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

Monday, June 24, 2013


Sambucus nigra
NL: Vlier / F: Sureau Noir

Elder is a great pioneer shrub or small tree that can come to help when replanting woodlands or in a forest garden project. It grows very quick, it is resistant and helps to shelter and support larger, slow-growing trees, protecting them from harsh weather. It is a great garden-guardian, protecting the neighboring plants against undesirable insects. 

Elder leaves can be prepared in a decoction to be used as  insect repellent spray as well as to treat plants from fungal infection, leaf rot and powdery mildew. It improves fermentation of compost piles when growing near it. In fact, the plant can activate composting processes when added to compost heaps.

The only edible parts of the plant are the flowers and the very ripe berries, like in when they are really dark purple-black. Even then, the berries are safer to be consumed when cooked, as the possible traces of cyanogenic substances are then destroyed by cooking. Red-brownish berries should absolutely be avoided. All other parts of the plant, leaves, twigs, stems, contain poisonous cyanide-containing substances.

Medicinally speaking one could write an entire treatise on the possible healing applications for elder. Its most popular use is as anti-inflammatory and expectorant, used to treat coughs, common cold, flu, bronchitis and various affections of the respiratory tract. It also helps to relieve fever that might result from these conditions. Both flowers and berries are common ingredients of herbal anti-cough syrups. 

An infusion of the flowers is also used in cleansing cures, as general tonic and to treat eye inflammation. For its great emollient and astringent properties, the flowers can be used in various creams and lotions to help heal skin problems, burns, wounds, itchiness. Elderflowers are also part of some natural beauty creams.

Elderflowers are popularly used to prepare refreshing beverages in many countries. I love making my own elderflower lemonade by soaking the flowers with mineral water in a covered glass container exposed to sunlight (when available, otherwise, just at the window waiting for the sun to show up) for an entire day and one evening (24 hours). Then I strain it with a coffee filter, add freshly grated lemon zest and lemon juice and sweeten it with stevia. I leave it cool down in the fridge for a few hours before drinking it and I make sure it is consumed within two days. The flowers (only the flowers, not the stems!) from the strained drink I try to use in other culinary creations, not to waste these precious nature gifts.

Want to know more about elder? Check out the links below:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wood Avens

Geum urbanum

NL: Geel nagelkruid /
F: Benoîte

Other popular names: herb Bennet, colewort and St. Benedict's herb.

Wood avens, as its name suggests, is found in woodlands and other shady places.

The young leaves can be eaten, cooked as potherb. Older leaves can be dried and powdered to be added to herbal salt. The roots can be harvested either in spring, when they can be more aromatic, or from september until late in the winter, as long as the soil is not so hard frosted. The root is the most popular part of this plant to be used in culinary creations. It adds an aromatic hint of cinnamon and cloves to dishes, soups or drinks, such as lemonades or chai.

Wood avens has a long list of medicinal properties. It is a good astringent herb that can help treat diarrhea, hemorrhoids, vaginal discharges, mouth ulcers, throat inflammation. It relieves irritable bowel syndrome and various other gastro-intestinal disorders. In old folk medicine it was believed to be a remedy against poison and dog and snake bites. It apparently helps the liver to do its “detox” work.

Particularly the roots have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. A decoction of the roots can be used as wash to disinfect and heal skin problems. It is even said to help remove spots, freckles and to smooth the skin. A nice ingredient to add to our beauty creams!

The roots are also popular in folk medicine to relieve fevers. It can be dried and stored to be used as first aid remedy, as a quinine substitute, in intermittent fevers.

The dried root can also be also used to make moth repellent sachets for linen cupboards.

In the link below you can have a photographic tour to help you to identify this plant:

Geum urbanum

More information on this plant:

Wood Avens Health Benefits

Geum urbanum - PFAF

Wood Avens, Edibility, Identification, Distribution, by Galloway Wild Foods

Monday, June 17, 2013

White Clover

Trifolium repens
NL: Witte klaver / F: Trèfle blanc

White clover is found growing abundantly in various types of environments and soils. In urban areas it can be spotted all over grass fields as it is widely used to improve lawn quality. It is one of the most popular, easy-to-use green manure plants, helping to fix nitrogen into the soil, strengthening the health of the surrounding plants. It is particularly great to be sown together with crops from the grass family, such as rye, barley, rice... Permaculture master Masanobu Fukuoka used it widely in his highly productive rice fields. 

White clover is also an amazing “living mulch”. It makes a great soil cover, keeping it moist, helping to restore soil fertility and preventing erosion. It is thus handy to have it grown for instance on the sides of raised garden beds or as cover for pathways. It also attracts bees and other pollinators.

It is a highly nutritious edible, particularly the young leaves, which can be eaten raw or prepared as spinach.  The young leaves should be harvested before the plant comes into flower. Flowers and seed pods are also edible and can be dried in a shadowy, ventilated place and kept for further use. The flowers can be used in tea infusions and the dried seeds can be powdered and used to enrich the mineral and protein content of cooked meals. Do not eat the seeds raw.

In the history of herbal medicine white clover has been used as a general tonic, to prevent and treat rheumatic conditions, colds, coughs and also as depurative. The flowers can be prepared as infusion to be used in eye lotions or genital wash to treat leucorrhoea. 

Here is an interesting article on why to grow white clover in the garden:

And here is a short video with a few tips on how to eat it and use it medicinally:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Newsletter 3: Summer 2013

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Ground Elder

Aegopodium podagaria
NL: Zevenblad / F: 
L'égopode podagraire

Also known as goutweed, ground elder is one of the first abundant edible greens that appear in spring time, together with cow parsley and nettles. It has a long history of being used as medicine-food. It was cultivated as food crop in the middle ages (probably before that too), and that seems to me a very smart thing since it is such a strong plant that does not need much care, growing strongly in harsh conditions, at a time when not many other plant foods are available. 

The young tender leaves are preferred, before the plant is in flower. The flowering point can be postponed however by harvesting the top of the plants regularly. When the leaves are a bit more mature they can get a less appealing taste and they may act as laxative. Choosing only younger leaves before the flowers come out seems to be the way to go! They can be prepared as spinach, in stews, soups, sandwich, pies, you name it.

In old folk medicine ground elder got a good reputation for helping to prevent and treat gout, arthritis and rheumatic complaints. For that purpose, ground elder was particular popular in its external applications, as warm poultice (leaves and roots). A poultice of the leaves can also be employed to help heal burns, bites and wounds. It is also diuretic and has a mild sedative effect. 

Here is a video to help you to identify ground elder:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Tropaeoulum majus

NL: Oost-Indische Kers / F: Capucine

This cute climbing plant comes originally from the Andean region, but it seem to do pretty well in most climates. It is praised as much for its ornamental aspect as it is for its culinary and medicinal uses.

Its hot-pungent taste, a little stronger than watercress at times,  makes it a delicious - and cute! - salad ingredient. Leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible, very rich in vitamin C. I like using the larger leaves (when they grow in shadowy places the leaves can get as large as 15cm of diameter!) in my green smoothies, leaving the sweet flowers to salads. The young seeds are even hotter than the flowers and leaves and they can be ground, added as spice to salad dressings or stews, or they can be prepared as capers. The mature seeds contain more than 25% of protein and they can be dried and ground to be used as a healthier pepper substitute.

In medicinal herbalism is nasturtium mostly known as an expectorant and disinfectant. Its antibacterial, anti-fungicide and antibiotic properties make it an amazing plant to help relieve infections, both internally as externally, as in disinfecting wounds and cuts. Its high content of vitamin C together with other phytonutrients make it a good herb to treat scurvy.

Nasturtium clears out mucous conditions, which combined with its antibiotic properties allows it to be effectively used to treat bronchitis, respiratory infections and to relieve chest conditions in general.

It is also acclaimed for its healing work in ailments of the urinary tract and as depurative. 

Nasturtium is another great garden companion-sacrificial plant, protecting the neighboring plants from pests. It is particular great to grow next to plants from Cucurbitacea family, such as pumpkins, melons, cucumber, as well as plants from the Brassicacea family - cabbages, broccoli, radishes, etc. 

