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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guidelines update

Our guidelines page has been updated !   Click here to go to the online page

This page contains important information on using plants as food or treatment.

===== extract on 2013-08-22  ======



Before you get all adventurous on foraging or harvesting medicinal herbs, make sure you can identify the plants you wish to gather properly. Do not rely on this website only for that, nor should you rely on one single book, blog or website. Ideally, in your first time with each wild plant, you should have someone around who can absolutely tell you which plant that is. Next to that, keep with yourself a good flora plant guide and at least one book with also pictures of the plants. Learning to identify is really crucial!

Living in Europe, I like a lot the Black's Nature Guides, such as the Medicinal Plants of Britain and Europe. It is portable, full of nice pictures and also has some drawings with details of the plants. Each country has their own local flora books, so take one of those in your backpack when going for a wild plants exploration.

Ethics & safety issues

I wanted to write a set of suggestions concerning the ethical aspect and the safety of harvesting plants in the wild, but I came across a great and well described text from Mark Angelini, on the Eat There Now blog. So I will limit myself to placing the link below so that you can read these useful tips directly from their website:

Guidelines and Practices for Ethical Foraging - eattherenow.org

Herbal Medicine

When choosing to use herbs for healing, try to keep in mind that herbal healing goes far beyond simply addressing the symptoms, as it is usually done in conventional medicine. Just to give a quick example, there are hundreds of herbs that could help the work of the liver, but there may be only one or two plants that can make a huge difference to someone's health. A good herbal healer should have knowledge on the general properties of the plants, their nature, energies and possible interactions. The healer should also have a background that allows for some level of diagnose, so as to be able to know what herb each person really needs. That knowledge might have come from being trained in Holistic Herbal Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Anthroposophical Medicine or others schools. 

The information we offer in this blog is pretty general and it is meant to offer a summary of the main folk uses of each plant. We choose to mention the properties of the plant that have been reported in most trustworthy herbal books. To have an accurate view on what one particular plant can do for you it is a good idea to have a few good herbal books at home. The more we learn about plants, the more we feel we still have so much to learn from them. 

The Universal Edibility Test

1 - Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.

2 - Separate the plant into its basic components — leaves, stems, roots, buds and flowers.

3 - Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.

4 - Do not eat for eight hours before starting the test.

5 - During the eight hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.

6 - During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.

7 - Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.

8 - Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.

9 - If after three minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.

10 - If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.

11 - If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.

12 - Wait eight hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.

13 - If no ill effects occur, eat 0.25 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another eight hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.

CAUTION: Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may produce varying reactions in different individuals.

Source: http://dsc.discovery.com/survival/plants-animals/how-to-test-plants-for-edibility.html

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Althea officinalis

NL: Echte heemst /
F: Guimauve sauvage

Marshmallow is a powerful medicinal herb that has been proven to soothe and heal inflammations an irritations in mucous membranes of the respiratory, urinary and digestive tract. That covers quite a lot of conditions: bronchitis, peptic ulcers, gastritis, cystitis, mouth and throat inflammations, etc.

All parts of the plant are edible and can be used medicinally.

Externally, as poultices or in creams, it promotes cellular healing. It is therefore employed in the treatment of skin inflammations, burns, insect bites, bruises, sprains... its fresh leaves can be lightly crushed between the fingers and rubbed into insect bites and stings to relieve itchiness and to reduce allergic reactions. It can be also infused in oil to be used after shower to keep skin’s health. Just a side note on this: our skin is our major “defense” organ, protecting our body against undesired organisms, so it is a good idea to treat our skin with a thin layer of (herbal) oil after shower.

Old time healers used marshmallow to prevent and heal degenerative conditions, including plagues, tuberculosis and blood losses. Dioscorides prescribed it to neutralize intoxication in the body: “The decoction of the roots and leaves helps all sorts of poison, so as the poison be presently voided by vomit”

The powder of the leaves or roots is used to help to drag pus and inflammatory liquids from gangrenous wounds, tumors, (painful) swellings, boils, abcesses. It is also used to draw out stings, splinters or thorns.

It has a cooling effect and it can help reduce hot flushes during the menopause. It also helps to boost milk production in lactating mothers.

Its demulcent and emollient properties make marshmallow a very popular supporting herb in formulas, as it combines well with many other herbs. The root powder is even used to bind with other medicinal herbs in pills and capsules.

Our ancestors used mallows also as a food source. Its richness in mucilage makes it not as palatable to everyone, so those who are less keen in slimy dishes might consider mixing it with other leafy vegetables, instead of using it pure.

Here are some interesting links to extra information on marshmallow:

Soothing Marshmallow & Marshmallow Infusion - Learning Herbs

Slimy and Sweet - a closer look at Marshmallow - Methow Valley Herbs

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) - Avena Botanicals

Marshmallow | University of Maryland Medical Center

Friday, August 16, 2013


Typha latifolia
NL: Grote lisdodde / F: Massette

Cattail is another versatile plant considered as the wonder of survivalists. One can indeed basically survive from this plant only if needed. It can be used as nutritious food, it filters and purifies waters, it offers material for building shelters, boats, baskets, cordage, clothes, hats, beds, mats, pillows, insulation and it can also be used as a fire starter or fire torch. The more creative you are , the more applications you will find for cattails. 

