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Urban Weeds Treat Urban Ailments

Sunday, August 02, 2009 by: Melissa Sokulski
Tags: weeds, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) There is a belief in herbal medicine that plants tend to grow where people need them. Whether this is true or mere coincidence, a strong case can be made when one looks at what medicinal herbs grow wild in cities, and what types of ailments are most prevalent there.

It may be that there are similar ailments in the country, but in the city people are concentrated in high numbers, and the plants are there, too. Along the roadsides, in vacant lots, even growing through cracks in concrete of most major cities in the United States one finds mullein, mugwort, St. John's wort, dandelion, chicory, and the invasive Japanese Knotweed.

Cities, of course, have more pollution than rural areas, and people reflect that with coughs and other lung ailments. Second hand smoke is also more of a problem in the city, where more people are gathering outside buildings to smoke. Mullein generously grows all throughout most cities, in vacant lots and along roadways.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has soft green-gray leaves and in the summer is recognized by it's second year flower spike: a usually unbranched flower stem decorated with delicate five-petaled yellow flowers. The leaves of this plant can be collected and dried. When brewed as tea it benefits the lungs. Brought over with European settlers, Native Americans adopted this mullein into their healing repertoire, often smoking the leaves as a treatment for lung maladies. The flowers can be steeped in oil and used to treat ear infections.

Another ailment we see in great amounts in the city is depression. City dwellers often get less sun exposure: people often move to the city for jobs which require long hours indoors. Deprivation of sunlight and Vitamin D deficiency can lead to depression via Seasonal Affective Disorder. We also see high amounts of stress and anxiety in cities, which can often accompany depression, or sometimes appear on its own.

Luckily, the urban medicine chest has remedies for all the above, often growing right outside people's doorstep, even growing through cracks in concrete sidewalks.

An often overlooked way to enjoy the sun's energy is through the chlorophyll of green plants. Plants directly use the light from the sun, and turn it into their green pigment, chlorophyll. Greens have a high nutritional profile, and wild greens often top cultivated varieties. The city boasts wild dandelion greens, chicory greens, plantain and even clover; it provides us with edible, nutritious greens which we can add to salads and smoothies to increase our chlorophyll and nutritional intake.

According to Paul Pitchford, chlorophyll purifies: stopping bacterial growth, removing drug deposits and halting tooth decay and gum infection. It is an anti-inflammatory, and it renews: building blood and tissue, counteracting radiation and promoting healthful intestinal flora. (1)

In addition to bringing sunlight and nutrition into our bodies through the chlorophyll of plants, another way to fight depression is with a tea or tincture made from the plant St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which grows abundantly on roadsides and lots in cities. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), also grows plentifully in cities, and drying and burning this herb as a smudge helps relax the mind and ease anxiety. Mugwort's mind-relaxing made this plant a natural substitute for Hops in beer-making when Hops was illegal in the early twentieth century.

In addition, Peter Holmes reports that "mugwort herb is ideal for symptom relief during mensturation." (2) For this use it is taken as a tea or tincture.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) seem to be the scourge of anyone with a lawn, including city dwellers, but dandelion provides huge benefits for people, especially in helping damaged or overworked livers. All parts of the dandelion are edible, and dandelion can clear jaundice, treat hepatitis, and help the liver cleanse the blood of all sorts of toxins, from medication and drug residue to air pollution that gets in our system.(3)

Dandelion roots can be dried and roasted as a coffee substitute, especially with dried roasted chicory roots (Cichorium intybus), which is the lovely sky-blue flower you see all over roadsides. While the alkaloids in coffee tend to congest the liver, the coffee substitute made from urban weeds like dandelion and chicory root actually have the opposite effect and are healing.

Finally, cities are currently overrun by invasive Japanese Knotweed taking over hillsides and growing abundantly, much to many city planners' and gardener's dismay. This plant contains its own natural herbicide which kills much of the plant life around it, allowing it to proliferate, grow and spread. Can there be any benefit to this plant?

In fact, Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum) is one of the highest natural sources of resveratrol. Many people think they need to drink red wine to get the benefits of resveratrol, but now supplements are available and the supplements are made not from red wine, but Japanese Knotweed.

When Japanese Knotweed first shoots out of the ground in early spring, the shoots are tender, lemony and edible. They can be steamed and eaten with a pat of butter just as one would eat asparagus, sauteed in oil with garlic, or juiced in a juicer with apples, for a refreshing lemonade-like drink.

The benefits of resveratrol are touted everywhere lately, and include anti-oxidant properties (ridding the body of dangerous free radicals that can lead to cancer), benefiting the central nervous system, regulating hormones and thinning the blood. Studies show resveratrol may benefit people with Alzheimer's (especially taken with vitamins E and C) and may be useful after a stroke or other injuries to the spine and central nervous system. Finally, resveratrol is believed to help prevent certain cancers, such as breast, and help decrease the risk of cancer spreading into the bones. (4)

Next time you take a walk around town, notice what weeds are growing around you. Get a wild edible plant guide or take a guided tour and find out just what potential medicines and foods might be right at your feet.


1. Pitchford, p.188

2. Holmes, p.321

3. Ibid, p.649

4. http://www.nutritional-supplement-guides.com...


Hoffmann, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Barnes and Nobel Books. NY. 1996.

Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs, Volumes I and II. Snow Lotus Press. Boulder, CO. 1994.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books. Berkely, CA.1993.


About the author

Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the website Food Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook, Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants.
Melissa also runs The Birch Center for Health in Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.

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