Herbal tea in glass teapot

How To Use Those Wonderful Weeds

Heal minor ailments and help wildlife, just leave those weeds alone!

The sight of weeds in your garden is not always cause to reach for the week killer or the hoe, some of them have masses of medicinal properties which could help alleviate the symptoms of itching, burns, insect bites and a myriad of other conditions. Who was it said that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place? Maybe you could leave a small patch of garden to accommodate these beneficial plants as they not only help us but are also beneficial to wildlife.

Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
This can be quite invasive but makes a great food plant for the Wood White and Silver Studded butterflies and the Six-spot Burnet moth. Also makes good nutritious dried fodder for farm animals.

Brambles (Rubus fruticosus)
This is one of the most important plants for wildlife; the flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for insects and the fruit is loved by small mammals in late summer; as well as making delicious blackberry jelly. It is the food plant for the larva of several moths including the Buff Arches, Peach Blossom and Fox. The thick impenetrable thorny branches provide good cover for nesting birds and small mammals.

Bramble (blackberry) flower

Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This can be crushed to make a paste or infused in oil to soothe sunburn and minor burns, or relieve the itching caused by insect bites or stings.

Cleavers; Sticky Sweetheart (Galium aparine)
This is the plant that you used to stick to the clothing of kids when you were young. It can be chopped and added to salads to soothe the urinary tract or swollen glands.

Daisy (Bellis perennis)
Even the humble daisy in the lawn can relieve the symptoms of allergies and headaches and also muscle aches.

Daisy (Bellis perennis)

Image: Dahola

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
These are rich in vitamins A, B complex, C and D, also iron, zinc, potassium and calcium. It can also calm the symptoms of the common cold and PMS. Another one which can calm down an irritated urinary tract; just add the leaves to a salad. The flowers can also be infused in oil to treat stiff joints and aching muscles. The roots can be roasted to produce a coffee substitute.

Dandelions growing in grass

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
In spring this is really high in vitamin C. A snuff made from the dried plant, gathered in spring, can be taken up the nose to alleviate headaches, congestion and tinnitus. A small amount of infused fresh leaves can be used in an eye bath to reduce inflammation from sore tired eyes and as an astringent. It is also a valuable source of nectar for bees.

Ground Ivy

Image: Rasbak

Nettle (Urtica dioica)
These are one of the most beneficial plants due to their rich properties of vitamins A and C, minerals, potassium, manganese, calcium and iron. It is natural antihistamine, relieving the symptoms of PMS and asthma. Taken as a tonic in spring it acts to gently cleanse the body; it also combats anaemia and fatigue, helps calm bladder infections and dandruff. Stinging an area affected by arthritis is said to alleviate the symptoms. It is the food plant for several butterfly caterpillars; Red Admiral, Comma, Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Dried and added to hen mash it makes egg yolk yellower and helps keep plumage in good condition. Nettle hay is loved by livestock as it is high in nutrients and it also makes a great tonic for plants. So all in all this is definitely a plant to make room for in a neglected corner of the garden.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Plantain (Plantago major)
This is another plant which is rich in vitamins; A, C, K, B1 and riboflavin. It can be made into a tea to soothe the digestive tract or as a salve to treat eczema and soothe the irritation of minor burns and insect stings and bites. Used as a poultice it can help heal minor wounds and scratches.

Purslane (Claytonia sp)
This is one of the richest sources of Omega 3 fatty acids and also contains good concentrations of vitamins A, B, C and E, beta carotene, magnesium, potassium, protein, iron and calcium. Make sure you don’t confuse this with its look-alike spurge as that is toxic.

Purslane

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
The flowers, which are rich in nutrients, are usually dried and made into a tea which is also a good source of isoflavones, currently being investigated as a possible aid to curing certain cancers. It can alleviate symptoms of the menopause and help in the fight against osteoporosis. A poultice made from the leaves can ease skin complaints.

Wild Garlic; Ramsons (Allium ursinum)
The leaves of this are usually eaten in salads but can also be added to stews and made into soup. They can be dried and added to hen mash for use as a general tonic to keep your birds in good condition. The juice from the leaves can be used as a moth repellent. Grown in the garden they are said to repel both insects and moles. Unfortunately the plants spread really quickly and can become invasive.

Wild garlic, ramsons

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
These delicious little fruits are lovely just eaten off the plant but can also be made into jam, if you can find enough of them! The leaves, flowers and stems can be made into a tea to treat diarrhoea and reduce fever. It can also be used as an antiseptic and anticoagulant. Crushed leaves made into a poultice can treat insect bites, minor burns, ringworm and boils.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
The leaves can be made into a tea to soothe a fever and if they are made into a juice can soothe aching, tired and swollen feet.  

These plants should not be used on severe symptoms, these should always be seen by a doctor, but for minor coughs, grazes, bites and burns why not utilise the plants we have around us. 

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas