Weed Walk Handout

TGP Edible & Medicinal Weeds Workshop

Laura Shiels, The Growing Project July 24, 2018

Questions to Ponder:

What is a weed?

Why shouldn’t you purposefully spread many of the “weeds”?

Why might it be good to tolerate certain weeds in your garden?

Where are good & bad places to harvest edible & medicinal weeds and why?

What are some of the common weeds we’d find in this type of habitat in our city, and for what might they be useful?

What are potential contraindications of the edible and medicinal plants we’re learning about today, and why are those important to know about?

What ethics are involved that you should apply when harvesting wild plants?

Please note that the information here and presented in the workshop is not all-encompassing. You should personally research any wild plant for its indications and contraindications before consuming it, and always start with a small quantity and wait a bit to check for allergic reactions before eating a larger quantity. Be careful to harvest in clean spots and in an ethical manner, and ask permission & be thankful to our wonderful earth before and while harvesting. It is illegal in the City of Fort Collins to harvest plants in Natural Areas, and these sites are often sprayed with toxic chemicals as well.

Some Edible & Medicinal Weeds you can find at the Burrow:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae/Sunflower Family)

The entire plant is edible and medicinal. It has a ton of uses and is usually safe to eat in moderate quantities as a nutritious edible. For example, it is a diuretic high in potassium and other great minerals & vitamins. It is bitter, making your digestive juices flow, thereby improving digestion. The flowers are high in carotenoids—good for eyesight, and externally for the skin. Anti-cancer properties have also been demonstrated in the peer-reviewed literature. You can eat any part of the plant raw, cooked, or fermented, and the roasted, ground roots make a divine, healthy, coffee-like non-caffeinated drink. The yellow flowers are one of the first available to pollinators such as bees in the spring, and they make a lovely edible flower in salads. Dandelion wine and cookies are some great things you can make from this wonder plant. Come to my fermentation workshop to learn even more about this plant… J

Contraindications:Don’t eat dandelion if you have an allergy to this family, or if a diuretic is not right for you—e.g. you have certain heart or kidney issues, are on diuretics, have high potassium levels, etc.

Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca spp., Asteraceae)

Milky sap/tea of the plant is mild sedative. Juice from stalk can relieve poison ivy itchiness. Young leaves are edible steamed.

Contraindications:only consume in small quantities. Don’t confuse with dandelion—they can look similar.

Lamb’s Quarters/Goosefoot (Chenopodium album, Amaranthaceae/Amaranth Family/Chenopodiaceae Subfamily)

This plant’s leaves and young shoots are a very nutritious edible green, high in vitamins & minerals, including iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, and B-complex, and various salts. They are also high in antioxidants, essential amino acids, and make a nice “spring tonic” that can alleviate fatigue and nervous exhaustion.

You can dry the leaves and use them as a “spice” to add saltiness + nutrition to your food. The seeds are edible and high in protein. A good way to eat them is to integrate them into the cooking of another grain you like to boost the protein and healthy secondary compound content.

A tea or juice of the plant taken internally is laxative & good for reducing inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, anemia, and more. A tea used internally or externally is astringent. A poultice of the plant’s leaves and shoots is anti-inflammatory & anti-microbial. It’s good for insect bites & stings, minor wounds, sunburn, arthritis, and rashes.

It’s a good companion plant in the garden for plants bothered by leaf miners, as it attracts that insect to itself away from other plants.

Contraindications:This plant is high in oxalic acid and saponins. While a little bit is usually fine for most people, and provides a nice tangy flavor, too much can lead to kidney stones, inhibition of calcium absorption, lysing of red blood cells, and/or a laxative effect. Only drink the juice in small quantities for these reasons! Older growth tends to have more oxalic acid, tannins, and saponins—please always taste before harvesting to make sure it tastes “right” for your intended use (nice green, a bit salty). Oxalic acid is broken down by cooking but saponins are not.

Wild Orach (Atriplex spp., Amaranthaceae/Amaranth Family/Chenopodiaceae Subfamily)

Similar uses and contraindications as Lamb’s Quarters.

Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus spp., Amaranthaceae/Amaranth Family)

Similar uses and contraindications as Lamb’s Quarters.

