2 well-known wild plants that you might consider as “weeds” but are actually very healthy

 

If you live in the northern hemisphere, you might have realized that now the weeds, or wild plants, are everywhere – especially in your backyard! I know many people are annoyed by them, but actually some of them are not only edible but also super healthy!

Today, I would like to tell you about two of the most well-known and widespread wild plants: dandelion and stinging nettle.

Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will be convinced that instead of removing them and throwing them away, you could eat them 🙂

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions are consumed as leafy greens in many parts of the world, where they are also used in phytotherapy in traditional medicine. Dandelions contain many potent phytochemicals, whose biological and therapeutic properties have been subject of scientific research in the last years. Researchers have been concluding that dandelions have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, which in turn benefits many body systems [1, 2].

The whole dandelion plant is edible, meaning the root, the leaves and the flowers. Dandelion leaves can be added to salads, soups, sauces, juiced, dried (together with the flowers) to make dandelion tea, etc. The root is often powdered for use as a coffee substitute or used in teas.

I know “this weed” is often taken out from vegetable gardens. I not only don’t remove it, but I actually plant it in my vegetable garden! Sometimes I take the seeds from dandelion plants I find in the fields and plant them in specific places in the garden. There is a very good reason for doing that: dandelions are packed with many nutrients and disease-fighting compounds [1, 2].

They are rich in beta-carotene and other flavonoids (e.g., lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin), vitamin K1, folic acid and other B vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, minerals (magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, iron), fiber [2]. The bitter taste of dandelions is due to phytochemicals called sesquiterpenes, which are suggested to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects [1, 2].

Many scientific studies have studied the dandelion plant and have found they hold many potential therapeutic properties:

–          potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties attributed to its high phenolic content [3,4]

–          protects the liver and might help in liver diseases, including alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease [5,6]

–          anti-carcinogenic properties – studies show that a dandelion root extract might induce apoptosis (cell death) of several types of human cancer cells, such as leukemia, melanoma, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer cells while it does not seem to affect healthy cells [7-11]. Dandelion leaves and flower extract seem to also decrease the growth and invasion of breast and prostate cancer cells [12].

–          Improving cholesterol [13] (both the leaf and the root)

–          it could protect against atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases [13, 14]

–          protects against UV radiation and skin cell ageing (especially leaf and flower extracts) when applied before or immediately after exposition [15]

–          anti-diabetic properties [16]

–          gastrointestinal benefits – it increases bile production; improves constipation, diarrhea and intestinal cramping associated with colitis; it might also help gastric ulcers; and it might be a food source of our good gut bacteria (so, acting as prebiotic) [2] and promote intestine health [17]

–          diuretic properties – helps reducing water retention, and therefore, in flushing out harmful compounds from our body [18]. This property together with its benefits for the liver help to explain why it has been used in traditional medicine for detoxification [2].

–          Helps improving kidney function and potentially helps preventing or in the treatment of kidney stones [19]

–          Antimicrobial, including anti-viral, properties  [20,21]

So, as you see there are many good reasons to eat more of this wild plant :).

 

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

This is another weed that annoys many people, especially because if you happen to touch it, you will get some stings, which might be felt during some minutes/hours. Well, but I have good news! This is another super healthy wild plant! (and yes, I also plant it in my vegetable garden :)).

In fact, various scientific studies have been proving it has a high nutritional value as well as many health benefits.

Nettle contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, K and B vitamins, minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, etc) and antioxidants [22-23].

Some of its proven health benefits for prevention and treatment of some conditions include:

–          Antioxidant and antimicrobial properties [24]

–          Promotes cardiovascular health due to its anti-hypertensive properties (meaning that it lowers high blood pressure) [25,26]

–          Anti-inflammatory properties and might help in the treatment of arthritis [27,28]. Also due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it seems to help improving colon inflammation (colitis) [29]

–          Helps in allergic reactions, including allergic rhinitis [30] and sinusitis [31], as it contains histamine

–          It can lower total and LDL cholesterol (the so called “bad cholesterol”) [32]

–          Promotes urinary tract health [33], including being useful in the treatment of prostatic hyperplasia [34] and in the prevention and management of kidney stones [35]

–          Anti-carcinogenic properties – it inhibits proliferation and induces apoptosis of several types of cancer cells [36,37]. Some authors even found some anti-mutagenic properties (meaning, it prevents gene mutations, a biological event that could lead to cancer) and radical scavenging properties (meaning that due to its high antioxidant content, it can eliminate free radicals, which can cause damage to the cells and lead to cancer or other disorders) [38]

–          Anti-diabetic properties, by helping improving blood sugar values [39,40]

–          Helps in the treatment of second degree burn wounds [41]

–          Due to its high iron content [23] it could potentially help preventing and treating iron deficiency anemia (in combination with some vitamin C rich food for an enhanced absorption)

In traditional medicine, nettle has been also used to promote detoxification.

Nettle can be consumed raw in smoothies or vegetable juices, and cooked in soups or in teas. I normally use the tips of the nettle in smoothies (or soups) and I dry the other leaves for making nettle tea. Handle them carefully using thick gloves (such as garden gloves) to avoid getting painful stings.

If you consider using any of these herbs as a herbal medicine treatment, I recommend you consult first a specialized health professional with knowledge in phytotherapy (e.g., a naturopathic doctor) to know the correct dosage for your health condition.

Now, I want to say that the majority of studies I mentioned in this article were done in animals or in human cells, and therefore, more clinical studies do still have to be performed. However, these studies are a good indication that these plants could indeed have important therapeutic applications. These studies also help understanding why these herbs have been used in traditional medicine, where since millennials they have been used with therapeutic purposes (interestingly, the same that were found by scientific studies).

So, after knowing the benefits of these plants, what do you think about planting some in your backyard to be able to receive all their benefits? 🙂 Having your own source of these plants gives you the freedom to harvest them whenever you want (except in winter, of course). If you don’t have the possibility to plant them, don’t worry: the next time you go to the countryside or to an open field nearby (preferentially far away from big streets) you could profit to collect some!

I hope you liked this article!

Ana Coito, PhD

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References

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4 Responses to “2 well-known wild plants that you might consider as “weeds” but are actually very healthy

  • Jennifer
    6 months ago

    Hello again Ana,
    I used to buy organic dandelion greens in south Florida for $4. a bunch. Now I live on a ranch in CO. and I pick them fresh every morning to put in my smoothies. I add berries and nuts and many other greens(including home grown broccoli sprouts) and the berries seem to mask the bitterness. I LOVE free produce ! Thanks for another great article !
    Jennifer

    • Ana Coito, PhD
      6 months ago

      Hi Jennifer! Your smoothie sounds absolutely delicious!! I share your love for free wild produce! 🙂 why not taking advantage of all the free super healthy produce Nature has to offer us? 🙂
      Have a nice day!
      Ana

  • ANGELINA DURST
    5 months ago

    Another awesome informative article, I knew about the dandelion but not about the stinging nettles💜

    • Ana Coito, PhD
      5 months ago

      Thank you so much Angelina! 🙂 Happy to know you liked the article! 🙂

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