In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long shares some herbal health hacks...
Thank you for the amazing column. We are really enjoying it! I am wondering if there are safe herbs I can harvest this time of year for good health.
There are a number of herbs that are indigenous to the area that are very medicinal in nature. I will list some of them and their benefits and use. But because herbs are active, we must always heed the contraindications for each, so I will include those, as well. The benefits of dandelion ...
Instead of coffee or tea or some other hip-whip-whatsit in your mug, go dig up some of those pesky dandelions in your front lawn by the root, which is easiest when soil is moist after a rain and you use a weeding tool or flat head screwdriver inserted alongside the root to pop it out as you pull it up gently, but firmly with the other hand. It’s a taproot so it comes up quite easily when the ground is sufficiently wet. Now take that beauty to the kitchen sink and wash it off with a good scrub brush and trim all the damaged and green top parts away. Save the nice greens for adding to your salad, soup, or smoothie later. Now chop the root up into 1" pieces and put it in a pot and bring to a boil or dehydrate it on low low oven heat for tea later. If you want a nice flavour in your decoction, you can add in hibiscus tea and/ or rose hips from last year. Go ahead and add a clove bud and cinnamon or anise if you like those, and if you have fresh or dried stevia leaves (so easy to grow!) add a few of those in, too. Let it simmer for five minutes and remove to cool. You have just made your first herbal decoction. Yay, you! Before I tell you what you are about to sip and the unbelievable medicinal benefits, let me first add a caveat.
If you spray your lawn with pesticides, sorry, this isn't for you, even if a dandelion survives the spray. You see, these sprays are not safe to use on food. They contaminate everything in your yard, including adjacent food gardens. They also poison our collective water table with known carcinogens (glyphosate) that water treatment doesn't effectively remove - for all the neighbourhood to enjoy. And we lose out collectively on some of the best free medicine we could have found for a myriad of health conditions! However, be consoled that if you live near to me, I will do my best to make sure my natural lawn - which is replete with a host of natural, indigenous, hardy medicinal specimens - reseeds yours with beneficial species to get you started back on the right path. Also, if ever I get to add my two cents to the DSM, obsessive-compulsive lawn disorder will be identified as a pathology, as it rightly should be, so you can get the 'treatment' you need.
Dandelion is an incredible herb! The root, the leaves, and the flowers can all be consumed. It's great for cleansing and toning the liver and digestive system, because it’s so bitter and has a laxative effect. It’s also a powerful diuretic and nutritive. This means those with fatty liver or other liver complaints, fatigue, toxicity, acne, eczema, psoriasis, or poor digestion can benefit from it. If you're holding water weight or have high blood pressure, or your kidneys are weak, it can help boost kidney function and get that excess water out of the body without robbing potassium, which most diuretics do. It's so powerful that it shouldn't be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals that have the same action. It's highly nutritive, as well, boasting about 300% of the RDI of vitamin A and 600% of vitamin K, among many other vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes and skin and vitamin K is essential for bone and dental health. Caution should be exercised if you know you are allergic to plants externally, try only a little at a time to make sure it doesn’t induce an allergic response. Otherwise, it’s generally regarded as safe. For more information go here.
The benefits of red clover …
Have you tried red clover? The flower head is slightly sweet and can be washed and eaten fresh in salads. The heads, green stems, and leaves can be diced and made into fresh tea or dried then put in a food processor and pulsed to make a nice flavoured dry tea with some incredible benefits. It’s another great diuretic, meaning it helps remove extra fluids (water weight) and cleanse the kidneys. It’s also great for removing mucus from the respiratory system, reducing inflammation, and cleansing the blood. It’s great for skin conditions and can help tremendously in teen or hormonal acne. But it’s primary use is in balancing hormones. It has estrogen-like properties and can be used in menopause and hormonal issues to bring balance. In addition to all this, it’s known to assist in keeping bones strong and keeping arteries healthy. And there’s now data to suggest it may lower certain types of cancer. Read more about the incredible benefits of red clover here.
The benefits of goldenrod … Goldenrod is well known as a late summer plant. It grows abundantly in meadows and grasslands, and on roadsides and in fields here in Ontario. In herbal medicine, the aerial parts: leaves and flowers are used. Made into a tincture, it’s very good for sinus congestion related to allergies, colds, and flus. Used as a tea it’s incredible for urinary tract and bladder or kidney infections. I have suffered these and can attest that it truly works wonders. Just grab some fresh stems and boil with with plantain, described below. Strain and sip. The more serious the symptoms, the more I would consume. It can also be used as a culinary herb. For more information on goldenrod, and some interesting recipes that feature it, go here.
The benefits of broadleaf plantain …
You may not recognize the name of this plant, but I’m certain you’ve seen it. It grows in almost every lawn and grassy area locally. For a good picture of it, go here. It’s rich in iron and vitamins A and C. The leaves and seed pods are used as a culinary herb, and as such it’s best eaten boiled. When prepared the leaves are like cooked spinach and the pods are like cooked asparagus in texture. They can be consumed with vinegar and salt (yum!) or butter, salt and pepper.
Medicinally, the leaves contain ingredients that promote kidney function and remove uric acid. As such, it’s great for gouty and rheumatic inflammation. The leaves can be applied directly to damaged skin for wounds, cuts, and scrapes because it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. They can also be boiled to make a decoction that has a slippery feel to it. This slip helps soothe irritated tissues, as in a urinary tract infection or IBS. It stops spasms and eases pain. As such it’s great for both. It’s also been used to treat eczema, psoriasis, and first degree burns, as it disinfects while it soothes and heals the tissues. To read more, go here. It’s considered very safe for everyone.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, I suggest you try a herb walk. These are long walks in local nature paths to help a group identify some of Ontario's medicinal plants. Many herbalists offer them several times a year, usually in harvest season - late summer or early fall. It’s a fun way to enjoy a day out while learning about my favourite subject: foodstuff as medicine!
Thank you for the great question, Tina! I hope you and others will be motivated to try some of these herbs for their health.
As always, if you have your own health questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more about my work via my website at hopenotdope.ca. Until next week!
Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista