Once you realize what a bounty of medicinal herbs are growing in your yard right at this moment you will never look at a “weed” the same way. When I discovered what chickweed was and went out to my yard to find it I felt like I had hit jackpot! It was everywhere! Especially all along the house because it likes to grow up against things. We now make delicious pesto with it every spring, you can find my recipe for that here. This was the stuff my husband had been weed whacking for years thinking it was just a pesky weed but oh no it was an amazing medicinal food that we were mowing down!
Let me give you a quick guide to the top herbs you can find in your yard and what you can do with them today to gain all their wonderful benefits! These are just some of the ones that I have found in my yard here in Tennessee. You might have different ones in your area though. Think of this as just a starting off point into the vast world of foraging for herbs to use as food and medicine.
As a word of caution I am not a doctor so check with your doctor first before using herbs and all that good stuff. Also take your time in becoming familiar with these plants before using them because many edible plants do have poisonous look alikes! Don’t be scared to forage just take some extra measures to make sure that you are actually harvesting the plant you want. Also make sure that you are foraging in a pesticide free area. We live in the suburbs and I will only eat what’s in our backyard to avoid the pesticides that our neighbor sprays in their yard next door to us.
Top herbs for beginners to forage.
Chickweed, Latin name Stellaria media
Identification: Common Chickweed can be identified by it’s small white flowers with five lobed petals that actually look like ten petals. The flower stem and sepals are covered in very fine hairs. There is another variety called Mouse-Ear that is easy to identify because it’s leaves are covered in fine hairs. It is still edible. Chickweed does have a poisonous look alike called Scarlet pimpernel which has red flowers so familiarize yourself with that avoid it.
How to use: It can be used in salads, teas, salves, tinctures and how we like to use it most, pesto. It can be infused into vinegar
Benefits: Chickweed contains vitamins A, B, C and D along with minerals such as potassium, zinc, manganese and iron. It is an anti-inflammatory, demulcent and expectorant. It has antiseptic and anti fungal properties. Is said to help with digestive disorders and is soothing to the skin
Dandelion, Latin name Taraxacum
Identification: Dandelion leaves are hairless and have toothed edges. It has a hollow flower stem that grows one yellow flower. It’s root, leaves and stem have a milky white sap. Hairy Cat’s Ear is it’s lookalike.
How to use: In teas, tinctures, salads and vinegars.
Benefits: can be used as a digestive bitter, has anti-inflammatory properties. They are high in vitamins A and C and minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron. They have substances that help to balance blood sugar.
Purple Dead Nettle, Latin name Lamium Purpureum
Identification: They have square stems (indicative to the mint family), fuzzy triangular shaped leaves which get crowded around the axis. There are purple flowers which bloom early spring and have a sweet nectar taste similar to honeysuckle. The leaves at the top tend to be purplish. It’s look alike is Henbit which is also edible.
How to use: in a poultice for bleeding, salve, tincture, oil and tea
Benefits: It is considered to be a diuretic, astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti fungal and antibacterial and is known for reducing seasonal allergies. Contains Vitamin C, iron, fiber and antioxidants.
Broadleaf Plantain, Latin name Plantago major
Identification: Plantain has green oval shaped leaves that have thick stems that meet at the base.
How to use: for skin wounds, bug bites and stings chew the leaf and place onto skin, tincture, oils, salves, tea
Benefits: astringent properties, used for diarrhea
Wild Violets, Latin name Viola sororia
Identification: Heart shaped leaves and purple flowers make Violets easy to identify in the wild. They tend to grow in clumps.
How to use: salads, syrups, candies, jams, infused oil
Benefits: anti-inflammatory, lymphagogue
What to make with your foraged herbs:
- Tea: place a 1/2 cup fresh herbs into a cup and pour 8 oz of boiling water over it. Let seep for 10 minutes. Drink hot or strain herbs and chill in refrigerator to drink cold later. I like to sweeten mine with stevia or honey and a squeeze of lemon.
- Infused Oil: dry herbs first then place 1 oz herb to 10 ounce oil, place in a sunny spot and wait 4-6 weeks. Shake jar daily. For the quick version I use the same ratios but infuse the oil in the oven. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and then turn it off. Place herbs and oil in an oven safe dish and let steep for about 8-10 hours. Remove the dish, preheat oven to 250 degrees and turn off again. Place dish back in the oven and let infuse for another 8-10 hours. Some people only do one oven cycle but I like to do 2 to ensure that I get all I can from the herbs. Once finished, strain the herbs (cheesecloth is great for this) and place oil in an amber glass bottle.
- Tinctures: place 1 part fresh herb to 2 parts vodka or vegetable glycerin. Steep for 4-6 weeks then strain herbs and pour into an amber glass bottle with a dropper.
This is such a great, informative post! I love these herbs (most of which I forage myself)!