An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘edible wild plants’

Cumberland Trail State Park Spring Festival

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Join me for an edible & medicinal wildflower walk at North Chick Creek near Ivy Academy, April 16th, 10:30 am. We will caravan from Ivy Academy. $5 per person/$10 per family. For more information go to Cumberland Trail’s Facebook Page and The Friends of the Cumberland Trail website.

Dayflower is edible and medicinal for colds and flu

The common dayflower looking like a three-eyed mouse is edible.

Mixing in with other plants in the garden is a clumping, grass-looking plant with alternating leaves clasping around the stem. Only after the blooms begin would one notice the common Asiatic dayflower weed (Commelina communis).

Looking like a cute, three-eyed little mouse, this Asian annual has two, iridescent cornflower-blue petals spread like ears, and a small, inconspicuous white petal underneath. Three yellow staminodes with dark-red centers look like eyes, while the lower stamen and style resemble the nose and whiskers.

Behind many of the mouse-flowers, are two, oval leaves closed as if in prayer, preparing to open on the following day to expose another little mouse.

Apparently, Carl Linnaeus, who came up with most of the botanical names for the plant world, inserted his notorious humor when he named the dayflower, Commelina, after three sons. Two of the sons had become famous botanists — represented by the two large petals, while the third son chose a less admirable path — represented by the inconspicuous white petal underneath.

Growing in disturbed areas in full sunlight, the common dayflower appears in most regions of the Eastern United States.

Some folks call it a troublesome weed, but if you eat it, or use it medicinally, it’s not so troublesome.

I think it’s rather sweet to have in the garden.

Leaves and shoots are edible with a green-bean flavor, and can be used in salads, or minimally cooked with other greens. The flowers, which bloom only for a day from May until October, are adorable additions to salads, or as a decorative accent to cupcakes.

The small seeds taste like peas and also are edible.

In China, the above-ground parts are used to cool fevers associated with the common cold and flu. A recent study on cells from dog kidneys and in live mice found that the common dayflower had a protective effect against the H1N1 influenza A virus.

Other medicinal uses for the dayflower are as a diuretic, eliminating excess fluids or as a gargle for sore throats.

Topically, the plant can be mashed and applied as a poultice to cool inflammation on the skin.

Dayflowers collect excess copper in the soil, which makes them useful for phytoremediation, a process of restoring the soil after contamination from industrial pollutants.

As an annual, the best way to keep this plant under control is to use it, preventing it going to seed, which you can easily do either by eating it or using it medicinally.

Redbuds both beautiful, edible

Cercis canadensis

Redbud blooms, native to Eastern US, are edible, and taste light and sweet.

When a plant vibrantly attracts our attention during a particular time every year, people come to know it as a seasonal indicator. To many people it’s the dogwood blooms that are awaited and welcomed, signaling winter has passed. According to Paul Vestal and Richard Evans Schultes, 20th century ethnobotanists from Harvard, the Kiowa Indians saw the purplish-magenta blooms of the native Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) as a sign that spring had come.

Before the heart-shaped leaves emerge – which are a beautiful coppery iridescence when young – the flowers bloom from smooth, dark gray, naked branches. Often last summer’s dried seedpods still hang from the branches while the tree is in bloom. The irregular shape of the flowers and the seedpods, which resemble peapods when fresh, indicate the redbud is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae).

The Eastern redbud also is called the Judas-tree due to stories that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from a redbud species (Cercis siliquastrum) native to Western Asia and Southern Europe.

Although the Eastern redbud is rarely included in popular herbal texts, it provides medicinal, edible and economic uses in addition to its beauty.

Many botanical accounts report that Native American and European American children enjoyed eating the fresh flowers of the Eastern redbud. They are soft and slightly sweet, and add instant color to salads or on cupcakes.

The deep hue of the petals indicates the presence of healthful flavonoids, such as quercetin. Redbud flowers also are popular among bees and aid their honey production.

Fresh seedpods are edible, as well, though they must be cooked and flavored with olive oil and a splash of vinegar. Seedpods quickly turn too astringent to eat if left on the tree too long. Sample one, and you’ll experience all of your saliva drying up in your mouth.

