Having never worked on a farm in such a rainy and temperate climate, I was amazed at the amount of weeds the earth could produce in just a matter of days! Between the cultivated vegetables, our farms are overflowing with chickweed, dandelion, sheep sorrel, horsetail, self seeded strawberries, lettuce and cilantro. These weeds are simply wild plants that were not cultivated by farmers, and often compete – and outcompete the plants we grow to sell. And while weeds may not be what we want to send to market, their medicinal benefits are numerous and the lessons they can teach us are invaluable.
Horsetail is notorious at Fresh Roots for its tenacious root system and its ability to reproduce beneath the soil. These tall, hollow stalks are ringed with spindly long leaves and are connected underground via a long root called the rhizome. The rhizome produces new shoots that grow upwards towards the light. While above ground, a patch of horsetail appears to be a collection of individual plants, each with their own root system – below ground we see that they are all connected. If you only remove the visible shoots while weeding a patch of horsetail, it will continue to grow and thrive, a plant hydra that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Earlier this summer, folks from the Vancouver Telus branch came out to the Van Tech Farm to work as part of their ‘Days of Giving’ campaign. My team tackled the horsetail with vigor, working together to dig up the rhizome and remove the weed from our farm. From a farmer’s perspective, the horsetail is a beast. From an evolutionary standpoint it is pure genius. The beauty of the horsetail reflects the beauty of my time working with Fresh Roots. The collaboration between players is what makes us stronger – it is the rhizome that connects us and promotes both innovation and creativity. I’ve learned that it is impossible to plan a strong lesson or run a good field trip alone, and that working with my Experiential Learning team fosters the same synergy that we see with the horsetail – we thrive together. Our weedy beds are certainly a labour of love, but if we listen to what the plants are trying to teach, we too will learn their lessons.
Horsetail is an antioxidant, anti inflammatory and antimicrobial. It is high in silica, an essential mineral for human health, and helps promote the growth of healthy bones and connective tissues such as collagen. Silica declines with age, so it is important to maintain the body’s silica levels to support strong bones, hair and fingernails. Topically, horsetail salve can be used to treat burns and wounds.
Red clover flowers are sweet to eat fresh and can also be dried for tea. As a topical treatment, red clover soothes eczema, sores and burns due to its anti-inflammatory compounds – eugenol, myricetin and salicylic acid. Red clover is a blood thinner, and its concentration of phytoestrogens daidzein and genistein mimic estrogen in the body. For this reason, red clover can alleviate menopause related discomfort such as hot flashes.
Chickweed is a small leafed viney ground cover that is delicious in salads. Taken orally, chickweed can remedy a variety of conditions including asthma, blood disorders, conjunctivitis, constipation, inflammation, and other skin ailments. It also aids in digestion. Topically, chickweed salve can treat rashes and sores.
The entire Dandelion plant can be used medicinally. The long taproot is dried and ground as a coffee replacement and natural diuretic. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw (dandelion and lettuce are in the same plant family) and due to its richness in Zinc and Magnesium, the plant promotes detoxification and healthy skin.
Sheep sorrel is a tangy tasting groundcover with thick, arrow-shaped, tender but flavourful leaves. It tastes delicious in salads, or on its own – the kids refer to it as nature’s sour candy! Sheep sorrel is rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, B and beta-carotene. Popularized by Rene Caisse’s cancer curing Essiac tea, Sheep Sorrel has the ability to destroy cancer cells in the body and inhibit metastasis (the spreading of cancer cells outward from the tumour site). Sheep sorrel is a blood purifier, aiding in the disposal of dead tissues within the body.
Keep your eyes peeled for these weeds growing at Fresh Roots Farms and around Vancouver and make use of their medicinal benefits!