Weeds That Heal -
An interview with herbalist, Kristine Ashdown
By Karen Pereczes
As appeared in Prediction magazine. Copyright Karen Pereczes 2005.
of us dig up the weeds in our gardens and cast them aside without a second
thought. As herbalist Kristine Ashdown reveals, these unwanted yet remarkable
plants have beneficial healing properties that will help you view them in a
The humble dandelion is high in iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B and C. Says Kristine: "The dandelion is a wonderful tonic for detoxifying the system, and can energize and tone the body's health system in many ways. Perfect for when you are feeling run down and stressed out!"
Dandelion works especially well on the liver by toning, nourishing, strengthening and empowering its ability as the primary blood-cleansing organ in the body. Its bitter flavour enhances appetite and aids digestion. It is also a diuretic - helping the body with the elimination of urine. "Most synthetic diuretics leach potassium from the body, whereas dandelion naturally provides potassium in the process," Kristine explains.
As it is high in plant oestrogens, dandelion aids the female reproductive system by regulating hormone production - making this a highly effective remedy for the menopause, pre-menstrual tension and water retention.
Parts Used - The flower heads are edible, and can be turned into jam or brewed to make a sherry-like wine. The young leaves are sweet and tender enough to be eaten as a salad vegetable and, sauteed or steamed, can also be prepared as you would spinach. The roots of the dandelion were once believed to promote one's psychic abilities. Washed, dried in a warm place till shriveled then roasted and ground, these also make a pleasant-tasting coffee substitute.
Collection - The young leaves can be picked all year round, but are especially tasty in autumn. The root is best harvested in June and August when it is at its most bitter.
Caution - Not to be used in conjunction with other diuretic drugs.
This defensive plant has a long and varied history of uses from many parts of the world. The tough fibres make a strong rope and durable fabric, which have been used since the Bronze Age. As a healing herb, it has an abundance of nutrients that include calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron and vitamins A and C. Says Kristine: "Nettle is so nutritious and a fantastic tonic that strengthens and supports the whole body. Nettle tea is a great pick-me-up when you are tired and your energy is low."
Nettle is a useful herb for women going through the bodily changes of starting their menstrual cycle or menopause. During pregnancy and while breastfeeding it can provide a valuable source of iron, calcium and vitamins. It also encourages the flow of breastmilk. Specifically for men, nettle can help improve enlarged and inflamed prostate glands.
According to recent scientific studies, freeze-dried nettle capsules were an almost instant relief from hayfever symptoms and allergies. Nettle tea is used to treat asthma.
It can be used both internally and externally to treat arthritic and rheumatic conditions. The actual sting itself is helpful for those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, as it gets blood flowing through the joints.
A cool tea made from fresh nettle leaves will soothe and heal burns and relieve cystitis. This can also be used as a wonderful hair treatment for dandruff and to stimulate hair growth. It is also said that if you rub nettle juice on a wart for 10-12 days it will disappear.
Parts used - Leaves, seed and root.
Collection - The seeds can be picked after flowering in spring and autumn. The root can be dug up in autumn. The young leaf tops can be gathered in spring and throughout summer when a light fresh green colour. Says Kristine: "You can pick the leaves without getting stung if you know how to do it - just pinch the 4 top leaves off the plant going along with the hairs, like you would stroke a cat."
This healing plant was considered to be one of nine sacred herbs by the ancient Saxons. Plantain contains natural antihistamines, which will relieve pain caused by wasp and bee stings. It promotes cell division - encouraging the rapid healing of cuts, wounds or burns. Plantain's antibacterial properties are only effective when fresh: "Personally, I chew on the leaves to release the juice before applying it directly to bites, stings and cuts," explains Kristine, "It can also be used in this way to reduce swellings, nosebleeds, burns and sores."
Plantain will purify and cleanse the body of toxins in the system and is so is very useful to treat blood poisoning and as a tonic to aid digestion. As it is also a good lung supporter, Plantain tea is an effective expectorant for coughs, bronchitis and asthma. A cool tea may also be used as an eye-wash to treat conjunctivitis.
Parts used - Any part of the plant growing above the ground.
Collection - Gather during flowering throughout the summer.
This plant is best known for the hooked bristles on the stem and leaves that stick onto passers-by... a natural 'Velcro'! Cleavers is possibly the best tonic for the lymphatic system - swollen glands anywhere in the body, especially tonsillitis and adenoid problems.
