I have gone for walks to exercise for many years, and usually lost in my own little world while I do so. But some time back I read a book about foraging – picking plants growing wild for food or medicine, and it intrigued me. So I started looking around a bit more as I walked, attempting to identify what I saw. Eventually I began to pick items that could be used fresh, or dried and stored. Often these plants were what many might refer to as weeds, any plant that is not valued where it is growing. You might be surprised how many of these plants that people complain about and try to eradicate, actually make good eating or medical use.

We all know dandelions. They pop up on people’s lawns and are considered a nuisance. But in reality destroying them is a very wasteful thing to do. Dandelion contains iron, zinc and calcium, and vitamins A, B, C and E. All parts of the dandelion are good to eat – flowers, stems, leaves, and roots. Dandelion tea is a good diuretic, and unlike many diuretics it contains potassium, so will not lower your potassium levels. It can normalise blood sugar, and is an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant. Dandelion leaves are bitter but perfectly edible. I often use them in sandwiches with other fillings, which help disguise the bitterness. They are high in vitamin A and great for digestive issues. You can also cook them and add them to pasta and other dishes. The flowers can be added to salads, and the tea is usually made from the roots. You can even make dandelion wine. There are lots of delicious uses and they are very healthy.

Cats ear is also known as false dandelion because their appearance is very similar. I believed it was the same plant before I learned to tell them apart. All parts of cats ear is edible, and high in antioxidants and potassium. You can tell the difference because cats ear flowers will grow in bundles off a single stem, while dandelion flowers always grow singly. The leaves are also similar, but dandelion leaves are smooth to the touch while cats ear has hairs on the leaves and stems. Cats ear root contains a natural cortisone that can be used to treat skin rashes and allergies. It can be used to treat kidney and urinary problems among others. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and its root can be made into a tea, similar to dandelion.

Common mallow can be found in gardens, roadsides, waste ground etc. You can crush the leaves and use them externally on insect bites, bruises, rashes or sunburn. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which helps to reduce swelling and pain. It also has external uses for moisturising the skin. Internally, making tea from mallow leaves can help with a multitude of things – digestive issues, sleep, respiratory problems (including asthma), protects the gums from infection (use the tea as a mouthwash), and generally strengthens the immune system.

Plantain grows everywhere, so can be found in most gardens and outside areas. Like mallow, it can be used externally to heal insect bites and small wounds, being anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic. This can be very useful when you are out and about, as picking it fresh, crushing it and placing it on a small injury immediately can help to stop bleeding, Eat it in salads or cooked meals to provide calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Drink it as a tea for cold, flu and respiratory infections, as well as gastric issues. (Mallow and plantain tea is very good for asthma.) The leftover material after straining the tea can be used to ease sunburn, eczema, and psoriasis.

I’m no expert in plants or herbal things. I have had no training – everything I am talking about here has come from observation and a little bit of internet research, and I have barely scratched the surface. The experts recommend being very sure that you are identifying your plant properly, and also that you pick from areas that are not contaminated with chemicals such as weed killers. I can attest to the fact that foraging can help you add to your vegetable intake and help you maintain your health. Also, it’s interesting and fun. If you like plants and gardening, maybe try your hand at foraging. You might be surprised what you find.

3 thoughts on “Foraging for food and medicine

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