The leaves can be prepared in a strong decoction to be used as insecticide. 

The links below will take you to two short videos that help you to recognize nasturtium and use it:

Learning about Nasturtium - Nicola Chatham

Here is one short video that tells you how to collect and store the seeds of the nasturtium:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Herb Robert

Geranium robertianum
NL: Robertskruid
F: Géranium Herbe à Robert

Geranium robertianum grows spontaneous and abundantly in many gardens. Some people keep wondering about its edibility, since there is not much to be found about it in books on edible wild plants. Its less than appealing taste seems to be at least partly responsible for its absence in culinary creations. In survival situations, where one would need to live on what’s available, this plant could be a real asset, since it is rich in essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, C, etc. It is also rich in the element germanium, which has antioxidant activity, helps to strengthen the immune system and is essential to providing energy and oxygen to the cells.

Even though this little plant does is no longer so popular among modern herbalists, it used to be highly praised in old times. Nicholas Culpeper used it for kidney stones and skin irritations. 

Its leaves, stems and roots can be used as astringent to stop nosebleeds, diarrhea and to reduce excessive menstrual flow. 

It has also antibiotic, antiviral and antiseptic properties, making it a handy anti-inflammatory herb to disinfect wounds and to help healing toothaches, sore throats, mouth ulcers and a wide range of skin ailments. 

Recent research has suggested an extract of the leaves can help reduce blood glucose levels, being useful in the treatment of diabetes. 

More information on Geranium robertianum:

Here is a nice photographic tour on this plant, much better than my own attempts:


Valeriana officinalis

NL: Valeriaan / F: Valériane

Valerian is one of the most widely recognized medicinal herb of our times. Its sedating powers have been documented since around 460 B.C. As a powerful and versatile nervine, valerian has been used to relieve anxiety, stress, irritability, hysteria, panic attacks, delusions, attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity and the wide range of symptoms that are related to tension and nervousness. It has also great antispasmodic effects, being employed to relieve (nervousness-induced) migraines, muscle pain, uterine cramps, intestinal colic and even rheumatic pain, sciatica, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. 

Due to its stress-reducing properties, it seems to have a positive effect on heart problems and it helps to stabilize blood pressure. 

Valerian is also used to aid in digestive ailments, relieving gas, diarrhea, cramps and it may even help to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Native Americans used chewed valerian, applying it directly in the ears, to relieve earache. 

It does not induce sleeping as quick as regular sleeping drugs, instead, it provides a general relaxing feeling, relieves anxiety and tension, improving sleep quality. As opposed to the grogginess that comes from taking regular sleep-inducing medicines, valerian improves alertness and it can act as a stimulant in case of fatigue. 

In fact, due to its wide range of applications as nervine, valerian can be added to many herbal formulas, helping to improve and balance the effect of other herbs.

The entire plant can be used for its sedative properties, even though the root is the strongest part. Leaves and flowers are also edible. 

The root is ready to be harvested after the plant is 2 years old, during autumn, when the plant loses its leaves. The fresh root is said to be 3 times as effective as its dried counterpart. Drying the root for further use should be done in lower temperature, preferably in a solar dryer.

It should not be prescribed for patients with liver problems, nor for pregnant and breast feeding women. Besides, due to a long list of drug-interaction valerian should not be used with alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, opiates or with antihistamine drugs. 

An intensive treatment with valerian should not take longer than 3 months, so that the body does not “get used to it”. A pause of at least 6 weeks should follow before restarting it.

We humans are not alone in our love for valerian. Cats and rats are also attracted by valerian and some cats are fond of digging holes to uncover its roots. I had to protect my little valerian plants with a circle of sticks, so as to avoid cat digging.

Valerian is also a great companion plant to have in the garden. As animals get attracted to its scent, it keeps them from going to other garden plants. It seems that the soil where valerian grows tends to contain increased amount of earthworms and phosphorus. Valerian improves mineral content of the soil. The flowers can be harvested, pressed into a paste to be used in compost, helping to heat it up during winter time.

Its good smelling roots

More on Valerian:

A video with a few practical tips on using valerian: