By Liz Glass
In this edition of Foraging for Noobs, we will be exploring more lawn-dwelling plants, but also some that you can find in forest areas with a little bit of foraging prowess. Whether it be in your lawn or a field near your house, these plants thrive despite the odds set against them. Not to mention, these plants are also easy to identify and harvest. Of course, the benefits to these little buggers will also be discussed.
Clovers, the Almighty Ground Cover
Clovers are a very underrated plant that cascades many lawns with their nice and naturally trimmed look. While a lot of people may just think clover is a quirkier version of grass (which it kind of is?), it’s actually pretty different. Firstly, clover is nitrogen fixing. This means that clover fixes nitrogen levels in the soil, healing the ground and plants within it. In this process, it groups up with good bacteria to transform nitrogen gas that dwells in air pockets within the soil into stable organic compounds that nourishes surrounding plants, essentially bringing balance to the overall ecosystem in the area. Another cool thing about clover is it’s actually packed with nutrients, specifically for livestock. It’s a healthier alternative to many feeds with needless additives and preservatives that may lurk within them. Not only is clover edible for animals, but humans as well. It serves as a great part of a salad.
Another reason why clovers are so mighty is they are very good for pollinators, like the honey bee. Since the flowers that grow from this covering are easily attainable to the pollinators around us, they make for a great plant to keep up the natural cycle of just that – pollination. Clover overall is great for the environment because it houses food, water and shelter for the little insects that do their part in the environment we all live in, as well as earthworms, which nourish the soil. Clover correlates to earthworms because it gives them an array of nutrients, which eventually returns those nutrients into the soil. See the cycle here? It’s quite interesting, and these small but mighty plants and animals are what keep the planet going.
Red Clover, Ground Clover’s Crazy Cousin
There are many types of clover, but the two main types of clover we tend to see most often are ground clover and its whacky counterpart, the red clover. This specific type of clover is medicinal for humans, and you can actually make tea out of it. It tends to grow in places like vast prairies or fields, specifically near corn fields. You can also spot it in forest margins, as well as open forests.
Red clover has taller chutes and bigger, more vibrant flowers on the tops of it. Like ground clover, it is a nitrogen fixer in the soil and a great pollinator plant. The benefits are pretty awesome when it comes to this nifty little plant. Red clover has immense detoxifying properties, known to be one of the best at it in terms of plants. It’s also a great respiratory tonic, a great stopper for colds and bronchitis. Red clover is rich in minerals, like calcium, iron and nitrogen. Another interesting thing about this particular clover is it’s a blood purifier – however, take caution when ingesting this plant, as it can cause heavy bleeding if you just so happen to be a hemophiliac. Apologies in advance to all hemophiliacs.
Red clover also has anti-tumor properties, and tends to be a leading ingredient in formulas specified for treating this ailment.
Harvesting Red Clover
The act of harvesting red clover is very simple. Just pop off the heads of the plant and the top layer of leaves it holds. Once you’re done with that, soaking it in water and cleansing it is always the first step in preparation to putting it in anything you will ingest, this goes for the rest of the plants we will discuss!
After that, though, you can infuse it in hot water for a nice tea. Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. The taste and aroma is a subtle sweet flavor, similar to honey.
Sucker for Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle is an interesting plant. Often seen growing in forests or near train tracks, this is a pretty hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere. The most familiar looking honeysuckle around us would be the amur or morrow honeysuckle, which are a light cream color. However, the most medicinal of them all would be the Japanese honeysuckle. The tradition of honeysuckle is to taste the sweetness hiding within the flower itself, on the bulb of the stem. But you can use this same fun plant for medicinal use. It also helps that this plant is naturally very sweet, in both taste and aroma, so practically nothing needs to be tweaked in order to make this plant taste better. Of course, like most edible plants, you can infuse honeysuckle into a tea, which is good for soothing an upset stomach or a cold. Another cool thing about honeysuckle is that back in circa 659 AD, it was used widely for Chinese medicines. One particular type of treatment with honeysuckle was for snake bites, as it had properties of drawing out the toxins within the body. They called this “hot” toxin, which is bad since it overheats the body. When drawn out, though, it cools the body, returning it to normal temperature. Honeysuckle also has anti-inflammatory properties, and you can rub it on superficial wounds to reduce swelling. Overall, honeysuckle is a pretty basic medicine that can be used for minor things. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a cup of honeysuckle tea every once in a while for a sweet treat.
The marigold plant, specifically the calendula marigold, is a hidden gem of the plant world. It doesn’t get talked about enough for its medicinal benefits or its many uses beyond plant healing. Some things marigold can be used for are dyes for clothing or used in makeup. Marigold is a very vibrant plant – its most notable features are the burst of yellow-orange in its flower head, a big bulbous bloom to behold.
This plant’s history goes back thousands of years. It was commonly used in Egypt – said to have originated in Egypt – and eventually traveled to Ancient Greece, Arabia and Rome. It was and still is used for things such as eczema, insect bites and stings, minor wounds, itches or burns, even hemorrhoids. Pretty whacky.
The marigold is believed to provide quite a bit of growth in terms of new skin tissue when used as a treatment for such skin disorders. It boosts the collagen within the skin, and increases blood flow to the area. It also is a good hydratant for the skin. Marigold is also a great anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. The main compounds within the plant are the triterpenoids, which are known to be the most important anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling components.
Ear relief is another great benefit that comes with the marigold. Using it as an extract is known to treat bacterial infections within the ear, thus providing ear pain relief, and research suggests that symptoms may subside within just a couple days during regular use. Marigold is said to work wonders with menstrual cramps, as well. Drinking marigold tea 1-3 times a day will do the trick in alleviating symptoms.
Marigold is amazing for sore throats, gingivitis, tonsillitis as well as mouth ulcers. Gargling with marigold tea helps to soothe the mucus membranes of the throat whilst easing the pain. A great recipe for a cold relief tea!
Milk Thistle, The Underrated Plant
Milk thistle is another really cool plant I don’t see many people discussing, well, anywhere. Milk thistle is the best of both worlds: it’s not only amazing for pollinators, but the benefits it houses are wondrous for humans. Like marigold, for thousands of years people have reaped the benefits of this interesting little plant. It has been regularly used in diet, and its medicinal qualities are quite fascinating. For example, milk thistle works very well at cleansing the liver, so it’s good for people who struggle or have struggled with alcoholism or even liver disease. It is also a good tonic and helps with digestion, along with treating things such as gallbladder diseases, cirrhosis, poisoning (including mushroom poisoning), hepatitis and jaundice.
Milk thistle’s habitat varies. It grows in dry and rocky soils and can grow in sunny or lightly shaded areas. It also likes waste places in many areas around the world – basically look for milk thistle in unproductive or barren places, and you will eventually spot it. To spot milk thistle is fairly simple – it has a big flower head with long, spindly stems. It can grow up to a meter tall, and the flower head is purple in color. The stems are shaped similar to a lance, with leaves on either side of it, usually in pairs. Be mindful when foraging, however – there are spikes that go all down the stem, and the leaves tend to be a bit prickly, as well. All of the milk thistle can be eaten, down to the roots. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and cooking the leaves down is similar to spinach – a great alternative. Another cool factoid is that, when roasted, the thistle seeds can be used as a coffee substitute. I find this pretty cool considering I have never heard of any plant being a coffee substitute other than this one!
The planet never keeps on giving, truly. You can always find something interesting, whether it be to ingest or prepare medicinally. Mother Earth is truly a wonderful thing. So long as we respect her, she will continue to give to us. As always, be mindful in your foraging travels, and take only what you need, and mind your step – trampling your plant friends is best to avoid!