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by Lynda Archard
©: February 19th 1996

Many people know of the modern use of herbs, to cure and help ailments, but few are aware of the useful plants wasted when weeding the garden. These wonder weeds grow in abundance, becoming a pest to gardeners everywhere. With more old-fashioned knowledge and wisdom we can make them into friends, and get back to enjoying our gardening much quicker.

Those hideous plants you can't get rid of are often herbs, or quite useful wild plants. Last year I bought a small 'sweet cecily' from a local supplier. This year I found not only a 7ft bush in the centre of my herb garden, but I recognised ‘sweet cecily’ as a common plant growing all over the country. It grows freely on waste ground, main roads, anywhere that is called ‘wild’ ground. It made me wonder just how many other herbs are growing as weeds.

In the Collins dictionary, the word 'weed' means 'plant growing where undesired. So the best solution seems to be to use them, or eat them. All this food goes to waste, while the frustrated gardener curses the 'weeds' that cause their backache.

Unlike most pretty garden Plants, many of these are edible, or useful as common household cleaners and even insecticides. Make weeds and wild flowers friends rather than enemies, they grow in abundance, and are easy to exploit, if you know their uses.

Blackberry - This bush can be trained by tying into a wall. The berries are used in cordials, pies and medical concoctions. The leaves contain a substance which will staunch the flow of blood from scratches, or insert bites, obtained while collecting the berries perhaps.

Catnip or Catmint - All cats love this common herb, they roll about in it as if they understand its qualities. It contains nepetalactone, a natural insect, mouse and flea repellent. Beekeepers of old used the leaves to rub on the inside of the hives to welcome the bees’ home.

Chickweed - A delicate treat for birds, but a vegetable when fried in butter for a few minutes, or added to salads for us. Chickweed is very high in copper and nutrients, and is a type of cress. As a poultice it is said to cure abscesses and carbuncles.

Clover - These contain sodium, a mineral that reduces acidity. Clover helps the body to absorb iron, and aids the kidneys. It can be made into a wine or tea, to sooth the nervous system or reduce flatulence.

Coltsfoot - This can also be made into wine, cough sweets and tea, to use as a cure for bronchial complaints, asthma and colds. Coltsfoot leaves can be dried in June to make a herbal tobacco said to relieve the symptoms of asthma.

Chicory - A wild flower growing freely around roadsides and waste ground. It's roots are roasted and ground before being added to coffee. The leaves can be blanched and eaten with salads.

Dandelion - Eat the washed raw leaves in salads, or drink dandelion coffee. It is ideal for drinkers of alcohol, as it replenishes the liver with vitamin A, which alcohol depletes at a rapid rate. It also contains vitamins BI, B2, and C. The leaves contain iron, zinc, and copper, as well as sodium, magnesium and are very rich in calcium. It is a great all-rounder for the body and its functions in general. Dandelion coffee contains a type of lecithin, called choline, which breaks down fat in the foods you eat. This makes it ideal for people who don't want to starve while on a diet too! When the dandelion is in full bloom, the sap from the stem should be placed onto warts every day for about one week, it gets rid of them without chemicals.

Dock - The leaves can be rubbed on skin to neutralise nettle stings, and also relieves and heals burns, scalds and blisters. When boiled, strained and bottled, a glassful every now and then makes a good tonic.

Elder - The flowers can be fried in batter to eat with custard as a sweet. The berries are rich in vitamin C, and are good as a wine to prevent and cure colds. The berries can make you violently sick if too many are eaten, but a few can be added to apple pies, apple and elderberry jam or sweet dishes. They are more palatable to humans when cooked. Leave enough for the birds as it is a good diet for them, and often-selfish wine makers strip these bushes bare. Elder flowers steeped in vinegar make an excellent gargle for a soar throat.

Nettle - This can be made into nettle soup, tea, or boiled like a vegetable. It is said to cure rheumatism and hypertension. Stew slowly the young tips of the nettle, strain and bottle the juice. Take one glassful a day as a tonic or cure. Nettles are rich in vitamin C, and rich in iron, they can help cure and prevent spots. When old nettles are boiled, the strained liquid can be sprayed onto plants, to help rid them of unwanted green and black fly. The fibrous leaves were used at one time to make paper and materials.

Plantain - The curse of the lawn. When the leaves are washed and crushed they make a cooling poultice for cuts, grazes, bruises, stings and burns.

Summer Savoury - This herb when rubbed onto a bee or wasp sting, will give instant relief. It repels black fly, making it a useful herb to grow in amongst other plants around the garden.

Sweet Cicely - The whole of this plant can be eaten. The roots are similar to turnip, said to be beneficial to the elderly when boiled or roasted. The seeds are thought to be a good remedy for rheumatics. The leaves can be boiled as a vegetable. Or use the leaves to polish oak furniture, as a cheap household alternative for those who don't like or can't use chemicals.

Tansy - This plant grows wild along-side rivers, making it an easy access repellent to fleas, flies, gnats and mosquitoes. Tansy sprigs can be dried in bunches to hang in your living room, as a cheap, and affective, alternative to fly spray. Rub your bare skin with the leaves and you won't get bitten, or grow it in amongst other plants. Place a few leaves in the larder or windowsills to deter ants from the home. Ants will head straight for it, and can then be put back to the bottom of your garden. When tansy is infused as a tea, it is said to prolong life. And it has been said to help prevent miscarriage when boiled in beer. It also contains a natural chemical called Thujone, which can be fatal if an overdose is taken. Moderation is essential with tansy.

Valerian - This pretty swamp and ditch plant that also grows in coastal regions, attracts Tortoiseshell butterflies to the garden. Woad - The crushed leaves of this plant was, in ancient times, left to ferment before using to dye wool a lovely shade of blue. Woad is also a favourite of flower arrangers, because of its pretty flower seed heads when dried.

1203 words

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