Three wild medicinal plants are so abundant, you may already be familiar with them as common weeds: dandelion, burdock and yellow dock.
What might surprise you is to learn how valuable they are as herbal medicine. These three wild medicinal plants are often the first taught to herbal students because they are easy to find, medicinally important and very safe to use.
Each of these plants supports liver function as its primary use in herbal medicine. Some estimates state that our livers have over 500 bodily functions such as aiding proper digestion, metabolism, nutrient storage and elimination of toxins. Incorporating these plants into lives is vitally important!
While various above ground parts of these plants are used for both food and medicine, it’s the roots that are so prized.
Early spring and late autumn are when herbalists harvest medicinal roots. This is because roots are the storage units for the plants. Once the plants begin to send up shoots in the spring and then go to flower, much of the energy, phytonutrients and valuable compounds rise to the upper parts of the plant. Once the plants have gone to seed and die back for the season, many of the health-giving properties are stored back down in the roots. Therefore, it’s best to harvest roots when these properties are most abundant.
Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
Dandelions are not only one of the most common wild medicinal plants found in our backyards, but they’re also one of the most beneficial. The roots in particular are highly nutritious and medicinal.
Dandelions grow just about everywhere in the world and in all types of climates. Ironically, they are most abundant in places where people don’t want them to grow. They thrive in manicured lawns and open sunny places. They thrive in soils that have been disturbed in some way. They’ll even grow right out of cracks in pavement and concrete. This is one tenacious plant.
Dandelion roots are long taproots about the shape and size of a small carrot. If the root breaks when harvesting leaving part of the root in the ground, it will sprout a new plant.
While dandelion root is ideally harvested in the spring or fall, it can be harvested in the summer if the need arises. Use dandelion root fresh or cut up and dried for year-round use. Make it into tinctures, tea or use as a food in soups and stew.
Dandelion root is one of the best herbs to help detox the liver. Our livers are overtaxed due to chemicals in our environment including our food, water, air and household cleaners. It’s important to nourish the liver to help it function optimally.
Dandelion roots contain a beneficial substance called inulin that acts as energy storage in place of starch. It can be seen in tinctures as a white substance settling to the bottom. High inulin content is valuable for the digestive system. It promotes beneficial intestinal microflora, improves bowel function, stabilizes blood sugar as well as helps absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Burdock – Arctium lappa
Burdock root is appreciated both as food and medicine. However, there are some who greatly dislike the plant due to its pesky burs. They stick to clothing and pets and are problematic to remove.
These burs are also what make the plant easy to find and identify. It’s closely related to thistles with the flowers having a similar appearance. The round spikes in full bloom are actually quite beautiful. They are bright green and pink. After the leaves have withered away late in the season, the burs dull in color and remain on the plant.
The plant is biennial, living only two years. The first year the leaves emerge with the flowering stalks appearing the second year. You will want to harvest the taproots later in the first year of growth or very early in the second season. Later the roots become too woody. The roots are extremely long taproots that can be a challenge to dig up.
Similar to dandelion, burdock root is one of the star remedies for the liver. It feeds and nourishes the liver and is an exceptional herb for doing a liver cleanse. It also cleanses the blood and helps to remove impurities from the lymph.
Cleanses the liver and removing impurities from the system helps to keep toxins from releasing through the skin. When toxins eliminate through the skin, various skin imbalances and issues arise such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and boils. Burdock root is one of the finest skin remedies.
Burdock root, in either tea or tincture form is an ideal digestive remedy for several reasons. First, it’s slightly laxative. It is also a bitter herb. Bitter herbs get the digestive juices going from the saliva in the mouth all the way down to increasing bile production. This in turn helps the liver to work more efficiently. Finally, burdock contains inulin similar to dandelion.
The root is a common food in many cultures and goes by many names including gobo in Japan. Eat burdock root just as you would any other type of root vegetable. It is quite high in nutrition.
Yellow Dock – Rumex crispus
Yellow dock is often also called curly dock. The yellow part of its name refers to the yellow color of the roots. Similar to both dandelion and burdock, yellow dock has a long tap root, however the striking color clearly differentiates it. Curly refers to the distinctive wavy edges of the plant’s large, elongated leaves.
This is one of those plants that can be easily identified from afar. When in flower, yellow dock sends up tall, narrow spikes lined with condensed clusters of tiny winged fruits. Later in the season, these fruits turn a rust color making the plant easy to pick out among other, usually shorter plants.
Yellow dock is reputed to be one of the five most widely distributed plants in the world. This is good news for those that want to harvest the plant as medicine. The root can be used fresh or dried and made into a tincture. Since yellow dock is extremely bitter, it is hard to take as a tea unless mixed in as part of an herbal formula.
The bitter properties of the plant make it an excellent digestive remedy. It helps to clear sluggish digestion as a mild laxative for cases of constipation. Yellow dock also helps to clear congestion in the liver and ball bladder. This liver support is helpful for hormonal issues as well.
Most notably, yellow dock nourishes the blood. It contains a form of bio-chelated iron so the body can readily absorb it. This is the most important herb for low iron and conditions related to anemia such as fatigue and low energy. In addition to tinctures, yellow dock can be included in iron-rich soups.
Be sure you know how to positively identify any wild medicinal plants before collecting them. You can reference plant identification guide books, go on plants walks or take a course that includes identification of wild medicinal plants.
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