Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Volumes could be written on the many uses of dandelion - indeed they have been! This common weed is often hated and poisoned by those preferring a “weed free” lawn, while those of us in love with dandelion and its many uses happily support it taking over our lawns. Every part of the dandelion can be used as food or medicine, making back door
herbalism simple and easy, as it should be.
When the first spring leaves pop up out of the ground they can be harvested heavily and eaten fresh with salads, made into a delicious pesto, or dried for tea. The leaves are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and many more vitamins and minerals. The French call this plant pissenlit, which alludes to its strong diuretic properties. A tea of dandelion leaves is a great way to flush excess water from the system. When eaten with meals, the bitter taste of the leaves helps to promote digestion by stimulating bile to relieve indigestion and other digestive disturbances.
The root is a great ally for the liver. It can be tinctured or eaten fresh in a variety of recipes. Dandelion root can help clear up acne and other skin disruptions with the root cause being a stagnant liver. Most herbalists agree that long-term use of dandelion is needed for best results.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Another must-have herb! Chamomile is a cheery plant that looks and smells beautiful. It makes a wonderful ground cover in gardens, producing a sweet scent when walked upon. Chamomile is a very well known herb that has been used by everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to modern day Peter Rabbit who was given chamomile tea before bed. To harvest this plant, gather the flowering tops just before they fully open.
Like many herbs, chamomile is multi-purpose:
- Externally, it can be used as a poultice or salve to heal burns, rashes and eczema.
- Safe for young children, it’s often the preferred herb for a wide range of common childhood complaints such as restlessness, colic, teething, whining, and fevers.
- Adults can also enjoy a cup of chamomile tea to soothe the nervous system, allaying stress and irritability, and thereby promoting calmness.
- Chamomile’s common genus name, Matricaria, insinuates its affinity for women and mothers. The tea can be drunk to bring on delayed menses, reduce uterine cramping, and relieve heartburn when pregnant.
Chamomile is easily prepared as a tea. To make it by the cup, steep
one teaspoon of dried chamomile for ten minutes. This makes a delicious
tasting tea. For a more medicinal brew you can steep it for 30 minutes.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is a wonder herb that produces a beautiful flower that exudes sunshine and joy. To harvest this highly resinous flower, pick it at its peak on a warm summer day. When making medicine with calendula, it’s almost always dried first. Drying calendula for oils decreases the water content, making a more stable oil, and it also concentrates the resins in the plant. When making a tincture of calendula, a higher-proof alcohol will extract more of the resins. Calendula will grow readily in your garden, often self-seeding after the first year of planting. By snipping the flowers regularly, you promote its growth.
Calendula has an affinity to encourage connective tissue to regenerate, therefore it can be made into oils and salves and used for a variety of skin conditions including:
- Varicose veins
- Broken capillaries
- Chicken Pox
- Fungal infections like athlete’s foot
- Internally it can be used to treat swollen lymph glands and soothe ulcers
- You can also spread the fresh petals over your salads for added color and beauty
This is a must have herb for any budding herbalist (pun intended). Shortly I will be posting a how-to for making calendula-infused oils and salves, which are like nature’s Neosporin! Smooth on some calendula salve and your skin problems will be solved in no time!