Herbs have been used to maintain health and enhance the body’s process of responding to infection for centuries, and spring is a great time of year for many of these plants to flourish in the English countryside. Fold Farm team member Raphi – who is currently studying herbal medicine and is a keen forager herself – outlines below four wild herbs you can find this time of year in nature and their many health benefits. If you are lucky enough to live out in the country you might come across some of these plants on a walk of your local area – however if you are new to foraging please be cautious as some plants can be toxic, if you aren’t certain what a plant is do not pick it.

Cleavers (Gallium aperine)

Benefits:

  • Lymph and blood cleanser and tonic
  • Diuretic
  • Contains Vitamin C

Cleavers, through its affinity for and its action on the lymphatic system, increases the body tissues capacity to respond to infection.

How to Prepare:

Hot infusion: Pour boiling water on a handful of fresh cleavers, cover and brew for 10 minutes. Strain and drink.

Cold infusion: Put a bunch of fresh cleavers in a jug, top with cold drinking water, cover and leave to stand for 24 hours. Strain and drink throughout the day.

 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

    Benefits:

  • Blood cleanser and builder
  • Nutritive
  • Stimulant
  • De-obstruent
  • Purifier
  • Diuretic

Dandelion clears the blood of waste products and brings nutrients to it. It also gently stimulates the digestive cascade, improving absorption, elimination and enhancing the environment for the microbiome.

How to Prepare:

Parts used: Leaf and/or Root

Fresh leaves can be used as a food, added to salad, or infused in freshly boiled water for 10 minutes.

The root will be used in a decoction: put roots (use 1 part if fresh, 2 parts if dried) in water in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 15 minutes. Strain and drink throughout the day.

 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

  Benefits:

  • Stimulant of the circulatory system
  • Tonic
  • Diaphoretic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Carminative

Yarrow is diaphoretic: it induces sweating, which can aid elimination of viral infections out of the body. It also increases our body vigour, tone and resilience.

How to Prepare:

The fresh leaves will be used at this time of year as Yarrow will be flowering later in the summer.

A hot infusion can be made by putting few yarrow leaves in a mug, pouring boiling water over it, covering and brewing for 10 minutes.

 

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Benefits:

  • Blood cleanser and builder
  • Nutritive
  • Tonic
  • Diuretic
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Re-mineralizer
  • Contains Iron and Zinc

Nettle improves elimination whilst acting as a nutrient and supportive agent.

How to Prepare:

The parts of the plants used are the upper leaves and tender stems – when the plant is young and coming up. As a food, use as spinach, in stir-fries, stews and soups.

As an infusion, pour boiling water on a few nettle tops in a cup, cover and leave for 10 minutes – it is then ready to drink.

Why not try this recipe from People I meet and Food They Eat which combines Nettles with Wild Garlic.

Recipe for Nettle Soup with Wild Garlic Pesto – Serves 4

For the soup

  • 6 large handfuls of nettle tops
  • 50g butter
  • 2 onions
  • 3 potatoes
  • veg stock
  • 1/2 nutmeg
  • seasoning
  • Dash of white wine vinegar

Wash the nettles and remove any really tough stalks still attached.

Heat the butter in a pan, add the chopped onions and cook until golden

Add the nettles and chopped potatoes to the pot with the onions and cook for a couple of minutes

Add the veg stock, cover and simmer for 20 mins or until the potatoes can be crushed with the back of a spoon.

Add nutmeg, seasoning and a dash of vinegar to taste. Blend.

For the pesto

  • 200g wild garlic
  • 100g parmesan
  • 50g pinenuts
  • 50g hazelnuts
  • 1/2 lemon
  • rapeseed oil
  • Seasoning

Wash the wild garlic, rinse then blitz in a food processor.

Add the grated parmesan and blitz again.

Add the nuts and oil to the processor and continue to blitz. Add seasoning, lemon juice and more oil (if desired) through the top of the processor.

Transfer the mixture to jars and pour on top enough oil to cover the mixture. This will help to preserve the mixture. The pesto can then be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or frozen.

 

Cautions and care:

For those that wish to forage it is recommend to seek the advice and ongoing professional support of a qualified medical herbalist, as there are some plants which are toxic to humans.

If harvesting plant(s) yourself, here are foraging guidelines:

  • Wear Gloves.
  • Be aware and careful in and of the environment you are picking plants from, for example, avoid area which are heavily used by dog walkers. If necessary, ask permission from the landowner.
  • Pick from a large area, not from one particular spot.
  • Only harvest if there is plenty of the plant you are willing to gather, do not take everything from one plant.
  • Only forage what you are completely confident identifying, if you’re not sure, do not pick!
  • Rinse any fresh plants with cold clean water before use.