Before we get to how nutritious this plant is, it is worth noting that cattail is a wetland plant, growing in swamps, ponds and along rivers and lakes. One of its important ecological functions is to purify and detoxify water, removing even pollutants and heavy metals from the waters where it grows. The thing is that it cannot get rid of those toxic products or neutralize them right away, so it accumulates them. When thinking of harvesting cattails to be used as food, make sure it grows in a non-polluted environment.

the plant can be used in natural water treatment systems

As food source, it can provide enough calories, from carbohydrates, fats and proteins - a complete survival meal. Its rhizomes and roots can be harvested and prepared during autumn and winter, exactly when most other plants are not available. The white part of the leaves are also delicious when cooked. In the springtime, its shoots can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked and its pollen can be added to meals, adding extra vitamins and minerals.  With this plant one can have food all year round, in all seasons.

Before we can see the typical cattail seed heads, it is possible to confuse cattails with members of the iris family, which grow also in wetlands but are toxic, not edible. Still it is possible to identify cattail by its leaves growing around a very round stalk at its basis. The leaves of the iris grow around a flat-fan formation, very different from the cattail.

leaves grow around a round stalk
Cattail is also a popular folk medicine as diuretic. Its roots can be used as poultice to heal wounds, burns, insect bites, skin inflammations and it helps boils and pustules to get out. Dried and burned, its ashes work as a great first aid antiseptic for wounds or toothache. 
Listed below you will find a selection I made of the best videos and articles I could find on cattails, full of practical information worth checking out: 

Harvesting and preparing cattails (6 videos from Learningherbs.com)

Making a pillow from cattails - Simply Homemaking

Cattail pollen lessons - From: Hunger and Thirst Food, like life, is best when it's wild and free

fluffy parts: pillow filling, insulation, fire starter
roots and rhizomes can be harvested even during winter

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

St John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum
NL: St Janskruid / 
F: Millepertuis

St John’s Wort (SJW) is another powerful herb with a long history as folk medicine. In our days St John’s Wort got great media attention for aiding in the treatment of those suffering from depression, being known as the “natural prozac”

Long before SJW got to be used to treat depression, it was considered to be a “herb that chases the evil spirits away” as it was used to treat various types of insanity attacks. Paracelsus was whom mentioned it for the first time for treatment of a wide range of psychotic symptoms. Even though it is not yet clear to modern medicine how exactly SJW works on the nervous system, its nervine action is recognized by herbalists around the world.

Its most widespread use in herbal medicine is in healing wounds, bruises, sunburn, herpes, skin ulcers and inflammations. Most of its skin healing abilities are attributed to its properties as analgesic, antiviral, antibacterial, antiseptic and astringent. In poultices, oils, salves and ointments it is used to heal many skin problems. 

As expectorant it is also employed to treat conditions of the respiratory tract. It is also used to help healing bladder problems, such as urine incontinence.

SJW should not be used by pregnant women. People using St John’s Wort are advised to avoid direct exposure to sunlight SJW, especially during summertime when the U.V. levels ar emuch higher, as it increases photosensitivity. 

Another word of caution goes to people taking prescription drugs: SJW contains chemical compounds that may block or alter the effect of several drugs. For a more extended list of interactions between some prescription drugs and SJW, click here

The (fresh) flowers are the most active part of the plant and they can be harvested from June to August. They can also be dried for further. Fresh or dried flowers can be prepared as teas, tinctures or in infused oil. 

The famous St John’s Wort oil can be used for healing skin conditions and to reduce pain and inflammation in the muscles and articulations - as in bruises, arthritis and even sciatica. To prepare the infused oil, gather the mature flowers around noon (after the morning dew has been evaporated) and place them in a clean, dry glass bottle (transparent). Cover the flowers with vegetable oil (almond, olive oil, sunflower oil, etc). Cover with a paper towel and a rubber band to avoid dust and insects from falling in. Leave it in a sunny window for 2 to 3 weeks, depending on how much sun you have. If you prefer to leave the oil under direct sunlight outside, even better. You must only care to bring the bottle every day to a sheltered place, where it can remain free from (condensed) moist or rain. You may keep adding new flowers to the oil every new harvest, so that the oil becomes more concentrated. When the oil gets a bright reddish color, it is ready to be used. Sieve the flowers with a clean cheese cloth into a dark glass bottle. Close the bottle tightly and label it with the date of bottling. Keep it in a cool, dark and dry place. 

In the links below you will find more practical information on identifying, harvesting and preparing St John's Wort. There is also a list of drug interactions that might occur with the regular use of SJW.

Hypericum - St Joan/John's Wort - with Susun Weed