Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer
Last summer, my husband spent a few hours cleaning up our yard. We had a lot of vines growing everywhere, some of which were poison ivy. We were worried the kids would get into it, so he took care of it. Unfortunately, he's very sensitive to it, and despite an immediate cool shower and other precautions, he came down with a very bad case of it. It took a couple weeks to heal, and it was even bad enough for him to go to Urgent Care at one point (which didn't help).
Right after he got better, I learned that the big-leafed plants growing in our yard (weeds!) were actually plantain, and could have helped ease the poison ivy suffering. In hopes that you don't have a similar experience, I'm going to tell you about a few plants growing in your backyard that just might help you through some of your summer bumps, scrapes, and rashes. :)
A Note on Wild Crafting
"Wild Crafting" is the name given to harvesting plants that are growing wildly in your yard, parks, or other locations, which you identify and harvest. There are different theories about wild crafting. I don't agree with all of them, because some of them are very "Earth-mother" and not especially Christian. But some simply make sense, and you should be aware of them.
- Appreciate what you're harvesting -- Where one might thank the plant/Earth, I think it's good to say thanks to God for providing His miraculous creation, which can help us.
- Harvest only part of what's available -- Try to stick to 30 - 40% of what you find, leaving plenty more to keep growing. If you can, leave seeds behind to grow new plants too.
- Be cautious about location -- Obviously, if it's in your own yard, you know if it was sprayed or not and if it was exposed to, say, gasoline fumes. If not, be careful. A lot of good stuff grows along roadsides, but could be contaminated with exhaust. Parks and other areas may have been sprayed. Think carefully about where you're harvesting.
- Use plants quickly -- Pick what you can use or "process" within a day or so. That means if you're drying it or tincturing it, you need to be prepared to do it within 24 hours. Wait to pick until you're ready to use it.
- Make sure you're picking the right thing! -- There are sometimes look-alike plants, and occasionally these can be poisonous. Look at the pictures I provide as well as consulting a field guide. If you're unsure, don't pick it.
I would recommend buying a good field guide if you're planning to do much wild crafting. The list I am providing is very limited and I am fairly new to wild crafting myself, having just learned to identify many of these last year. (My kids can identify them too, which I think is really cool!)
A good, region-specific guide can tell you when plants are in season, how to avoid look-alikes, and how to use the plants. Many have a lot of uses! This is your best bet if you find this subject as fascinating as I do. :)
Image by sandchen
These aren't the plantains you're probably thinking of -- the banana-like ones you can buy in the grocery store. These are large green leaves that grow commonly in lawns. We have lots in our yard and I see them in all the parks too. These leaves are edible; you can use them in salads if you like. But they also have some pretty awesome medicinal benefits!
Plantain can be used to treat the following conditions:
- Snake bites (root)
- Cuts and scrapes (leaf)
- Poison ivy
- Inflammation of the skin
- Detoxifying the liver and spleen
- Hay fever
- Tobacco addiction
- and more!
Image by JacobEnos
This is another pervasive weed. I actually had so much of this growing that I asked my Facebook fans if they knew what it was. It's in the mint family and has the rounded, toothed leaves like a mint plant, but smaller and with purplish edges and flowers. It doesn't smell minty. You can find it growing most anywhere, and it is usually considered a nuisance. But it, too, has medicinal benefits. You might see this plant called "ground ivy" or "cat's claw," too -- it has many names.
Uses for creeping Charlie*:
- To help colds (drink as a tea; mix with hot water and inhale the steam)
- Lead poisoning
- Detox (liver)
Recently, I've discovered red clover growing everywhere! It's all over my back and front yards, as well as many parks that we frequent. It grows rapidly in the late spring and early summer. It also has many medicinal uses! I was aware of that, actually, before I found out how commonly it grows. The picture above is one I took in the park one day when we were foraging. :)
The first uses I learned for red clover were for women's health. I drank it in a pregnancy tea blend when I was pregnant with my third -- although that is controversial, because it has some estrogenic properties (the recipe without the red clover is still excellent though). It can be helpful for women in other stages of life, though.
Red clover may be used for:
- Menopausal symptoms
- Prostate illness
- Skin lesions
- Cancers (according to some sources)
It's a pretty neat herb! It's easily available dried if you can't forage it in your area. Make a tea or tincture from the flowers, or even a salve for skin issues.
This is controversial in pregnancy (Susun Weed and Rosemary Gladstarr, two herbal experts, disagreed on this point), but safe while breastfeeding for most women.
What plants do you find in your yard? How do you use them medicinally?
Disclaimer: I am not a certified medical professional of any kind and am not qualified to give you medical advice. My goal is to help to educate and inspire you to take responsibility for your own family's health and make informed choices of your own, not to consult you on medical treatment.