Buying expensive nutrients that were made in a factory is always an option. Buying expensive nutrients that were refined (in a factory) from natural ingredients is also popular. But what about the nutrition that is freely available? Just like cannabis, these plants are vilified, hated, and incredibly useful.
Nettles have a spiky, mint-like look, but the fool-proof way to identify them is the formic acid that they flick onto your skin when handled, causing a temporary sting and tingling. Get them NOW before they go to seed—they are traditionally harvested May 1 to summer solstice. Nettles tend to get progressively more covered in bugs as the season goes on.
Nettles are incredible nutrition for humans or plants. I won’t wax poetic on all the trace elements available, but iron, potassium, and calcium are the headliners.
Nettles lose their sting when dried or boiled.
To harvest nettles, use gloves, find a healthy patch and give it a haircut. The nettles will continue to grow back. Old farmland and fields are a preferred habitat.
To make tea, pour boiling water over a good quantity of nettles, enough to make a thick soup. Allow the tea to steep up to 24 hours—any longer and it will stink. Strain and mix in with your water to nourish your garden, or use undiluted for an emergency perk-up of a sad plant.
Gardeners hate it because its amazing regenerative power means that new comfrey can grow from small pieces of a plant. It’s also been demonized for its supposedly toxic alkaloids. Suffice to say that the studies that caused this reputation involved isolating only the most toxic compounds from the plant, then concentrating them to a level you would never find in nature, and then injecting them into rats. A cup of comfrey tea is safe for a healthy person. But back to gardening…
Comfrey is great at helping cells to regenerate quickly. I imagine it would be great for cloning, rooting, or even a damaged stalk. Nutritionally, it provides potassium, sulphur, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and selenium. Prepare tea like nettles. Mix with nettles to stimulate breakdown in a compost pile.
Burdock is used by the Chinese and Japanee as an everyday root vegetable and can sometimes be found at Whole Foods—usually shriveled and old because nobody knows what gobo is.
Burdock is very common and the biggest challenge is finding some in a relatively clean area. The next challenge is digging the root up. Burdock’s roots tend to go straight down and patience is needed to get a big root up intact. The rewards are substantial. For humans, they are great food and medicine—a mild laxative that gently stimulates the body’s natural cleaning processes including the liver and intestine. It can even help balance blood sugar. Nutritionally, burdock provides calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.
Burdock has a two-year life cycle and should only be harvested during the first year, when the plant stays low to the ground.
It can be used on its own or in combination with other teas.
To make garden tea, chop the burdock root and simmer it on medium heat for about 20 minutes until cooked through—then steep for hours.
Dandelion has many of the same benefits as burdock, but it’s a smaller plant so harder to get big quantities. The whole plant can be thrown into any nutritious tea—the root of course needs to be decocted (boiled) to get the nutrition out.
Seaweed: Any type can be used for garden tea!
Violet—quite an interesting medicinal plant, which has tumor-shrinking capabilities. I include it here because the leaves are very common and could be thrown into a garden tea.
Chickweed—Another nutritious plant that tends to get tough in the summertime, and would make a good addition to tea.
Lamb’s quarters—for people, the plant has to be eaten young. For garden tea, the plant can be harvested and used later when it is already quite big. This is a plentiful source of nutrition for your garden!
Nature is producing ample nutrition for your garden-- there is no need to spend money for it if you are willing to get to know your weeds. Happy foraging!