Spring is here at last, which means the best time of the year for wildcrafting is just around the corner. To get you ready, let’s take a look at the top 10 easiest herbs to wildcraft. Several of them are probably growing happily in your yard right now!
You’re likely familiar with blackberries from the grocery store already, but wild blackberries are fairly common too. At our old house, a row of wild blackberries grew just down the street. No one in the whole neighborhood wanted them! I miss those blackberries.
The great thing about blackberry bushes is that you don’t have to wait for the berries to ripen to harness their medicinal powers. Blackberry leaves are a traditional remedy for diarrhea, especially gentle and helpful for children. Simply make a tea with freshly picked blackberry leaves or dry the leaves for use all year.
Because they’re full of vitamins and minerals, young blackberry leaves make a great spring tonic as well. Wear heavy gloves any time you harvest blackberry leaves or fruit – they are full of thorns!
Ah, dandelions – the bane of so many homeowners who spray them with toxic chemicals year after year. All dandelions really want is to share their happy yellow blossoms and add some health to our lives.
Probably the absolutely, hands-down easiest herb to wildcraft, dandelions are one of the best liver cleansers out there. A tincture made from the leaves and root (best dug in late fall) will improve digestion and strengthen the liver and gallbladder.
Dandelion acts as a diuretic while it strengthens the entire urinary system. It can also help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and relieve the pain of arthritic joints.
There isn’t much that dandelion can’t do! The young leaves make excellent additions to spring salads, and the cheerful flowers can be lightly fried in butter for a delicious snack. Best of all, dandelion just keeps growing and growing and growing no matter how many times you pick or mow it.
With their distinctive, sharp fragrance, juniper berries always remind me of Christmastime. Their essential oil is part of my go-to diffuser blend, along with cedar and spruce for the Christmas season.
Juniper is a somewhat low-growing shrub, often planted as an ornamental but also found growing wild on hillsides and in dry woodlands.
Juniper has excellent germ killing properties. When you’re exposed to a contagious disease (cold, flu, etc.), chewing the ripe, purple berries can kill the germ before it has a chance to take hold. A strong infusion (tea) can also be used as a room spray to kill germs, or you can diffuse the essential oil for a more potent and longer-lasting effect.
This striking plant isn’t nearly as abundant as dandelion or plantain, but once you start paying attention, I think you’ll be surprised how often you see it. Mullein is unmistakable with its six-foot height and spike of beautiful yellow flowers, making it one of the easiest herbs to wildcraft. We’ve found mullein growing along roadsides and even in the waste areas near a local scrapyard. (We didn’t harvest the ones near the scrapyard!)
A mullein flower-infused oil makes one of the best remedies for earache, especially when combined with garlic-infused oil. The flowers are best harvested before the entire spike has bloomed – like shown in the photo below.
Mullein leaves are incredibly soft – almost like a piece of soft suede fabric, only fuzzy instead of smooth. Honestly, they’re the softest leaves I’ve ever felt. If you’re ever lost in the woods, it might be helpful to know that mullein leaves can comfortably be used in place of toilet paper.
Or while you’re safely at home, use the leaves to make a tea instead. Mullein tea is helpful for relieving dry coughs and laryngitis.
Next to dandelion, plantain may be the most abundant medicinal herb in America. I’d almost bet money that if your yard is bigger than a postage stamp, you’ve got plantain growing in it. This plant is easy to identify from the seed heads it sends up, which a lot of us used to “pop” at each other when we were kids.
Plantain is an evergreen plant – it’s growth stops in the winter months, but the leaves remain green and retain all of their medicinal abilities. Any time someone is stung by a bee or bitten by any insect, plantain is the remedy of choice. Simply crush the fresh leaves by chewing or rubbing them between the fingers and apply the “mash” to the sting. The plantain helps draw out the poison – and, with it, the pain – almost immediately.
Plantain also makes a great cough syrup when combined with mullein, red clover, or cherry bark. Learn more about wildcrafting plantain here.
I love all medicinal plants, but the flowering varieties make me the happiest. Red clover, which looks more purple than red, is extremely common in yards and roadsides. If you delay in mowing the grass like we do – cough cough – red clover will almost surely pop up all over your yard.
