urban forage notes: plantain and dandelion

This past Sunday I attended my second forage with herbalist, permaculturalist, and community builder Nance Klehm. While we discussed more than two dozen plants, I wanted to share two of the most useful and easiest to identify: plantain and dandelion. I’ll share a few more as the weeks go on, that is if my notes don’t get buried amidst wrinkling laundry, evolving to-do lists, and tottering wooden blocks.

  1. Plantain
    You probably have this growing in your yard or at least on the sidewalk down the street. Go check… seriously. Go find it and grab a leaf. Then come back and do an experiment with me.Didja find one? Now, put it in your mouth and chew it up, but don’t swallow it. Pretend you’re chewing gum. When you’re sure no one’s looking, spit the whole mess out onto your inner arm. And leave it there. We’ll come back to it in a few minutes.Meanwhile, I want to  talk about the secret power the plantain seeds possess. Let’s say you your friend had overinduldged a bit and was now having trouble with ….er…. elimination. If you wanted to help “your friend,” you could go out to your yard and pick a few of the seed pod stems. Choose ones that are brown and dry. Rub the pods between your palms to release the seeds- you might want to do this over a table in order to catch all the seeds. Once you’ve collected about a tablespoon of seeds, put them in a clean quart jar and fill the jar up with cold water. Let it sit overnight or 6-8 hours. The water will thicken slightly. The next morning, you can either drink the water straight, mix it with juice, or use it to make your oatmeal. The seeds release a gentle laxative into the water that’s safe for children and even pets. This simple, gentle, and effective medicine will enable “your friend” to get back to … regular life.Bring your attention back to the wad of plantain leaf on your arm. Do you feel anything? Pick it up and move it a couple inches.  As the compounds in the leaf mix with your saliva, it turns ice cold. You can use this plant to draw out the pain from bites, stings, and burns. This means it relieves the fire ant bites you southerners are cursed with every summer. Perhaps my people at City Roots can start a new farm fashion of plantain “tattoos” on their arms and legs? This also works with poisin ivy and poisin oak rashes. If you have just a small rash, you can use the same “chew and spit” method as for bites. However, if you need a larger area of your body covered, you will want to pick a bowlful of leaves and whiz them up in a blender with some water to make a paste. You can add some oatmeal for extra relief. Spread it over your rash like you would an over-the-counter cream. You can do this as many times a day as needed.*Do be aware of your body while doing this. As I said, this plant turns ice cold, so covering large portions of your body in it could give you the chills. Follow your body’s lead and rinse it off when it’s had enough.*
  2. Dandelion
    I’ve personally never shared the lawn owner’s hatred of dandelions. When I walked home from work, I always loved discovering their sunny flowers amidst a dessert of concrete. And I must admit that I still feel a magical twinge when I find a completely rotund puffy flower and blow all the seeds into the air.So it is with smirking delight that I’ve learned of the dandelion’s myriad uses.Every part of this plant is useful in some way- from the yellow bloom all the way down to the long taproot. The crunchier ones among us are probably familiar with the pleasant bitterness the leaves add to “mixed green” salad bags. If you think they’re delicious in your bagged salad, imagine how much better they’d taste with a heaping side of self accomplishment if you foraged them yourself. In addition to tasty-ness, the leaves also are high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are minerals most people are deficient in.  Not only that, but they are a diuretic; they will help you pee more and thus flush toxins out of your body. However, unlike plain water, dandelions replace the potassium that’s often lost when you go a lot. Therefore a dandelion salad is a great hangover food.The roots can be chopped, roasted, and brewed as a tea. Though roasting is optional, I highly suggest doing so as it not only increases flavor, but fills your kitchen with an aroma that’s similar to what would happen if you brewed a pot of strong coffee as you pulled sugar cookies out of the oven. The tea tastes like the earth- deep and loamy with a bitterness reminiscent of a good cup of coffee. While it might sound off putting, everyone I’ve seen try it takes a small sip and then several big gulps. Even Babytidian likes it. The roots have similar properties to the leaves- high mineral content, diuretic, ect. It’s also a blood stimulant, which means it’s good to drink anytime you’ve lost a lot of blood such as post surgery, childbirth, or after your period. Like the leaves, it’s a good drink for Monday morning ailments after a weekend of overindulgence.The yellow blossoms are also useful. While you can make great flower chains out of them to decorate your tree house, they also have slightly more adult uses. During a big bloom (normally in the spring), you can gather 300-400 of the blossoms and make dandelion wine or mead. If none of the other dandelion uses have convinced you to overcome your hatred of these weeds, one sip of this elixir will. Promise

And the poofy white seed heads? What’re they good for?  Why, for making more dandelions of course!

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Posted in Uncategorized 11 years, 7 months ago at 7:57 pm.

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