Many plants that are classified as weeds have a bad reputation with gardeners, due to their ability to quickly take over the garden. But Angela Lopez from Belle-Toi (angelasbelletoi.com) in Bournemouth, says some of the pesky plants that grow in unkempt gardens and waste ground are in fact just as nutritious, or more so, than the plants you’re growing for the table. Many weeds also have healing powers and some even have the power to make you more beautiful!
Plantain – the wonder weed
Plantain is a ‘weed’ that you’ll find growing in most gardens and waste ground, that can be used in beauty treatments
Plantain leaves contain moisturizing mucilage, which is also an effective skin healer. It can be used in the same way as comfrey to help heal wounds and bruises. Simply prepare the leaves by infusing them in water or oil and use it to make creams, lotions, balms, and massage oils. A tincture made with plantain leaves and 100 per cent alcohol will last for two to three years without losing its potency.
The edible leaves of broadleaf plantain are rich in calcium and other minerals and vitamins, including Vitamin K. This vitamin helps stem bleeding from cuts and wounds. Pinch off unblemished leaves, selecting slightly mature ones over the very tender, young leaves, unless you’re planning to use them in salads. Mature leaves have a higher concentration of potent phytochemicals.
The Native Americans used it to heal wounds, cure fever, and to draw out toxins from stings and bites, including snakebites. At home, you can also use plantain to treat bee stings – simply chew a fresh leaf and cover the sting. The mucilage from the chewed leaves will immediately soothe the pain while the anti-inflammatory effect of the herb reduces swelling and redness. The poultice will also draw the toxins from the sting, so it works best when applied immediately.
marshmallow – more than just a sweet treat
Common marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) is a perennial that grows large, bee-friendly, white flowers from July to September, followed by seedpods that ripen from August to October
Marshmallow can be found growing in the wild in sunny but cool places on the edges of marshland and in damp grass. In the garden it’s a plant that’s best for planting at the back of your borders since the flower spike can grow up to 1.2m.
The roots, leaves, flowers and seeds are edible and in ancient times, the roots were once used to make marshmallow and has also been used to ease a sore throat and in cough medicines. It is also said to be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and wound healing and especially good for soothing sunburn and eczema.
In beauty products, the roots when mixed with water, form a gel-like substance, which is used to soften and moisturize the skin and also chapped, dry lips. Infusions from this plant have a silky texture that soothes sensitive skin and may even help smooth out the wrinkles on aging skin. Plus, due to the fact that it contains plant proteins, it’s thought to promote healthy hair growth, while helping to soothe an inflamed scalp.
Sticky willy can sort out your love life!
Sticky Willy, also known as Goosegrass and Cleavers, has been used for centuries by herbalists all over the world
This familiar weed is a powerful ally against a variety of skin conditions – the fresh plant or juice of Sticky Willy is used as a medicinal poultice for wounds, ulcers and many other skin problems and in the past, was also believed to remove freckles. An infusion has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of glandular fever, tonsillitis, hepatitis and cystitis. It is also useful for giving the body an internal spring clean as it detoxifies gently and there are no side effects. Simply steep the fresh plant in boiling water for 10 minutes and strain to remove the bristles before allowing to cool and drink!
Thought to be a magical herb an infusion of Sticky Willy was at one time, used in bath water by women, who wanted to be successful in love. On Midsummers night girls would make a wreath of Sticky Willy and circle the fire chanting a rhyme, which would make their future lover appear to them.
Grasp the nettle
Nettles grow almost anywhere and especially in cultivated, nitrogen-rich soil and thrive in slightly moist conditions in full sun or partial shade. Although a pernicious weed, nettles can be an excellent source of food and habitat for butterflies such as the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell.
The perennial stinging nettle is an herbaceous plant with creeping roots, which is perhaps most troublesome in loose, newly cultivated soil and especially where phosphate levels are high. The creeping surface stems can extend for some considerable distance, rooting at the nodes and producing aerial shoots.
The annual nettle does not have long-lasting roots, but does produce plenty of seeds, which germinate readily. Individual plants or clumps are either male or female and only when both sexes are growing close together will the female plants produce large numbers of seeds.
Whole plants for medical use are cut and dried for infusions, liquid extracts, ointments, powders, and tinctures. Nettles are also used as a commercial source of chlorophyll to colour cosmetics, foods and medicines.
Nettles are rich in iron and vitamins A and C and are also proven to benefit skin, bone and urinary health as well. Because of stinging nettle’s antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities, they can be used as a natural treatment for eczema and also hayfever.
Young leaves can be picked off for culinary uses – these should be blanched or cooked and can be eaten like spinach. Nettle is used to wrap some cheeses; it is made into soups, baked into bread dough and used in herbal beer. Nettle leaves can also be pureed and used in recipes like polenta, green smoothies, salads and pesto. However, nettles are not suitable for salads!
It’s said that when the Romans first came to Britain, soldiers used to stamp on them to ‘warm’ their feet before putting on their shoes and they also used to beat their skin with bunches of stinging nettles to ease pain. Studies have recently shown that applying nettle leaf topically at the site of pain does actually decrease joint pain
Nettle leaves can be dried and used for making teas and tonics. Simply wash one or two cups of nettle leaves and steep in boiled water.
Nettles have been a popular folk remedy for anaemia due to its iron content. It has also been traditionally used to alleviate, various skin and scalp conditions – including greasy hair and dandruff. Nettle juice is believed to help to stimulate hair growth when applied to the scalp.
In the garden, nettles high nitrogen content means they can also be used in compost, fuelling the bacteria that help your waste plant material break down more effectively and quickly.
Use rubber gloves or pinch the leaves hard, so you don’t get stung. Once picked, lay the nettles out on a tray to wilt. Once wilted, they can no longer sting you, so you can strip the leaves off the stems ready for use.
The sting is caused be the plant’s erect hairs penetrating the skin and injecting stinging formic acid
Many people recommend using dock plant for relief from a nettle sting. This works by making the irritated area feel cool. Sage leaves can be similarly used but they also release juices that provide relief from the sting.
CAUTION: Do not use products made with slinging nettles when pregnant, as they affect the menstrual cycle with the risk of miscarriage.
IT’S A FACT!
The fibres in the nettle plant are similar to linen and can be spun into yarn – nettle fabric was used to make German uniforms in World War I.
Nettle yarn was often used to make tablecloths and bed sheets in Scotland and in Russia the juice from the plant has traditionally been used to create a green dye. A yellow dye comes from the roots