Some of nature’s most nutritious foods and powerful medicines come to us from the untended wild – from the cracks in the sidewalk, to the vacant lots left to their own devices. The world of “weeds,” or plants not cultivated intentionally by humans, are those representing the tenacious spirit of the earth itself – to thrive beyond all imposed boundaries.
Despite being the bane of the over-exacting gardener, weeds often serve important ecological functions like detoxifying polluted water, providing food for early pollinators like birds and bees, or building the soil’s mineral or nutrient content. By eating something wild every day as legendary botanist, herbalist, and teacher Frank Cook advocated, we benefit too! We nourish our bodies through wild plants’ wealth of vitamins and minerals, reawaken our senses to perceiving the abundance underfoot, and remember ourselves back into our local ecology. The passing of the seasons brings us into partnership with new plant allies for food, medicine, and appreciation.
Chickweed and nettles are two spring edibles to-know for their many delicious applications and uses!
CHICKWEED (Stellaria media), Part Used: leaves – Among the first plants to pop up in spring, and often overtaking your neighbor’s un-used flowerpots or lying low as a shady, matted ground cover in moist soils, chickweed is a sweet-spirited annual with delicate, white, star-shaped flowers and small, elliptical succulent leaves. A white thread-like filament is encased in its green stem. High in vitamins and minerals, and having a mild, salty taste, chickweed is delicious fresh in salads or cooked. In herbal medicine, chickweed helps to soften sore throats and coughs, and improves the body’s uptake of other nutrients. Applied externally, chickweed is cooling for burns and irritations of the skin.
Blooms throughout the year, and is best harvested May-July.
Consider using as a base for pesto! Combine in a mixer with basil, garlic, walnuts, olive oil, and cheese (optional). Season as you like. Delicious!
NETTLES (Urtica dioica) – Part Used: All parts – A perennial with saw-toothed leaves and a sting to match, stinging nettles grow in moist soils, disturbed lands, along waterways, shaded forest paths, and meadowlands, and spread quickly through tough rhizome runners. They favor areas of high nitrogen and potassium content – think, septic systems, farmlands, etc, and will impart the same benefits to the body and as external applications to the soil (feed your plants a tea of nettles!). Useful for kidney cleansing, treatment of gout, urinary tract infections, improving the quality of hair, skin, nails. Cleansing and tonifying in its actions.
All parts of the plant are useful and beneficial medicinally. The leaves harvested in the spring and cooked like spinach, taste like deep green goodness, mildly salty, brothy, and rich. Your body will thank you! Consider adding it to soups, stews, or making it into a span-i-nettle-kopita, or a tea of the fresh or dried leaves. Its natural histamines make it a useful plant assisting with seasonal asthma and allergies. Leaves you feeling grounded, hydrated, and vibrantly purified.
Tell us! How do you make use of these special springtime plants?
Written by Alyssa Schimmel, POP’s Education and Outreach Intern
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