If you’ve ever grown a garden (or have been to one of our volunteer days) you may be well acquainted with what are known as weeds. But really, the plants we call weeds often serve many purposes. The cultivated crops aren’t the only ones in our garden beds that can feed us. The many weeds that grow in between can pack a real nutritional and medicinal punch. So the next time you see new weeds in your freshly weeded garden, you may want to look them up to see if they provide other benefits, like the three I wanted to mention today.
1. Lamb’s Quarters: These guys pop up everywhere. They follow human habitation quite closely and thrive on freshly disturbed soil used for cultivation. Lamb’s quarters is also called “wild spinach” and can actually outcompete domestic spinach in vitamin and mineral content. It has higher iron, calcium, zinc and potassium content than spinach, while also being a great source of the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Keep in mind though that lamb’s quarters does contain higher levels of oxalates. But that’s less likely to be of great concern due to the high calcium content of this wild green. Calcium binds to oxalic acid, causing it to be non-absorbable. Lamb’s quarters’ leaves are diamond-shaped with a coarsely toothed edge and tend to bear a grayish powdery coating with spots of fuchsia on their undersides, especially at the leaf joint. As a “wild spinach,” lamb’s quarters can be substituted into any recipe that calls for spinach or Swiss chard - soups, omelets, lasagna, pesto, etc.
2. Purslane: Purslane is a particularly attractive little weed. It looks a bit like a baby jade plant with fleshy succulent leaves that stem outwards from a central taproot, creating a mat small yellow flowers. It’s made up of 93% water and can also be used in many of the same ways as spinach. It’s exceptionally high in Omega-3 fatty acids and is also high in calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium and many antioxidants. The leaves can also be crushed up and made into an ointment for burns. Purslane is quite common as a salad green outside the US.
3. Plantain: Plantain plants (the ground-dwelling green-leafed plant, not the banana) are EVERYWHERE. This is one of their biggest medicinal attributes as they’re always on hand, yet maybe their biggest downside as a weed. They have broad oval-shaped leaves with tall skinny stalks that rise up in the middle with tiny white flowers. Plantains are known to be a champion first-aid remedy for many maladies, so it’s a good thing they’re always on hand. It’s a proven healer to help skin inflammation such as burns, rashes, cuts, stings, bites, etc. In fact, plantain is also known as “soldier’s herb” for its extensive use on the battlefield treating wounds. It can also be ingested for internal benefits in treating IBS symptoms as well as hot and dry conditions of the lungs, such as persistent cough.
There are so many other wonderful benefits to everyday weeds. Take a look around your backyard and see what tasty medicine you can find!