By Liz Glass
Plants are power, and truly a mighty source of nutrition and medicine. Within this installment of Foraging for Noobs we will be discussing the benefits of small but impressive plants that are actually right under our noses, and not to mention fairly easy to gather – which is good when you’re an apprentice forager.
To start off, we will be talking about the dandelion and how to reap the benefits of this amazing little plant we mow over with our lawnmowers every day.
Dandy Dandelions: Medicinal and Nutritious!
Dandelions are dismissed as a pretty but stubborn weed. But what dandelions can be used for is astounding. Foraging them is extremely easy – you can pop off the heads of the dandelion and roast them for a tea, or just take the whole dandelion – doesn’t really matter. Every part of the dandelion is edible and the leaves are nutritious, containing vitamins A, K and C, as well as folate, calcium and potassium. Some researchers claim these benefits within the dandelion greens outweigh the benefits of even kale or spinach.
Dandelions as a whole can prevent free radicals (aging agents within the body, essentially) and they also reduce inflammation. Blood pressure is another thing dandelions can manage for the body, as well as reduce blood sugar. A cool thing about this is dandelions can be used to control some symptoms of Type-2 Diabetes. Let’s not forget the immense benefits the dandelions have on the heart – they drastically lower cholesterol, which prevents heart disease. Really, putting together all the good things that dandelions do for the body in terms of blood – it becomes a no-brainer as to why they are so beneficial to humans, but specifically the heart. It is the organ which pumps the blood through us every second of every day. Having stable levels of cholesterol, inflammation, and blood pressure does a body good.
Dandelions: Foraging and Prepping
Foraging these little dudes is very simple, because all of the plant is edible as stated previously. The greens are similar to arugula, but with more of a bitter kick. As always, though, take only what you need and never take too much. You can take clippings of the greens, or occasionally pull the whole dandelion out for its roots, which can be washed and used in a dandelion root tea. Of course, always make sure to wash whatever you harvest. Roots are good in tea, the greens in salad, and the flowers also good for a salad or tea, in some cases even a dandelion wine. The ways to use dandelions doesn’t stop at eating them, though. You can use the flower portion of them as a salve to heal wounds. You do this by infusing the flowers into olive oil or vinegar.
Magnolia Petals and Their Edibility
Magnolia trees are spread all over our area in Godfrey and Alton. They are beautiful trees that blossom their petals first, but these tend to fall very quickly and dry up on the ground just as fast. However, the petals that fall can be collected and eaten. Keep in mind, though, that the taste of these petals may not be for everyone. The taste resembles a very strong, ginger-like bite, mixed with cardamom. The age of the petals also impacts the taste. Some magnolia petals may be more bitter and pack more of a punch than other trees in bloom. A good way to see which flavor is best for you is these simple notes: petals that are a deeper shade of pink tend to be the most bitter with the most ginger-y taste. The lighter pink petals with white sprawling out will be the ginger and cardamom mix of flavors. The almost all white ones, though, will probably have the most favorable taste. These are said to have a lemony flavor with less bitterness. These are the most subtle in flavor, and also have a floral taste.
Drying the petals might slightly change the flavor, but not too much. The stronger flavors on the most dark pink petals tend to be fairly stable.
Another interesting thing about magnolia petals is that they are said to be quite popular in Chinese medicine. The fuzzy flower buds of M. biondii (located in high mountains in Asia) are decocted* for congestion and the bark of M. acuminata (located in the eastern United States and some parts of Canada) is used in decoctions for fever.
*Decocted: extract essence from something by heating or boiling it
Magnolia Petal Preparation
Magnolia petals themselves are edible as we have stated. But only the petals! Do not attempt to eat the rest of the blossom. There is also more than one species of magnolia tree out there, so double check when you do forage for magnolia petals. While they aren’t lethal when eaten, some people may find they have allergies towards them. It is good to make sure you are not allergic to anything you harvest!
