Many traditions associate the seasons with the archetype life stages: spring is birth and renewal, summer is adolescence and exuberance, autumn is the time of the elder and abundance and winter is death and decay. We see this expressed in the life cycles of plants, and watch it transpire in our own energetic experiences. With the spring equinox upon us, the days are growing longer, the sun is lingering on the horizon to brighten more of our days, and we officially begin our annual rebirth.
After a winter of introspection and hibernation, we emerge from our dark caves and soak up the sun. Are you feeling that fresh spring energy? This is the time for reenergizing intentions and planting the seeds of new ideas. It is also the time to enjoy the verdant spring greens sprouting in your own backyard. To celebrate spring, let’s take a virtual stroll through the many wild edible weeds that lie at your feet.
Fun and Functional
If you were a hunter gatherer, the first sprouts of spring would be a mouthwatering invitation from mother nature to reintroduce much needed nutrients into your diet. Imagine eating a sprig of vitamin C-rich sorrel after a winter of nothing but roots and cured meats. Although we have the modern convenience of eating anything we want on any given day, the first edible greens of spring are a short lived and satisfying addition to the daily diet.*
In detox-mode? What could be better than adding a few sprigs of some of nature’s finest microgreens into your smoothies and raw salads? Fresh emerging spring edibles are not only tasty, but they are also a welcome treat for igniting digestive fire, moving lymph, restoring nutrient balance, reviving blood and promoting healthy kidney function. They help the us to shake off the winter blues, revive lax tissues, and get the body buzzing again.*
Virtual Herb Walk
Let’s look at some of the most common edible weeds growing in your backyard, learn how to enjoy them, and discover their many traditional uses.
Cleavers - (Galium aparine) A weedy plant native to North America that you are probably familiar with as it cleaves to clothes and animal fur. Both its bright green spring leaves and stems and its summer seeds are covered in tiny hooks that make cleavers a prolific seed-spreading garden volunteer. When left unkept, it can blanket itself across, over, and up most other plants, but cleavers’ wonderful health benefits make it a good herb to encourage during its short growing cycle.
Using The Doctrine of Signatures - an ancient belief shared by healers around the world that suggests that the physical characteristics of a plant, such as its shape, color, texture, or the environment in which it grows can indicate which supportive properties it possesses and which organs and body system it aligns with - we see how cleavers’ delicate tendrils extend in every direction, blanketing whole garden beds, encasing other plants, and looking a lot like our body’s lymphatic system.*
Cleavers is a mineral rich herb that gently supports the healthy flow of lymphatic fluid throughout the body. Its benefits can be enjoyed by juicing the leaf and stem or making a fresh plant tisane. It is difficult to dry and store so it is best to take advantage of it while it is in abundance all around you. Dr Morse loves working with cleavers, and you can find it many of his formulas including Adrenal Support, Kidneys & Bladder 2 & Kidney’s & Bladder 3, Male Reproductive Tonic and Prostate Health.*
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) An underappreciated garden gem, dandelion is probably one of the most abundant and amazing herbal remedies on earth! Lamented by lawn-enthusiasts for its deep tap root and ability to survive in the smallest cracks in concrete, dandelion offers a pharmacopeia of benefits. A 2015 article in The Guardian on the environmental benefits of dandelion speaks to how crucial dandelions are to pollinators and birds:
“While in flower for most of the year, the dandelion’s peak flowering time is from late March to May, when many bees and other pollinators emerge from hibernation. Each flower in fact consists of up to 100 florets, each one packed with nectar and pollen...Bumblebees, solitary bees and honeybees all visit dandelions for food, along with hoverflies, beetles, and butterflies such as the peacock and holly blue. Goldfinches and house sparrows eat the seed.”
Roasted dandelion root makes a great coffee substitute and the flowers can be made into a joyful tea (or dandelion wine for those who indulge on occasion). But it’s the tender greens that really shine in early spring as their bitter taste supports healthy digestion, and their high potassium levels supports healthy kidney function.*
Dandelion‘s common name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth. There are many dandelion look-alikes in the Asteraceae (daisy) family, so it is this descriptor that is one of your best guides to identifying and harvesting the correct herb. The leaves of true dandelion are serrated and look like sharp lion’s teeth, while look-alikes have a more rounded leaf edge. A single yellow flower crowns the top of true dandelion stalks, while look-alikes have branching stalks with multiple flower heads. In addition, dandelion flower stalks are hollow and exude a white latex substance when severed from the plant.
