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Wonder Weeds

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Weeds are the colourful "wildflowers" growing along roadsides and in our parks and recreational areas, or those bothersome, unwanted plants that overrun our gardens each spring

Weeds are the colourful "wildflowers" growing along roadsides and in our parks and recreational areas, or those bothersome, unwanted plants that overrun our gardens each spring. Perhaps it's time to stop viewing them as something to toss onto the compost heap and start giving them more than just a passing glance.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), a perennial with attractive reddish-purple flowering spikes, is used as a tea or tincture made from the dried flowering tops. Its astringent, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antispasmodic actions make it suitable for treating diarrhea, bacterial or amoebic dysentery and enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine). As a vaginal douche, it can treat bacterial vaginosis. It is also an effective eyewash for conjunctivitis and a gargle for sore throats. A topical salve prepared from the leaves will help to clean and heal skin ulcers and sores.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is a tall perennial with bright pinkish-purple flowers. It is abundant in marshes and meadows, along roadsides and in any logged, forested or burned areas. A standard infusion of the dried flowers and stems is a safe, pleasant-tasting tea (though somewhat bland) that can be taken in fair quantity. Stems can be peeled and added to salads flowers too. Fireweed is a gentle, effective anti-inflammatory herb for mouth, throat, stomach and intestinal inflammation and can help piles and hemorrhoid flare-ups caused by spicy foods or food that causes hypersensitivity. The tea can also be used for douches, enemas and infant washes to reduce inflammation of tender areas and minor swelling.

Canadian fleabane (Conyza canadensis, Erigeron canadensis) is widespread in urban areas and in cultivated fields and pastures. Commonly known as horseweed, the plant has a slender, erect stem with long, thin leaves and yellow flowers. The whole plant, including the roots, is harvested, dried and stored in whole form in order to preserve the essential oils that are the major therapeutics. Canadian fleabane is best known for sub-acute, chronic congestive conditions. A standard infusion, usually one to two tablespoons (15 to 30 millilitres/one-half to one ounce) daily of the herb is sufficient for hay fever, excess bronchial secretions, diarrhea, profuse sweating and hemorrhoids that may bleed slightly but are not painful.

Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) grows abundantly in vacant lots and along roadsides and driveways, often where the soil has been trampled or compacted. A close relative of camomile, this short annual herb, sometimes called wild camomile, has bushy stems, feathery leaves and yellow conical flowers with no white ray florets. A tea, standard infusion or steeped oil can be prepared as needed from the whole dried plant. When used topically, both the tea and the oil act as a mild but effective anti-inflammatory. Topical application relaxes the tissues, diminishes tension and pressure on the sensory nerves in the skin and will generally protect any inflamed areas from further irritation. The tea is mildly relaxing and safe for children with stomach aches, gas pains and teething discomfort, and it helps adults with non-specific gastric pain and abdominal irritability.

As herbal medicine continues to gain acceptance, collecting and processing plants will help to protect our more precious medicinal herbs from overharvesting, thus sustaining them for future generations to use and enjoy.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a low-growing, succulent annual with red-green stems and branches that has been used for centuries as food and medicine in Greece, the Middle East, India, China and Africa.

Research at the University of Saskatoon confirms that purslane contains high levels of linoleic acid and antioxidant levels that are at least two times higher than equal serving sizes of commercial cranberry and grapeseed extracts. Dried purslane has about five times more vitamin E than spinach. It is also rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C and glutathione as well as the minerals phosphorus, zinc, silicon, manganese and copper.

Purslane is a diuretic, making it an effective treatment for edema or swelling associated with hypertension or congestive heart failure. It is also anthelminic (anti-parasitic), cathartic (promotes bowel evacuation), anti-thrombotic (muscle relaxant), hypolipidemic (promotes normal lipid metabolism) and hypotensive (promotes normal blood pressure). A soothing skin emollient with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, it is an excellent topical treatment for wounds, boils and burns. Purlsane is also used to treat arthritis, headaches, shortness of breath and fevers.

Source: Elsie Belcheff

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