We see them regularly and most of us consider them a nuisance when they take over our garden, but many weeds are actually herbs that are used for medicinal purposes. Those pesky plants pack a powerful punch! Here we will look at 10 common herbs we use in herbal medicine, which are also classified as a weed. Some of them you might even have seen growing in your yard.
Most of us find this plant growing freely in our backyard or along the side of the road. Both the roots and leaves are used medicinally, though their activities and health benefits are different.
Dandelion Root: The Roots of the Dandelion Plant are used as a liver tonic. It can be helpful in increasing bile production² as well as liver enzyme activity.⁴ It may also be helpful in stimulating appetite.⁵
Anyone who’s ever touched this weed knows that their sting can be quite unpleasant, but despite this, Stinging Nettles (or just Nettles) are beneficial to our health. Both the leaves (minus the stingy hairs) and roots are used therapeutically, but again for very different purposes.
Nettle Leaf: Nettle leaves are used to help detoxification or “cleansing” and can be useful in assisting skin conditions like eczema. They have been used traditionally as a nutritive as the leaves naturally contains a high levels of vitamins and minerals. The leaves also seem to have some benefit in osteoarthritic conditions as well.⁶
Chickweed contains high levels of vitamin A, C, and B vitamins, as well as being a good source of Iron and calcium.² Because of its iron content, you can find chickweed as an ingredient in some of the nutritional iron supplements that are available over the counter. Aside from this, the most common therapeutic use for this weed is as an ingredient in topical ointments or creams to help with rashes, itchy skin and eczema.²
St John’s Wort:
This herb is widely known for its use in Western Herbal Medicine in the management of healthy mood. It may be beneficial during times of stress, aid in stress adaption, and helps relieve nervous tension, irritability and mild anxiety.⁸ St John’s Wort may also assist in the management of menopausal symptoms, especially when it’s taken in combination with other herbs.²
Milk Thistle/St Mary’s Thistle:
This plant is recognizable by its spiky leaves and pinkish/purple flowers ⁹ and can cause some pain when touched. The fruit sometimes referred to as the seed, is used medicinally to benefit liver health.² Milk Thistle can help protect the liver against a variety of toxins as well as being useful in helping to stimulate appetite, digestion and detoxification. ²
A weed that commonly grows in lawns and along the side of the road, Shepherd’s purse is identifiable by its small green fruit, which is heart-shaped and looks like a little purse (hence the name).⁹ It is commonly used in women’s health for its anti-haemorrhagic effects. It’s ability to potentially help control bleeding makes it useful in managing imbalances of the female reproductive tract, such as helping to relieve excessive menstrual bleeding.¹⁰
Yellow Dock is another plant used often in Western Herbal Medicine and it’s often found near stinging nettle in nature! It has been found to contain strong antioxidant compounds ¹¹ and can help support the detoxification process. One of its most common uses is in the management of chronic skin conditions such as eczema. It also has a mild laxative effect.⁶
This weed with its yellow flowers has a long history of use for maintaining urinary tract health. Goldenrod has diuretic and anti-inflammatory benefits, which make it useful in helping to assist urinary tract infections. ² Traditionally it has also been used to relieve phlegm in the upper respiratory tract. ⁶
Yarrow is a herb that is native to the Himalayas and Europe and it has a variety of traditional uses, such as increasing bile flow to help fat breakdown, managing hay fever symptoms and helping to reduce a fever. It was also used as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.¹¹ Yarrow can be made into a compress and used topically to support minor wound healing. Yarrow is also famous for being one of the key ingredients in YEP tea, which is commonly used when people are suffering from colds and flu. ¹²
Other names for this herb/weed include “Aaron’s rod”, Bunny’s ears”, “flannel-leaf” and “Candlewick Plant”. Interestingly one of the historical uses of this plant was to make candlewicks to drive evil spirits away. ² We don’t use it for this anymore, but it is still used in herbal medicine for its therapeutic benefits, especially in helping with coughs ² and other upper respiratory tract infections. ⁶ Mullein has also shown some benefit in combination with other herbs in aiding ear infections. ¹⁴
Having said all this, I discourage anyone from picking and consuming weeds out of their yard unless they know exactly what they are looking at. While some weeds do have medicinal value, other plants may look very similar, but be a completely different species with very different effects. Contact your local naturopath for advice on medicinal weeds.