Amplify the seedpod experience, and you’ll have an idea what the inner-bark can do. Tannins present in the inner-bark and root, which account for its astringency, have been used to heal lung congestion and to tonify excessively damp conditions, including diarrhea and dysentery. The Cherokee used an infusion of the bark for whooping cough.

The California redbud (Cercis orbiculata), native to California, Arizona and Utah, is valued by many Native American tribes for basket weaving, as its young branches have a decorative reddish-wine color. A technique of pruning to encourage abundant young, red shoot growth, which is pre-bark development, is called coppicing, and only recommended on trees a least a decade old.

For textile weavers and natural dyers, redbud roots make a red dye.

Redbuds tolerate shade, drought and occasional flooding, but prefer moist, well-drained, sunny spots. Due to their deep taproot, redbuds can be good soil stabilizers.

Although most leguminous plants are nitrogen-fixers, converting nitrogen in the air for the soil to use, redbuds don’t appear to have the root nodules to fix nitrogen.

Easy to propagate from seed, but not long-lived, the redbud is one of our most ornamental, native trees, which gracefully glows along woodland areas during this time of year.

Cleavers for internal spring cleaning

Cleavers in Athens, Georgia, US at the Brick House

Before there was Velcro, there were cleavers, a bristly, weak-stemmed annual with whorls of narrow leaves and inconspicuous white flowers. Arising from its winter bed during the seasonal transition into early spring, cleavers (Galium aparine) embody juicy, springtime vitality.

Growing in areas of moist, partial-shade, cleavers, also known as goosegrass and lady’s bedstraw, typically are thought to have originated in Europe. According to the USDA Plants Database, however, cleavers are considered native to the United States. Whether native or not, cleavers are found throughout the entire North American continent and have been used in Native American medicine.

According to traditional Western herbal healing, cleavers cleanse accumulating toxins from the fluid and its channels, such as the blood, lymph, sweat, bowels and kidneys, which can become stagnant during the colder months.

The fresh, brilliant-green cooling juice released from its stem and leaves contains citric acid, sweet-smelling coumarins (which is not the same blood-thinning compound, Coumarin), and asperuloside, a laxative.

Signs of stagnation for which cleavers are used in order to nudge the fluid channels toward more efficient elimination are swelling of the hands and feet, or nodule-like cysts on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet; fibrous tissue in the breasts; inflammation in the kidneys or urethra, or kidney “gravel”; constipation; and cystic acne.

The Nitinaht people of British Columbia are reported to have used cleavers as a hair wash to make the hair grow long.

Harvest the above-ground parts while they’re bright green, before the weather becomes too hot in late spring when cleavers become stringy, yellowed and has gone to seed. On a daily basis while locally available, gather a handful of cleavers – carefully removing co-existing plants unless it’s chickweed (Stellaria media), which has properties similar to cleavers – and either juice them, or chop the herbs, putting them in a pitcher and pouring about 32 ounces of boiling water over them. Allow the cleavers to steep for 8-10 minutes. Strain and drink a couple cups a day. Cleaver tea smells like spinach-water and tastes like grass, so one might want to add lemon juice for flavor.

A member of the Madder family (Rubiaceae), the same family with coffee, cleaver seeds can be roasted as a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

One can experience spring by drinking cleaver tea, bathing in cleavers, or wearing sprigs of cleavers, which make a natural springtime corsage, adhering to any article of clothing when applied.

Paying attention to the plants of the season, and accepting their gifts, brings us closer to the natural, healing rhythm of Earth.

Native Medicinal Plant Walk and Talk

At the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, GA

Saturday, March 26

10:00 am- 12:00 noon

Holli Richey, MS, MAT, Clinical Herbalist

Meet at Shade Garden Arbor

Members $15; non-members $18

On an instructional walk through the State Botanical Garden trails and gardens with clinical herbalist and plant enthusiast Holli Richey, enjoy the native spring ephemerals in bloom while hearing stories of how people have used Solomon’s seal, bloodroot, trillium, spiderwort, as well as common trees and other perennials, for food and medicine

Dig dandelion roots in the fall

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, leaf and root can protect the liver from toxic chemicals.