Wild Mallow (Malva neglecta, Malvaceae/Cotton Family)

Edible, mucilaginous, soothing to mucous membranes internally and externally. Anti-inflammatory, good for digestive tract. Can make marshmallows & merengue with it.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea, Portulacaceae)

High in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins & minerals, and antioxidants. Has been shown to have anti-mutagenic properties. Contains natural dopamine.

Harvesting: because they conduct CAM photosynthesis in hot weather, they will be more sour in the morning (high in malic acid) and more sweet (converted to glucose) in the afternoon…

Contraindications: contains some oxalic acid, so be careful about kidney stones when raw…

Wild Asparagus (Asparagusprostratus, Asparagaceae)

Shoots have many medicinal uses, including anti-PMS, urinary tract health (including diuretic action), digestive system, fertility, and more. It’s high in vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and beneficial secondary compounds & fiber including folate and inulin.

Contraindications:Fruit is toxic! Shoots are diuretic—make sure that’s appropriate…

Burdock (Arctiumminus, Asteraceae/Sunflower family)

Edible, nutritious, medicinal root: Diuretic, diaphoretic, “blood purifying,” increases lactation.

Contraindications: avoid if you shouldn’t be taking diuretics and during pregnancy. Above ground parts of plant cause contact dermatitis in some people.

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella, Polygonaceae/Buckwheat Family)

Very nutritious, eat leaves young. High in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, oxalic acid. An ingredient in Essiac tea, which is purported to fight cancer. Anti-inflammatory & astringent, used for sinus infections, diarrhea, scurvy, etc. Cools the liver, strengthens the heart, aids digestive and urinary tract issues. Diuretic. Anti-parasite, anti-rash.

Contraindications: contains oxalic acid, so be careful about kidney stones when raw… Avoid when pregnant or nursing, if have kidney or heart issues.

Curly Dock (Rumex crispus, Polygonaceae/Buckwheat Family)

Quite similar in usage & contraindications to Sheep Sorrel. The root is high in iron and used to “build the blood” and counteract anemia.

Skunkbush/Sumac (Rhus trilobata, Anacardiaceae/Cashew Family)

This wild native perennial has tangy fruits that can be shaken in cool water and drunk as a kind of lemonade drink that helps GI issues. Chewing the fruits has been used for toothache. The bark in tea or chewed has been used for colds & flu. The leaves & roots have also been used medicinally.

Contraindications:Use in small quantities only. Also don’t overharvest as it’s native…

Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa, Apocinaceae/Milkweed family)

Though other species are usually quite toxic, our native milkweed provides edible young fruits, great fermented… Be very careful not to overharvest this—only use in very small quantities, as this is a native plant and important to butterflies.

Contraindications:ID correctly! Only use fruits when quite young, in small quantities, don’t overharvest.

Plantain (Plantago major/P. lanceolata, Plantaginaceae)

Nutritious, anti-microbial, used for insect bites and stings, snakebite, minor wounds, healing salve. Edible seeds used for digestive health (Psillium). Poultice pulls out splinters, etc. High in vitamin K-speeds wound clotting & healing. Diuretic, soothing to mucous membranes, anti-inflammatory, good for sprains and strains.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa, Fabaceae)

The one with a square stem…

Stimulates appetite, aids digestion, increases breast milk quantity. High in iron, good for anemia. Nutritious.

Contraindications:high in oxalic acid, can be toxic late season! Harvest/eat in the springtime and early summer. Avoid late summer and fall.

Red Clover (Trifolium pretense, Fabaceae)

The one with “little white V’s.”

Antiseptic wash for sores, skin problems, fungal infections. Tea good for colds, flu, congestion, etc. Good cover crop, fixes N.

Contraindications: Cook. Too much can cause bloating.don’t use long term, in large quantity, or late season.

Sweet Clover(Melilotus alba (white)/M. officinale (yellow), Fabaceae)

No square stem, gets tallish.

Leaf tea good for gas & stomach pain. Poultice good for sore breasts, inflamed eyelids, etc.

Contraindications: don’t use long term, in large quantity, or late season. Anticoagulant--gets toxic late season.



Edible core, watch out for the prickles!

Musk mustard(Chorispora tenella,Brassicaceae/Mustard Family; small purple flowered)

Western Tansy Mustard(Descurania pinnata,very small yellow flowered Brassicaceae/Mustard Family)

Shepard’s purse(small white flowered Brassicaceae/Mustard Family)

Currants: Ribes spp.

Cattail--all parts edible... I'll talk more about this one next time!...