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Find Food and Medicine in the Backyard
Nature keeps a balance like our bodies keep a balance. That’s why, in the spring, after a long winter of storing starches and sugars, it’s time to ‘spring forth’ and detoxify and replenish our bodies with the nutrients it needs to move into a cycle of rebirth, rejuvenation and renewal.
Plants need minerals, amino acids and proteins from the soil to grow, just as our families need these from the plants to grow healthy and strong! Herbs also help to alkalize our bodies just as they alkalize their own environments.
Nettles, chickweed and red raspberry are a few of the spring plants that are great for families as food and medicine. If you introduce some of these plants into your daily diet they can greatly help balance, feed, nurture, cleanse and support your bodies system as it embarks on changes experienced in the spring. As your skin sheds another layer you replenish from the inside out.
By bringing these plants into your home, you are re-wilding yourself and your family. Making a stronger connection to nature and allowing for a better balance in your life.
Latin name: Urtica Folia
Bringing nutrients and life to newly disturbed soil, nettles break down toxins and bring strength to inflamed and irritated tissue.
Nettles can be enjoyed as food or as a cup of tea. Being so heavy with nutrients, it is a great choice as a substitute for spinach. You can use it in dishes like spanokopita, steamed greens, pesto, stir fry’s, soups and green smoothies. The leaves can be used fresh, juiced, dried or added to foods. You can also transplant them into your back yard and have food and medicine throughout the summer. Nettles are high in nitrogen and can be used to fertilize the garden
A plant rich in chlorophyll, it rebuilds the blood, stabilizes blood sugar and supports bone health, strengthening the whole body. Nettle is a rich source of antioxidants and Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, (more concentrated in the fresh plant), Quercitin and flavanoids. Antioxidants are important to protect the body from free radical damage. Studies done in test tubes have shown quercetin may affect immune cells from releasing histamines which can calm symptoms of allergies. Nettle also contains calcium , iron, potassium and sulfur.
Nettles also produce Seretonin which is primarily found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, platelets’ and in the central nervous system and is thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being , including the regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep. Medicinally nettles are astringent and toning and cleansing for the kidneys and blood.
Stinging Nettle appears in areas such as avalanche tracks, barnyards or roadsides, open woods and meadows. They prefer a damp, rich soil and are usually seen growing in groups.
Latin name: Stellaria media
Chickweed, just like the moist, nutrient rich soil it grow in, brings moisture and nutrients to our families ever evolving bodies.
Young children tend to crave these greens for their fresh enzymes and minerals. Chickweed leaves, flowers and stems are all edible. Use chickweed in place of parsley for soups, spring salads, pastas, sandwiches, pesto and green drinks. You can blend the plant with water into a juice. This can be stored in ice cube trays to use in the winter.
Chickweed provides ample amounts of viscous fiber to provide bulk to the stool and reduce the bowel transit time reducing the amount of toxins left in the bowels. Due to the presence of triterpenoid saponins, chickweed stimulates digestion by regulating bacteria and yeast in the bowels helping to balance the intestinal flora and draw any toxicity left in the bowels. The saponins have shown to heal gastro intestinal problems such as constipation, hemorrhoids and ulcers. Chickweed is believed to help break up fat and fatty deposits in the body. Chickweed is a demulcent helping to reduce inflamed tissue and joints, promoting a cleansing soothing tonic effect on the urinary system for relieving cystitis and urinary inflammation. Additionally, it can be used in balms and baths for skin irritations and bug bites or applied topically for pink eye.Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins A, D, B complex, C, and rutin (an accompanying flavenoid), as well as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica.
Look for chickweed on lawns and in open, sunny areas, as well as partially shaded habitats.
Latin name: Rubus idaeus
Pulling nutrients deep from within the soil, raspberry leaf supplies our families with nutrients needed to strengthen the very structure of the body.
Mildly pleasant tasting the leaves can be enjoyed as a hot or cold tea or as herbal vinegar for salads.
Red Raspberry is an excellent source of vitamins C, E, A, B complex, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, silicon, sulphur and calcium. Magnesium helps the absorption of calcium, and increases the absorption of certain hormones. Traditionally known as a blood tonic and purifier, red raspberry possesses hormone-regulating and uterine-toning properties important to this phase of the menstrual cycle. These minerals additionally promote strong nails, bones, teeth, hair, and skin. Commonly drank as a tea throughout pregnancy, supporting a new mother’s body in the journey of growing a child. It can be used as a mouthwash for sore throats, weak gums and mouth ulcers as well a great tea for children’s diarrhea.
Look for Red Raspberry in cities, suburbs & towns, scrub, shrub & brushland, canyons & valleys, watersides (fresh), and fields.
All of these herbs can be made into a herbal vinegar to use medicinally or on salads and is safe for children. Apple cider vinegar helps to break down the minerals with its enzymes and increases the hydrochloric acid in the stomach which helps to absorb the minerals.
These three plants are so readily available, easy to harvest and full of so many available nutrients. Foraging is a fun way the family can be creative, bringing food and medicine together as one.
Angie Shand and Bronwen Erickson are practicing herbalists with over twenty years of combined experience, they are currently working at Gaia Garden Herbal Dispensary, 2672 West Broadway Vancouver BC (604-734-4372) www.gaiagarden.com