With so many medicinal plants available with the push of a button and so many herbal resources highlighting the role herbs can play in supporting wellness, it is often easy to become overwhelmed with the possibilities for your home herbal apothecary.
Here at the Herbal Academy, we offer educational materials on hundreds of herbs to support our students on their learning journey. Even with this resource and a multitude of herbs at our fingertips, we deeply value the education and support we get from the most humble of plants — those growing without fuss or notice in our backyards, along waysides, at the edges of farm fields, and pretty much anywhere they can establish a foothold.
We’ve been exploring and celebrating these widely available yet underappreciated plants this summer on our blog with our Creating a Local Materia Medica series, and feel that these plants deserve their time in the sun, so to speak! Let’s dive in and learn about the edible and medicinal uses of three common wild plants - violet, plantain, and yellow dock.
Are you also interested in plant botany? You can find botanical descriptions of violet, plantain, and yellow dock, as well as more information about their medicinal use, in the Creating a Local Materia Medica series over on the Herbal Academy blog!
Local First Aid
Violet (Viola spp.), plantain (Plantago spp.), and yellow dock (Rumex crispus) are all valuable as go-to first aid plants for cuts, scrapes, wounds, stings, burns, and bites. Since first aid situations often arise when you are out and about gardening, playing in the yard, farming, exercising, hiking, and camping, these local herbal remedies are often in the right place at the right time.
Plantain is Nature’s First Aid Plant
Plantain is an exceptional vulnerary, or wound healer. It is a demulcent, soothing and cooling tissues and mucous membranes throughout the body due to its mucilage, which provides welcome relief to hot, irritated tissues.
Plantain is also analgesic, astringent, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory, helping to relieve pain, tone tissues, staunch bleeding, fight infection, soothe inflammation, and relieve itching. Plantain is an antidote to poisonous bites and stings, and helps to draw splinters as well as venom from the skin.
Violet Soothes and Cools
Like plantain, violet is a cooling, mucilagenous plant that can provide soothing relief to the irritation and inflammation associated with a skin wound or angry stings. As an analgesic, it also relieves the associated pain.
With both plantain and violet, a quick poultice can be quite effective. To make a poultice, either chew up a leaf and apply the maceration directly to the wound, or mash up the leaf in a mortar and pestle with a bit of water and then apply. Reapply a fresh poultice as needed to provide continued relief until no longer needed.
An infused oil or salve require a bit more preparation, but a small tin of salve in your back pocket is a convenient option. You can use the stove top or oven method in this tutorial to make an infused oil with fresh plantain and/or violet leaves, and then use the directions in this tutorial to make that infused oil into an easy-to-transport salve.
Yellow Dock Relieves Stings!
The petiole of each yellow dock leaf is a papery sheath called the ocrea which holds a slimy mucilage that acts as a lubricant to keep new leaves from tearing as they emerge – and in a pinch it can provide soothing relief from stings and bites. 1, 2 It is surprisingly effective on the persistant pain of a nettle sting. Dock leaves can also be rubbed on insect and nettle stings to provide relief.
Violet, plantain, and yellow dock are all edible - the flowers of violet are pure delight, and the leaves of all three can be used in various ways. The young leaves are preferred as they are the most tender and mild tasting.
Violet flowers and young leaves can be enjoyed in drinks, soups, salads, and pestos.
1. The leaves and flowers make a nourishing violet infusion for drinking,
2. The leaves can be included in comforting and savory violet leaf soup, and
3. The leaves can be made into an energizing violet green juice.
Plantain leaves having a strong taste and a slight bitterness, but young leaves can be enjoyed:
1. Chopped up in a salad,
2. In an energizing, phytochemical-rich green juice like described above for violet, and
3. As an addition to green smoothies.
More mature plantain leaves can be steamed as a cooked green, but are made more palatable by removing the leaf fibers first. The ripe seeds can be chewed right from the stalk!
The newly unfurled leaves of yellow dock are a nutritious green with a sour and slightly bitter taste. They can be used:
1. As wild greens in salads or on sandwiches,
2. As a nutritive green in soups, similar to French sorrel, and
3. With herbs and other greens in pesto.
For the mildest and tastiest leaves, look for the smaller, freshly emerged leaves by identifying two faint pale green vertical lines running down each side of the leaf - these remain for a short time after the leaves uncurl. The ocrea will also be greenish white and soft, not yet drying to brown.
The sour taste of dock leaves comes from their ascorbic acid (vitamin C) content, which metabolizes to oxalic acid (also found in rhubarb stems and spinach). While oxalic acids should be avoided by anyone prone to kidney stones or gout, they are fine in moderation.
Gather only young dock leaves, as oxalic acid content increases as they mature, and if desired blanch dock greens for a minute or two in boiling water and dispose of the water to remove the soluble oxalic acid.
Local Herbal Allies
Thanks to their resilience, wild herbs are available to all of us. At the Herbal Academy we encourage budding and experienced herbalists alike to take a look around your own backyard and get to know the plant allies that grow there. With a new perspective, you will recognize that the plants deemed as weeds are in fact effective local herbal remedies that are useful additions to your apothecary - and your plate!
Learn more about the Herbal Academy international school of herbal arts and sciences and the school’s online herbal training programs at The Herbal Academy.
1. Thayer, Samuel. (2010). Nature’s garden: A guide to identifying, harvesting, and preparing edible wild plants.
2. Drum, Ryan. (n.d.). Rumex crispus.
3. Blair, Katrina. (2014). The wild wisdom of weeds: 13 essential plants for human survival.
4. Pedersen, Mark. (2012). Nutritional herbology.
5. Eat That Weed! (n.d.) Some notes on oxalic acid for foragers.
Jane Cookman Metzger is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, home of the online Introductory Herbal Course and Intermediate Herbal Course. HANE recently released its affordable membership program, fittingly called The Herbarium, featuring one of the most complete plant monograph databases to date.
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