Has your sneezing begun? It has in our house, which has led to a few sore throats. The trees are sporting buds and soon we will see dandelions. All that new life leads to pollen and allergies. Allergies aren't a huge issue with us, but as each new season blooms we feel it with some sniffles and sneezes. We've been blessed through the winter season with no illnesses so I will take the sneezing and sore throat without too much complaint!
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the wonderful healing gifts Mother Nature has to offer and for most of us they are growing in our backyards! There are so many wonderful things growing around us that we can harvest, for FREE!! Today, I'm going to share two of those that I harvest each year in my own backyard. I like to call myself a backyard apothecary because as the gifts of growth are given to me, I reap the rewards. And by reap, I mean hoard. I have been know to spend hours picking “weeds”.
Let's start with my favorite and not because it's fun to pick; in fact, it can be down right painful! Have you been walking through the woods when you just slightly rubbed against some green leafy vegetation and find your ankle burning and itching like you've been stung by 10 bees and bitten by 100 mosquitoes, all at the same time?!?! That jewel is called stinging nettle and you've probably heard of it if you are a hiker; it is one you are always trying to avoid! Take a look at all those little stinging hairs!! “The tiny sharp stinging hairs which densely cover the leaves and stems act as miniature syringes that inject a mixture of histamine, formic acid, and acetycholine into the skin; these irritating chemicals cause burning, itching, and even blistering to the skin.”*
Not pleasant, right?! Well, don't judge a book by its cover! This “weed” has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Greek physicians used nettle as a diuretic and laxative. “The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (ca. 23-79 A.D.) reported its use as a counter irritant and effective remedy for chronic rheumatic pain, muscle paralysis, and sciatica.”*Currently, it is being used in Germany where “clinical trials have demonstrated that dried stem and leaf nettle extract taken internally is effective in addressing pain associated with rheumatic complaints.”* In the United States, dried nettles are used as a component in formulating herbal supplements for addressing hay fever and allergies. And this is how we use them!! Studies have found that nettle tea can be as effective or even more effective than common over the counter allergy medicines like Benadryl, Claritin, Allegra, etc.
My son now asks for nettle tea when he feels the sneezes and sore throat coming on. He finds relief within 30 minutes and it lasts for about 6 hours. But the amazing thing is, for his mild allergies, he only needs to drink the tea a few times a day for a few days and the allergies seem to disappear for months! The BEST part of all is that there are NO bad side effects to nettles, only GOOD!! Nettles are packed full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. I've found the easiest and most common way to consume them is through nettle tea. I usually make a big pot on the stove and store it in the refrigerator to have as iced tea. My recipe is 4 cups of water to 1 cup of dried nettles and a little honey for sweetness; boil for 20 minutes.
Nettles can be consumed like other green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, cooked or raw; however, it takes some skill to eat them raw as you will have to learn some tricks to avoid those stinging hairs!! Speaking of those stinging hairs, if you want to harvest and dry your nettles you have to be prepared for picking. Wear gloves and pants! These plants usually grow together and get thick so you will need to wade through them. I use pruning shears and always wear gloves. I still get pricked from time to time as those little hairs are resilient and will poke through my gloves or find my exposed skin. They tend to grow in sunny places where there is rich, moist soil. You’ll find them growing along rivers, streams, lakes, ditches, fence-rows, and on the edges of cultivated farm fields. (you shouldn't have any trouble finding them; they are everywhere!). Avoid picking them along roadways and areas where you know pesticides are sprayed.
It's best to harvest nettles in the spring before they have flowered because they tend to become bitter after flowering. Not interested in picking your own? You can also buy them in bulk here. If you are on any medications, always consult your doctor before consuming medicinal herbs as there may be some interference. Nettles have a diuretic effect and will interact with diuretic medication. Nettles can also interfere with these medications: blood thinners (nettles contain a lot of Vitamin K which can help the blood's ability to clot), drugs for high blood pressure (nettles reduce blood pressure), NSAIDs (nettles are anti-inflammatory and will increase NSAIDs effects), and Lithium (nettles are a diuretic and may interfere with the body's ability to remove these drugs).
Have you heard of plantain? If you have, you are probably thinking of the things that look like bananas, but aren't bananas. I'm referring to the really cool “weed” that I'm willing to bet grows in everyone's yards. Look familiar?
As you can see there are two different looking plants, but they both have amazing medicinal properties! My favorite way to use this extraordinary plant is after a bug bite or bee sting! After you've been stung or bitten, rip off a leaf, chew it up a bit to release the compounds, and then apply it to the affected area. Allow it to sit on the area for 5-10 minutes and before you know it your bee sting no longer hurts or your bug bite no longer itches! It really is amazing!! It can also be applied to minor cuts and scrapes as plantain has anti-inflammatory effects, and it is also rich in tannin (which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding) and allantoin (a compound that promotes healing of injured skin cells). The leaves of plantain as well as the juice have been widely used as topical substances in poultices and lotions for treating sunburns, stings, insect bites, snakebites, poison ivy breakouts, rashes, burns, blisters, and cuts. So cool, right?!
Not only can plantain be applied topically, it is more nutritious than most of the greens you are adding to your salad and is FREE!! They are tastiest when the plants are young because as they continue to grow, they become a little bitter and less tender (the larger ones become stringy and tough). The seeds can also be harvested and ground into a flour (I haven't tried this, yet). Interestingly enough, Plantain is a common folk remedy in many parts of Latin America for treating cancer. It has also been used for many centuries in treating sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and mouth sores. It is as close as your yard (or your neighbors).
Even if you have no intention of picking these wonderful plants in your backyard, I hope you have found some inspiration to look beyond your medicine cabinet. We can find relief through the use of plants with no bad side effects! The earth has provided us with everything we need to live a healthy life! Check back soon because I would love to share more of the plants that can heal our bodies!
Peace, Love, Plants,
*-See more at: http://drexel.edu/cnhp/news/current/archive/2012/August/2012-10-01-Stinging-Nettle/#sthash.kSv7oQbJ.dpuf