Harvest fresh dandelion leaves and eat them raw, add them to salads, or slightly steam them to enjoy the many benefits of this abundant tender spring herb. Dandelion is another favorite of Dr Morse and can be enjoyed in Heal All Tea, Endocrine Glands, Adrenal Support, Liver/Skin, and Bone & Connective Tissue Support.*
Plantain (Plantago spp.) No, not the fruit. There are over 200 species of plantain in the Plantago genus with about 35 native and non-native species growing in North America. Plantain is a perennial flowing plant that can be easily mistaken for grass and can also easily replace a lawn if not properly monitored. Although, once you hear about all the amazing benefits of this herb, you’ll be wanting a plantain lawn of your own!
Plantain is a mineral rich herb with an edible leaf. The plant has both emollient (slimy/hydrating) and astringent (tannic/tightening) properties, giving it an amazing drawing action. It is great for aiding in the removal of stings, splinters and venom, making a great topical remedy for nettle and bee stings. The hydrating and tightening characteristics of plantain also make it a wonderful herb to help support the lining of the gut.*
Make a topical poultice by placing the masticated/chewed leaves of plantain on your skin irritations on your skin. Plantain’s cooling, healing nature will help support skin healing.*
Violet (Viola odorata) Violet’s vibrant purple flowers pop up in early spring and lend their color and sweet nectar to preparations like violet syrup, Japanese gomae salad and violet lemonade. The leaves can be added to salads, smoothies and pestos.
Violet’s heart shaped leaves indicate a common traditional use of the herb to comfort and strengthen the heart. Another common use links violet leaf to supporting healthy lymphatic flow specifically around the axillary and internal mammary lymphatic nodes in the breast area. Drinking violet leaf tea, eating the leaves, and using an infused oil of violet leaf topically can all support lymphatic breast health.*
Three-Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) An allium in the onion family with a distinctly garlicky smell, this is a fun one purely as a delicious culinary herb. Other common names include onion grass, onion weed, wild garlic, three-cornered garlic, and three-cornered onion; flavor wins the day with this one. Wild garlic is one of the first edible bulbs to pop up in early spring, and the entire plant is edible, enhancing salads and pâtés with its mild onion/garlic flavor.
The name 3-cornered leek refers to the 3 distinct sides to the stem making a triangle shape. Another key identifier is the green stripe bisecting each white flower petal.
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) You may already be familiar with this edible spring green as it is a gateway wild edible for many folks. There isn't a lot written about its use in traditional herbalism, but one can assume that it is loaded with a mighty mineral complex that will nourish blood and fortify kidney function.*
“The plant’s common name dates back to the mid-1800’s, when miners ate this Vitamin-C rich plant during the California gold rush. It is sometimes referred to as ‘winter purslane’ or ‘Indian Lettuce’ and has been utilized by Indigenous peoples long before the gold rush era. It is also an important food source for native mourning doves, California quail, and other seed-eating birds. Our backyard chickens love to eat it too!” ~ DeannaCat, Homestead and Chill*
Chickweed (Stellaria media) This delectable edible herb in the purslane family is one of the most common weeds found in the shady areas of your garden and around the bases of trees. The tasty tender leaves are reminiscent of fresh baby spinach, and it has a demulcent mouth feel that indicates it is hydrating.
For such a little thing, chickweed has a powerful impact on whole body health. Its rich saponin content gives it an alterative function that seems to impact all detoxification channels in the body. The slimy demulcency of this herb indicates the presence of polysaccharides, allowing for lubrication of the GI tract giving it a gentle laxative action. For this reason, you will find chickweed in many of Dr Morse’s formulas including Lymphatic System 1, Kidneys & Bladder 2 and Kidneys & Bladder 4, The Ultimate Herbal Blend, Eye Health, Lung Detox, GI Broom, Healthy Joints, and GI Renew #0 & GI Renew #1. Clearly a top herb according to Dr Morse!*
Chickweed is also a revered traditional herbal remedy commonly used in ointments and salves for its ability to support proper skin healing. Try it topically in The Ultimate Salve.*
To be sure you are identifying chickweed correctly, look for a single line of hairs that run up one side of the stem only. It has egg shaped, slightly succulent leaves and tiny white flowers that grow slightly raised above the point where the leaves converge.
Happy edible herb hunting! REMEMBER, don’t eat anything unless you are 100% sure you have properly found and identified an edible plant. If you have any doubt...DROP THAT WEED! Grab yourself a plant ID book for your region, brush up on your botany, and look for an herbalist in your area giving herb walks.
*FDA warning: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
I have become so passionate about being my own health advocate over the past 5 years. Thank you Dr. Morse for the wonderful information on wild edibles and how to prepare them. I love your articles!
Thank you for the info; have been harvesting Cleavers, Wild Lettuce, Dandelion, Purple Dead Nettle, Plantain and Dock from my backyard this Spring.
I love this article, all these are in my yard..I need to get pickin’
This is a useful article to help us find common greens that will benefit our health. Definitely becoming more important as the cost of living is increasing.
love this article, found cleavers, dandelion, plaintain in my yard. now i know what to do with them. glad i did not spray them with roundup.