 times, changing its cooking water. 

Curly dock or yellow dock (Rumex crispus) has an ancient history as a powerful purifying, cleansing herb, used to help healing a wide range of skin conditions and other chronic illnesses that can benefit from a depurative herb. All parts of the plant can be used but the strongest properties are found in the roots. For that, the root is harvested early in spring - or early autumn - and dried for further use. 

The cleansing actions from various Rumex species are partly explained by its stimulation of digestive secretions, which have a mild laxative effect and help to eliminate waste. Yellow dock also promotes the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder, which improves the absorption of nutrients. The extensive list of conditions that have been reported to be treated using yellow dock roots include: rheumatism, fevers, liver problems, hemorrhoids, swollen lymph glands and constipation. Recently it has been studied as an auxiliary in the treatment of cancer and bacterial infections.

As a first aid herb, the powder of the dried root can be used in poultice, applied topically to heal wounds, skin inflammations, itching, eczema, etc. This powder has also been used traditionally to treat gingivitis and toothaches. 

It works well in cleansing formulas when combined with burdock roots.

Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for the sting of nettles. Curiously, curly dock and common nettle are often found growing in the same environment.
Dock is also used as compost enhancer, to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to get the compost ready.

More on the healing properties of Yellow Dock:

And here's a complete course on this plant:

Survival Plants Memory Course: Rumex crispus

In the beginning of the following video you get some tips on identifying and using Curly Dock:

Sergei Boutenko: Wild Food Foraging

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Forget me Nots

Myosotis arvensis

M. sylvatica  / M. scorpioides / M. alpestris

NL: Vergeet-mij-nietje / F: Myosotis

The blue-pinkish flowers of this plant look great in our garden, blooming for up to 5 weeks long. 

Its flowers can be added to decorate salads, but as the plant contain varying levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, it should be used in small amounts only. 

The whole plant is astringent and it has been used in herbal medicine as an effective remedy for several eye conditions, including conjunctivitis. It is also a handy first aid herb to help stop bleeds when applied externally, fresh or in powder (dried). 

Garlic Mustard

Alliaria petiolata
NL: Look-zonder-look / F: Herbe à ail

Despite of its name, garlic mustard is not from the family of garlics, but from the mustards (Brassicaceae / Cruciferae). It is a popular edible, used widely in pestos, salad dressings and as a salad ingredient too. Leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. The leaves are best eaten in early spring, as it may get bitter when the weather turns warmer. Roots can also be eaten, prepared as horseradish, having a similar taste. 
the younger the leaves, the tastier

It contains a lot of advantages from its more known family members, such as being rich in vitamins A, C, magnesium, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, flavonoids and isothiocyanates - which are thought to help protect our body against various types of cancer. 

In traditional herbalism garlic mustard is used as antiseptic (for wounds, ulcers, cuts...), vulnerary, antiasthmatic, diaphoretic and antiscorbutic. The roots can be processed into a purée or cooked in oil (over low fire in bain-marie) and applied as poultice (or oil) into the chest to help relieve bronchitis. 

Garlic mustard is considered as highly invasive, especially due to its allelochemicals, that keep other plants in the surroundings from germinating. The solution is pretty simple: harvest it and consume it. It can be preserved as pesto, jarred in sterile pots or dried for further culinary or medicinal use. 

This plant is apparently food for more than 60 species of insects and 7 types of fungus, so it surely has an important role to play in nature.

Here is a nice video with several handy tips to use garlic mustard: