Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
For thousands of years Native Americans have used herbs to not only heal the body, but also to purify the spirit and bring balance into their lives and their surroundings.
There is minimal recorded history on the use of medicine herbs in their past culture, but oral history suggests that natives learned the power of herbs and plants by watching animals. More specifically... sick animals.
Herbs such as sage used for digestion issues, ginseng for colds, wild black cherry for pain and willow bark for fever were just a few of the hundreds of plant medicines used for remedy by the ancestors of our lands. There are plants that can be ingested, steeped, rubbed on skin and so on for almost every ailment.
The wonderful part being that it’s free, observed effective for animals and used by humans for centuries. So why are we not accessing the medicine in our own yard more often?
Years ago, a herbalist friend was telling me about the power of Plantago major. It’s a species of flowering “weed” in the plantain family Plantaginaceae and is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia but has widely naturalized elsewhere in the world, including here. In fact it is the most abundant and widely distributed medicinal crops of the world.
My friend informed just how highly nutritious this wild edible plant was. It is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten. She told me about the benefits of this plant as a suggestion to my allergies that were in full swing at the time.
Scientific studies have shown that plantain extract has a wide range of biological effects, including "wound healing activity, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immuno-modulating and antiulcerogenic activity," according to Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
My herbalist friend described the look of the plant “small broad leaves, smaller than the length of a finger with several parallel veins and a course green-brown stem from the middle.” She showed me a picture on her phone and to my delightful surprise I knew the exact plant.
As a family that does not fertilize or use any chemical treatments on our lawn, we in fact had a full crop of plantain on our front and back lawn. With each plant producing up to 20, 000 self-pollinating seeds, I had more of these weeds than grass.
So I took her advice. I went to my backyard on a morning that my allergies were in full eye-watering, sneezy-face mode, found some of the younger leaves (less bitter), rinsed them off (I have 2 dogs), and chewed ‘em up and swallowed. And lo and behold, after about 30 minutes the symptoms of my allergies dissipated.
I was hooked. I haven’t bought allergy medicine in years and my kids tease me that I am much like a grazing goat in the yard during allergy season, but this natural, non-chemical Earth medicine makes me very happy. Plantain can also be used in a tea for indigestion or made into a poultice to place on skin irritations and bug bites to reduce itching and inflammation.
Modern medical herbalists use the knowledge of tradition and historical plant medicine and partner with the latest modern scientific research. Medical Herbalists can provide remedy to ailments with their expert knowledge of the hundreds and hundreds of plants on our lands.
But did you know some of the most common back yard plants and weeds (such as Plantain) can be powerfully beneficial to you and your health?
Dandelions are one of the healthiest and most versatile vegetables on the planet. The entire plant is edible. The leaves are like vitamin pills, containing generous amounts of vitamins A, C and K - far more than even garden tomatoes. Also containing calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.
The leaves are most tender, and tastiest, when they are young in the spring. But also throughout the summer there is regrowth as the plant rebounds after you cut or pull them. You can add them to soup or you can prepare them Italian style by sautéing with a little olive oil, salt, garlic and some hot red pepper.
When my kids were young, they would pick me dandelions and say “we picked you flowers momma” and while many considered them a pesky weed, I always found them lovely (or perhaps it was my kids' sentiments) and put them in a vase with water. But did you know you can eat those bright yellow dandelion flowers too?
They can be lightly battered and fried up. You can also make a simple wine with the flowers by fermenting them with raisins and yeast. If you are slightly adventurous, you can roast the dandelion root, grind it, and brew it like coffee. It can be a titch bitter, so you may want to add some honey or stevia to the mix.
Good ol' Portulaca olearacea, or commonly known as purslane, tops the list of plants with omega-3 fatty acids, the type of healthy fat found in salmon. This stuff shows up in gardens and side walk cracks all over rurally as well as the cities. It’s easy to pull and grows abundantly and has a lemon flavor. The stems, leaves and flowers are all edible. They can be sautéed or more commonly are served around the world, fresh in salads.
Should you decide to forego chemical fertilizers and you reside in a low pollution area, the lawn and garden weeds that many consider undesirable are the same medicinal plants that have been consumed by the indigenous people and still used by many today for nutrients, healing and remedy. Check out your backyard, to see what medicinal treats it may have for you!
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