Do you know that there is a world of plants growing right outside your door that have the potential to improve your health and ease ailments?
It seems like overnight everything outdoors has turned lush and green and bloomed right before my very eyes in my part of the country. I was riding down the road with my mom last week and asked her when exactly everything decided to bloom; the last time I looked at the trees, they were bare, but on this day I saw green everywhere I looked!
Spring is such an exciting time for me. There are plants at every turn just beckoning me to discover what they are and how they can be used. Even though I have been on this herbal journey for a while now, I discover new things all the time. There is so much to learn, and each spring and summer offer a promise of more discoveries to be made. This is the perfect time of year to grab an identification book and head outdoors to become more familiar with the edible foods that surrounds us. I especially enjoy teaching my children which plants are safe to eat and how we can use them as medicine. This is homeschooling at its best!
Learning herbs can be overwhelming if you are not familiar with some of them already. I know how that feels because I was there at the beginning of my journey too. The best thing to do is to choose one herb to study at a time. Learn that herb as well as you know the back of your hand: what parts of the plant you can use, which season is best to harvest, how it can be used as medicine. When you’ve mastered one herb, move on to another.
It’s good to know about edible herbs because plants freshly picked in the wild are so very good for you in your everyday diet, and it’s also important to know these plants for survival situations.
Let’s talk about some common edible plants that easily grow in yards across America and other parts of the world. This list is just a few of the edible plants available for our use. There are so many more to learn about, so grab a good book like this one by John Kallas or this one by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman , and begin the journey of harvesting and using plants that are growing outside your back door!
Photo Credit: dinesh_valke via Compfight cc
Chickweed is one of the first plants that makes its appearance in late winter. It can sometimes even be found growing beneath a clump of snow. It has tiny hairs along its stem, and its leaves grow opposite of each other and are shaped like a spade. In late winter and early spring, chickweed grows along the ground, but in the month of April it grows tiny white flowers with 5 petals. (The flower appears to have 10 petals, but each petal has a deep groove which makes it appear to have 10, but only has 5.)
The stems, leaves, and flowers are edible. They are mild tasting and contain vitamin C, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, coumarins, and saponins.
Medicinally, I use chickweed for rashes and bug bites. I love to turn this herb into a salve or use it in a fresh poultice.
Source: Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: A beginner’s guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
Chicory is a scraggly looking plant with bright blue flowers and leaves that alternate and are deeply toothed. The root, leaves, and flowers are edible. Many people dig up the roots between fall and spring and use it as a coffee substitute. This plant contains vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
Edible Wild Food. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2015, from http://www.ediblewildfood.com/chicory.aspx
Green, D. (n.d.). Chicory History. Retrieved May 2, 2015, from http://www.eattheweeds.com/cichorium-intybus-burned-to-a-crisp-2/
Nutrition Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2015, from http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2404/2
Plantain is the first herb that I learned to identify and use. It has several leaves that are smooth along the edge. The underside of the leaf has strong, raised veins. In the later summer and fall, this plant grows stems in the center with little seeds on it. The whole plant is edible: the root, leaves, and seeds. The health benefits of eating this plant are fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, bitters, allantoin.
We use plantain all the time for bee or wasp stings. Plantain is an astringent, meaning it draws out poisons. I know of people who have used this plant on snake bites as well. If any of us get stung or bitten by an insect, we pick plantain, chew it in our mouths, and hold it on the wound for a while. Many times we’ll place a band-aid or piece of tape to hold it in place for 20-30 minutes or longer. The last time I was stung by a wasp, I could not even find the place I was stung after I used plantain. It immediately draws out the poison and reduces pain and swelling. Plantain is also a great way to draw acne out of the skin for a clear complexion!
I have already written about dandelion on this site, but I cannot mention common edible plants without giving a shout out to the dandelion! Dandelion is so very good for you, and it is readily available to most of us. You can read more information about this humble flower and ways to use it in Save the Dandelions.
Wood sorrel is so easy to identify by its heart-shaped leaves. They have a lovely sour lemon flavor and are a plant we enjoy snacking on anytime we’re outside. This herb contains high amounts of vitamin C as well as vitamin B and minerals. (Source)
Here are other articles that you may be interested in:
- 7 Medicinal Herbs to Grow In Your Garden
- Choose Heirloom Seeds
- 10 Herbs that Repel Garden Pests
- The Healing Power of Onions
We like to eat plants right out of the yard, but you can also add them to salads, smoothies, and boil or fry them with salt and butter. What are your favorite edible plants to harvest?