Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Weeds that Feed & Heal


At the end of my street there is a large area of vacant land which, rumour has it, will eventually turn into strip mall.  In the meantime I walk there daily watching nature run rampant.  As the weeds grew taller and reached for the sky with their cheery yellow blossoms I began to dread what may happen as surely the vegetation would begin dying off after seeding, and create a fire hazard.  

I had ominous visions of heavy trucks laden down with spray, attacking those lively plants....

And so each day as I walked the World began to speak to me through my lens.  It began to occur to me that 'weed' is a pretty general term for all the growth in the field, so I explored a little closer.  I am by no means any sort of plant specialist but with a background in agriculture and internet access it didn't take me long to identify some of these 'weeds'.

Common Mallow, Foxtail Barley & Bronze Button

In this bunch (above) there is Common Mallow and Foxtail Barley.  Common Mallow leaves are edible when picked young and can be cooked like spinach.  It is apparently high in iron and calcium.  It has also been used in the past for it's medicinal properties as relief for chest colds, sore throats and skin conditions.

Foxtail Barley is definitely not a popular weed to have around as the seeds can penetrate the skin, eyes and paws of animals, however it is the original barley from which the popular grain originated.  It is still edible as a grain although it isn't easy to harvest it, and it's dried root can be moistened and used as a compress for puffy eyes and styes in eyes.

Another couple I was able to identify were the Wild Mustard below on the left and Filaree aka Storksbill on the right.  Wild Mustard is another that doesn't have much of a fan base but it also has it's uses.  It's seeds can be used as a spice, it's leaves have cancer fighting properties when eaten as a vegetable (blanch in hot water first to remove some to the bitterness!), and it's flowers are used to produce the Bach Flower Remedy, Mustard.  This remedy is used to treat depression.  Good ol' mustard!  As for Filaree, it's young, tender leaves can be added to salads, and as a medicine it has been linked to relieving rheumatism, gout and excessive bleeding after childbirth.

Wild Mustard
Filaree aka Storksbill

One of my favorite weeds is the pretty little Bronze Button, aka Pineapple Weed.  It has delicate lacy leaves which emit a strong fragrance when crushed, supposedly of pineapple.  That seems a slight exaggeration to me but it definitely has a pleasant spicy sort of odor.

Bronze Button aka Pineapple Weed

This pretty little plant has flowers which may be eaten raw or dried and turned into a tea.  It can also help repel insects from the garden, too, quite a beneficial trait to have.

Daily I walked through my healing weeds wondering what was to become of them until one morning a large portion of the field was encased by an electric fence.  Interesting.  Nothing more happened for several days then the sheep arrived - nature's Roundup.  Over the next week or so the field was eaten down section by section, and before those healthy critters had finished the field the first part was already enthusiastically growing back, just as nature intended it should.

For other nature inspired blogs please visit Nature Notes at the Rambling Woods blog.



Michelle said...

Welcome to Nature Notes Barb...I really enjoyed this post as it was all new information to me and I am happy that the weeds were eaten and not sprayed as most things in my neighborhood are...and again..thank you for joining Nature Notes...Michelle

Leora said...

How fun - learning about all the useful weeds. Wish I knew enough to pick and prepare some of them. I've heard mustard weed is quite invasive.