Cleavers can be used to rid the body of toxins and is also excellent for inflammations, taken both internally and as a poultice. An external application made from the fresh juice has an antibacterial action useful for treating burns, grazes, ulcers and other skin inflammations such as boils and acne. A tea made from the dried plant is useful for insomnia - inducing a quiet, restful sleep.
Cleavers has a cooling effect on the system. Prepared as a tea, it is a perfect drink for fevers. “"To relieve sunburn and blisters, simmer a handful of fresh leaves for 5-10 minutes, leave to cool and then sponge upon the face," says Kristine. "This can also be used as a hair-rinse to treat dandruff and other dry skin problems, such as eczema."
used - Dried aerial parts and fresh expressed juice. The young shoots are a
good cleansing tonic. The plant can also be steamed as a vegetable when young
and light green. The seeds, dried and slightly roasted over a fire, have much
the flavour of coffee.
Collection - Should be gathered before flowering and dried in the shade.
Caution - Not to be used in conjunction with other diuretic drugs.
This deep-cleansing herb contains vitamins A, B and C, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
In medieval times, it was used to cure boils and treat burns, scalds and blisters, as it was known to promote tissue repair. "Not forgetting that dock is a well-known remedy for nettle stings!" adds Kristine. "But did you know that just rubbing on the leaves doesn’t work? You have to squeeze the juice out of the stem below the leaf and apply this to the affected area."
Yellow dock can be used to improve the blood and cleanse the system and is useful for liver disorders. Kristine explains: "Anything that stimulates liver function is good for you - especially in this day and age, where we tend to overload our systems with rather a lot of rubbish."
It can also be used for constipation, being a gentle laxative tonic to the stomach. A cup of warm tea made from the root will aid digestion after a heavy meal or rich foods.
The soft, steamed leaf makes a good poultice for skin problems such as acne and eczema. The root contains iron, making it an excellent remedy for anemia. It can also be used as an effective medicine to soothe an irritable tickling cough.
Parts used - The leaf and root.
- The roots should be dug up in late summer and autumn, between August and
Caution - Not to be used where there is a history of kidney inflammation or disease.
Wherever you decide to let your weeds grow, keep them thinned and they will grow thick and bushy. Harvest them frequently, when they are young and tender and at their tastiest. Cultivate your weeds, giving them the same care as any other plant you would expect to eat, and you will reap a healthy harvest!
Dock Cough Syrup
Slowly boil the roots until half the water has evaporated. Strain and remove the root, and melt the honey in the liquid, heating slowly. Store in a cool place. Take 5ml, three times daily.
Nettle Tea and Hair Tonic
Pinch the top 4 young nettle leaves, add boiling water and brew for 10 minutes.
To use as a hair tonic, make a stronger tea using 12 leaves. Leave to brew until cool and then squeeze the remaining juice from the leaves. Used every other day as a final rinse, this will leave your hair feeling soft and glossy and will also prevent hair loss.
Cooked Stinging Nettles
Bring the water to the boil and add the chopped onion, salt and pepper. Then add the chopped nettles (the top 4 young leaves are the tastiest). Boil the greens until they no longer have their stinging qualities - for about 5 minutes. Serve hot and top with butter and several drops of lemon or lime juice.
Rinse and dip the moist flowers in flour. Melt the butter, add the flowers and stir-fry - turning brown on all sides. Serve hot as a tasty and nutritious alternative to fried mushrooms!
Place the dried plantain leaves in an ovenproof dish. Completely cover the leaves in olive oil and place in the oven at the lowest temperature possible for a minimum of 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool and strain the contents through a muslin cloth, discarding the leaves. Add one ounce of grated beeswax to every half-pint of oil. Heat the oil and wax gently in a pan, stirring constantly until the wax melts - usually within a minute. Pour the liquid into small, wide-mouthed jars and leave to cool. Store out of direct sunlight.
Use this healing ointment for nappy rash, insect bites and stings, all itches and minor wounds.
Cleavers Sunburn Spray
Make a strong tea from the fresh leaves. Leave to brew until cool. Strain and pour the contents into a spray-bottle, or sponge directly over burnt skin with a soft cloth.
How To Dry Plants
Hang the leaves up out of direct sunlight in a well-ventilated room. Place in a glass jar with an airtight lid for a couple of days. If there are moisture droplets on the side of the jar then the leaves are not dry enough, and you have to repeat the process.