Everybody knows the ubiquitous, perennial dandelion, but not everybody appreciates dandelions if they take up residency in their yard. Becoming familiar with dandelion’s uses might lead someone to think twice before taking a dandelion’s life.

In the most jovial of uses, dandelion flowers are a favorite childhood material for necklace making, and the geometric seed-globes provide an endless source for blowing wishes.

Used as food and medicine for thousands of years, dandelions are a standby for herbalists and wild food foragers. Originally native to Eurasia, common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was introduced to North America in the mid-17th century. Due to dandelion’s skill in self-propagation, its introduction to the New World was likely an intention of the human and of the plant.

Medicinal actions of dandelion could be summed up as simply cleansing. The leaf and root are considered an alterative, meaning they cleanse the blood of waste debris produced by our immune system and metabolism. Back when doctors used plants for medicine, they utilized dandelion for treating cases of “autointoxication,” a self-poisoning condition resulting from sedentary lifestyles, and diets of refined flour and high saturated fat.

Recent research demonstrates dandelion leaf and root protect the liver from heavy toxins, such as carbon tetrachloride, also known as Freon. My auto mechanic explained how he digs dandelion roots from his yard to brew, which he learned from his grandmother. As an auto mechanic, exposed to toxins, his dandelion brew is great for his liver.

Dandelion’s saw-toothed leaves are diuretic and high in potassium salts, supporting kidney health. The vitamin-rich leaf is higher in vitamin A than carrots, and also contains vitamins B, C and D.

Spring greens are tasty in salads, tossed with dandelion flowers for a splash of color. From late summer into fall, leaves grow bitter, which fosters good digestion. Add bitter fall leaves to sweet vegetables like beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes to balance the flavor.

Dandelion roots stimulate the release of bile from the gallbladder, which helps to prevent gallstone formation, and has historically been used to treat existing gallstones. The taproot also is a gentle liver tonic used in chronic hepatitis. Current research demonstrated dandelion root induces apoptosis, or cell death, in leukemia cell lines.

Dandelion roots contain inulin, a nonstarch polysaccharide fiber technically called fructo-oligosaccharide, which prevents fluctuations in blood sugar levels, while also feeding the good flora bacteria in the gut. Good intestinal bacteria play a significant role in a healthy immune system.

Fall is the best time for dandelion root digging due to the significantly higher inulin content. Fresh roots are best, and can either be boiled, also called decocted, or roasted and used as a coffee substitute or additive. An herbal colleague makes dandelion root ice cream, which is surprisingly delicious.

After a cost-benefit analysis of herbicidal consequences versus dandelion’s virtues, hopefully one will concede that it’s better to round them up with trowels and spades, and eat them, rather than using chemicals.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of the Athens Banner-Herald, Sunday, November 21, 2010.

Dandelion Recipes:

Roasted Dandelion Coffee: Roast cleaned dandelion roots on a cookie sheet for 4 hours until the roots easily snap and the insides are brown. Use a coffee grinder to grind the roots. For interest, add cardamon before brewing the dandelion coffee.

Euell Gibbons’ Dandelion Wine: “Gather 1 gallon of dandelion flowers on a dry day. Put these in a 2-gallon crock and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over them. Cover the jar and allow the flowers to steep for 3 days. Strain through a jelly cloth so you can squeeze all the liquid from the flowers. Put the liquid in a kettle, add 1 small ginger root, the thinly pared peels and the juice of 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Stir in 3 pounds of sugar and boil gently for 20 minutes. Return the liquid to the crock and allow it to cool until barely lukewarm. Spread 1/2 cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float it on top. Cover the crock with a cloth and keep in a worm room for 6 days. Then strain off the wine into a gallon jug, corking it loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for 3 weeks, then carefully decant into a bottle and cap or cork tightly. Don’t touch it until Christmas or later” (pp. 81-82).

Gibbons, E. (1962). Stalking the wild asparagus. Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood & Co.

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