Flora & Fauna: Common Backyard Herbs

There are plenty of plants you probably pass right by on your walk to work that are edible, medicinal and best of all – easy to identify.

  1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
    This plant is both edible and highly medicinal – just about every part of it. The flowers are delicious when battered and fried, and you probably already buy the leaves with your mixed salad greens. The root can be dried and then used in detoxifying teas. It’s yellow flowers make it extremely easy to spot in the summer.
  2. Plantain (Plantago major/lanceolata)
    Both long-leaf and broad-leaf plantain are edible, though they may be a bit bitter for some, I personal enjoy them. They can also be used medicinally – topically they have tremendous healing properties to speed up the recovery process for everything from a cut to a bee sting. Many different recipes for salves are readily available.
  3. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
    This mint-relative does more than make your cats loopy – it is a powerful stress reducer and anti-anxiety. Many people use in in a tincture or a tea for easing sleep troubles. The leaves are purported to be edible, but the host of medicinal benefits this plant provides almost makes raw consumption seem a waste.
  4. Wood Sorel (Oxalis acetosella)
    This little plant can be easily identified by it’s heart shaped leaves – different from the round ones a clover would have. I typically use it to introduce wild edibles to children. It has a tart, lemony flavor that is unlike any other wild green out there. It also is high in vitamin C, and a tea brewed from it’s leaves has been used to treat digestive and liver issues.
  5. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
    Red clover leaves and flowers make a lovely salad that goes wonderfully with a balsamic vinaigrette. In addition to this, it’s leaves can be dried and brewed into a highly nutritive tea. Red clover tea is a remedy for a score of female reproductive issues from menopause to PMS.

It’s important to make sure there are no harmful toxins in the soil you harvest plants from, and that it is legal for you to do so.

A good place to harvest is a friend’s property outside of the city that has earth free of toxins and heavy metals, or in your own if you’re lucky enough to have one with safe soil.

Make sure you are comfortable with plant identification before consuming a plant in any way – if you’re wrong, you could eat something that may make you ill.

A mentor of mine once told me an approach he used was to first learn the toxic plants that can be found in the area – he reasoned anything else was “fair game” as far as he was concerned.

While I recommend being a little more cautious than him, it’s definitely good to be familiar with them.

Lastly, remember the rule of thirds – harvest responsibly, leave some so there will be more later!

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