This lovely flower is a gentle and reliable alterative, which means that it helps the body to better digest food and eliminate waste, thereby increasing health over time. For this use, it’s best to take red clover tea or tincture for several months to give it plenty of time to do its work. Red clover is gentle enough for children to take daily as well.
Here is another sweet, dear flower that brings joy to your yard and gives your little ones something beautiful to bring Mommy & Daddy all summer long. (Am I waxing poetic? Sorry.)
Self heal is quite abundant in our yard and probably in yours too. In areas that are frequently mowed, they’re a low-growing flower with blooms barely rising above the ground. They’re easy to distinguish with their tiny, “open mouth” petals.
Interestingly, this shape is a clue to self heal’s ability to treat sores in the mouth and throat. A tea made from the freshly-picked blossoms is excellent for this purpose and for helping to stimulate the immune system against viruses and bacteria.
My favorite use for self heal is as a flower essence. Made from the blossoms and pure water, self heal flower essence helps give direction and motivation when I’m not sure what to do. On those days when I just feel like lying around doing nothing, self heal helps bring my “oomph” back.
My favorite tree has always been a weeping willow. Those long graceful branches are perfect for having a picnic or just lying in the dappled sunshine.
Unfortunately, weeping willow has practically no medicinal qualities. All of its cousins do, though! White willow, black willow, crack willow, even pussy willow.
You’re probably already familiar with the compound derived from willow bark, salicylic acid – the origin of aspirin. As you might guess, the high levels of this compound make willow bark a first-rate pain reliever.
A tincture made from the peeled bark is helpful for minor aches and pains. I’ve been using it for several months whenever I feel a headache coming on, but sadly, willow bark doesn’t work for me once a headache has gotten very bad.
Willow bark should be harvested either in the fall when the leaves are changing color or in the early spring when the leaves are just beginning to appear.
Miraculous yarrow repels bugs, including those awful mosquitoes, and stops bleeding almost instantly. If you’re going to learn to recognize and harvest one medicinal herb, make it yarrow!
The leaves are feathery, almost fern-like, and the flower heads are actually clusters of numerous white flowers with yellow centers. Yarrow is easily confused with Queen Anne’s lace, which is about the same height with white flower heads of the same size. Queen Anne’s lace lacks the yellow centers, though, and often has a single black “flower” near the center.
When applied to a bleeding wound, yarrow will stop the bleeding and actually prevent infection. I once read a story of someone being injured while out hiking and packing the wound with yarrow leaves to stop the bleeding while they made their way to the emergency room. In the ER, the doctor commented on how clean the wound was and how amazed he was that yarrow had stopped bleeding from such a deep wound.
(In case it isn’t clear, yarrow is not a substitute for emergency medical care for major wounds! Use it to stop the bleeding and then visit a medical professional.)
Very high in iron, yellow dock root is considered one of the best blood builders and liver cleaners that the herbal world has to offer. Whenever a person has excessively oily skin with accompanying pimples and sebaceous cysts, yellow dock is the perfect choice. It will cleanse and strengthen the liver, which will then be able to better clear wastes from the blood – so that the wastes will no longer need to be pushed out through the skin.
Yellow dock is as common in most yards as plantain. It may even be as abundant as dandelion. Its leaves are broad and can reach over 12 inches in length and more than four inches in width if they’re not mowed down. The root, which is yellow when sliced, it used medicinally. It can be made into a decoction or tincture. Roots are best dug in the fall when the leaves begin to die back.
We are very blessed to be surrounded by so many medicinal plants – just waiting there to be put to use for our good health. You may have spent your entire life overlooking these little neighbors or even thinking of them as annoying weeds. Thankfully, it’s never too late to learn to appreciate and enjoy these 10 easiest herbs to wildcraft. Step outside and discover something new today.
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Bruton-Seal, Julie and Matthew Seal. Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.
Christopher, John R., Dr. School of Natural Healing. Christopher Publications, Inc., 2014.
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual. Crossing Press, 2000.
This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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