Preparing magnolias is simple. Once collected, you can wash and soak them in water for about ten minutes. After that, spreading them out on something such as a baking sheet with parchment paper underneath is ideal when you go to dry the petals out. These petals can be put in tea or used in salads just like the dandelion.
Purple Dead Nettle and Ground Ivy
Purple dead nettle and ground ivy are kind of similar if you don’t know what you’re looking at. With that said, this is why I am pairing them together for this next bit. They both have purple interlaced through them, such as on their leaves and a little bit in their stems. But the difference between the purple dead nettle and ground ivy, otherwise known as “creeping charlie” or Henbit, is an array of simple things.
Upon closer inspection and having both of them in either hand, they really do look different from each other. But let’s say you don’t know which one is which. Well, here’s some identification tips!
Purple dead nettle is going to have leaves that are a deeper, plumlike purple shade on the flowering buds and leaves – specifically the top layer of leaves, whereas ground ivy has a more vibrant and lighter purple color to its flowers, but not on the leaves. Purple dead nettle also has a fuzzy appearance when you get down to eye level with it. Ground ivy has these circular, more scalloped leaf edges than purple dead nettle. The dead nettle has a square shaped stem, and the leaves come to more of a direct point than ground ivy. Another way to know whether you have ground ivy or dead nettle is the height of which they both grow. Ground ivy grows way higher than dead nettle, the flowering stems and blooms can reach to approximately one foot. But dead nettle tends to stay close to the ground.
One interesting thing about ground ivy is that it’s totally invasive, so you can pretty much pick however much of it you want. Purple dead nettle is not. In fact, this plant is one of the first that bees go to in order to pollinate for the new spring. So, again – take only what you need in terms of this, and leave the rest for the bees!
The Benefits of Ground Ivy and Purple Dead Nettle
The benefits are immense when it comes to purple dead nettle, to start off. Purple dead nettle is astringent*, diuretic*, diaphoretic* and a natural laxative. It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antifungal. So you can see the benefits of this small but mighty plant that grows everywhere around us! Purple dead nettle can be used as an infusion or put into tea.
*Astringent: causes contraction of the skin cells and other body tissues; reduces bleeding from minor abrasions
*Diuretic: induces urination
*Diaphoretic: induces sweating; perspiration
It can also be used as a medicinal salve. It’s good for the kidneys and relieves seasonal allergies! However, keep in mind that, as stated previously, it is a natural laxative. So…don’t ingest too much of this plant, or this effect will become…evident.
Ground ivy is heavily medicinal. Get ready, because there’s quite a bit to say about this magnificent plant. Ground ivy is mild expectorant*, anti-catarrhal*, vulnerary*, diuretic and an astringent. Yeah, this plant is pretty magnificent. Ground ivy is also part of the mint family, so when cooked it emits a minty, sage-like aroma. It can be used in anything from soups to salads, and the leaves cook down similar to spinach. It is also a great remedy to nettle stings (not purple dead nettle, this nettle does not sting you). Simply rub it together and it will create a juice from its leaves to apply to a sting or even mild wound. Ground ivy also helps with headaches due to its anti-catarrhal properties. This can also tie in with its ability to drain the lymphatic system. This is where the diuretic portion comes in, because the excess fluid from the lymphatic system has to go somewhere. Draining the lymph nodes within the body is beneficial because it helps rid of the stuffy feeling we sometimes get when we have allergies, a mild cold, or overall just a buildup of toxins in the body over time that we get.
*Mild expectorant: type of medicine to relieve coughs and clear mucus in passageways of the lungs, bronchi and trachea
*Anti-catarrhal: helps remove excess mucus from the body, mainly used in ear, nose and throat infections
*Vulnerary: used in healing or treating wounds; a kind of panacea
Overall, there’s a good bit to learn about these ‘weeds’ that we give no extra thought about in our everyday lives. So, if you are looking for easy plants to work your foraging hands, these would be a very good start. The blossoming hobby of foraging is an amazing journey to take. There is always something new to find or learn when going out into the plant world. Remember to always do your adequate research, and stay safe. Happy foraging!