Cynthia is a digital marketer, writer, and artist. She writes about a variety of topics, especially digital marketing, languages & culture.
5 Edible, Medicinal, and Beautiful Weeds in My Yard
When I moved to western North Carolina from Colorado, I couldn’t believe how different it was. Compared to Colorado, I may as well have moved to a rainforest! It’s not really a rainforest where I live, but it’s moist and lush, and a lot of biodiversity exists because of the rain and warmth, especially in the summer.
My new home came with about five acres of land, and that first summer, I noticed lots of blooming plants that I wouldn't see in Colorado. Having an interest in biology, my inner scientist went to work and began investigating. I found that in and around my yard, I have so many useful “weeds” and plants growing.
The following is a list of five weeds that are always growing almost right under my feet! Though I do a lot of gardening, I never wanted to eradicate the wild plants growing in my yard. I always thought they were beautiful.
Once I found out how beneficial they were, I began experimenting. I began incorporating them into my cooking in addition to making teas, fragrant oils, and vinegars. I made sachets from them, as well.
I will caution you, however: it’s extremely important to identify these plants with 100% certainty. Lots of look-alikes exist, some of which can be harmful or even fatal if you’re not careful.
If you ever use them for medicinal purposes, it’s always best to check with a qualified professional (herbalist, doctor, or homeopathic doctor) to be sure that you are not causing harm to your body.
Everyone reacts differently to herbs (and weeds) and they can have drug interactions—use the utmost caution.
1. Chicory: Cichorium intybus
This weed caught my attention because it has showy little blue flowers on tall stalks in the spring and summer. It likes to grow in full sun and it decorates the roadsides with a beautiful display of color.
It likes zones 3-7. It thrives in average or even poor soil. That’s good because I never really think the soil is that good near a highway.
Chicory flowers begin to bloom in early spring and continue to do so into fall. The flowers don’t stay open all day; they open in the morning and close up. If you ever take cuttings of this plant, the flowers will still do this.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can use young, fresh leaves from this plant in salads. They also cook like spinach.
You can also take the roots, dry and then grind them into “coffee grounds.” In fact, the French used to add chicory to their coffees to allow for a more robust flavor.
If you harvest chicory, it doesn’t dry or freeze very well, though. It’s best to use it fresh.
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I personally love the flowers so much that I’ll use the cut stems as decoration.
2. Black-Eyed Susan: Rudbeckia fulgida
You might be familiar with this plant. Indeed, black-eyed Susan is the state flower of Maryland.
The golden flowers with their dark centers bring a floral ray of sunshine to my day. My husband wonders what “Susan” did to get a “black eye.”
Sometimes this flower is called brown-eyed Susan.
In the past, Native Americans used the root of this plant to treat earaches, snakebites, intestinal worms, skin lesions, and even venereal disease.
The flowers themselves make a 3” wide disc with a dark center. They can grow 2-3’ tall. They like moist soil and will grow in partial shade to full sun. If they’re growing in the woods, they like to find a spot that gets a little bit of sun.
Their brown disks turn into seeds, but they also can spread through rhizomes, which is why you’ll see them frequently growing in patches.
They are a fun treat for butterflies and other similar types of insects.
3. Jewelweed: Impatiens capensis
This is a fun plant! I had no idea what I had growing until I went to the farmer’s market last summer. A good friend of mine was selling a salve for poison ivy. I asked her about it because my husband is particularly sensitive to poison ivy. Luckily, I’m not.
She said she made it from jewelweed and beeswax. She had a bunch of jewelweed that someone had brought her sitting in a bucket. When I saw it, my eyes grew wide. I have that stuff growing all over the place where I live.
My house is surrounded on three sides by little streams. Since jewelweed loves to grow where it’s moist, it made sense that it followed the stream paths—I am also surrounded by jewelweed on all three sides.
It has showy little fire-orange flowers that bloom from May all the way to the first frost. The flowers are only 1” long. It can grow 2-5’ tall. I’m only 5’4” tall, so it’s like a forest of jewelweed at my house starting in mid-summer! It grows in partial shade to full sun.
The little flowers are a nectar haven for hummingbirds. They love them! Ruby-throated hummingbirds especially like them.
If you mash up the leaves and stems, you can rub them onto skin exposed to poison ivy. It’s a great remedy to know about if you’re hiking and you think you touched poison ivy. Jewelweed often grows alongside it; how neat that the cure grows alongside the cause of the problem.
Silverleaf is another name for jewelweed. When the leaves have moisture on them, a little film on the leaf makes it look silver.
You can cook young leaves up just like spinach. I haven’t tried them, but I hear they’re delicious!
When the seed pods are ready, they’re like other impatiens plants: if you touch them, they’ll explode. I’ve had lots of fun popping them open and watching the seeds go flying.
Native Americans had also discovered medicinal uses for this plant. They knew that a poultice of jewelweed would help alleviate a number of skin problems, including burns, rashes, sores, bites, and even eczema.
4. Nettle: Urtica dioica
I first encountered this plant on hiking trails when I moved to North Carolina. I later discovered it growing on the mountain behind my house.
First impressions aren’t always right. I detested nettle because touching it made my skin swell like I had a cat scratch and then it stung for hours.
I had no idea of the powers of nettle. My impression of it has completely changed.
This plant has lots of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, potassium, zinc and other nutrients and minerals.
People have even used the fibers from the plant to make different types of cloth.
It’s a perennial and has pointy, jagged leaves. The plant itself can grow anywhere from 2’-6’ high and has flowers from summer to fall. The greenish flowers you see are the males; the females tend to grow more closely together.
Tiny stinging hairs grow all over the plant, so be careful as you harvest it. If you are familiar with dock leaves, they will help the stinging from nettle.
You need to wear gloves that will protect your hands and arms when dealing with nettle. It’s best to cut the plant above its root and use before it starts blooming. If you get it after it flowers, that’s fine, but it won’t be quite as good.
You can use all parts of the plant, but you need to cook or boil it. You don’t want to sting yourself! Cook the leaves like spinach. You can also make tea from it—use boiling water and steep for 20 minutes.
The benefits of nettle are astounding. You can use it as a tonic for the hair and scalp. It does wonders for the genitourinary system, helps your metabolism, helps alleviate symptoms of PMS and menopause, and helps strengthen the liver. It’s also known to help increase your energy.
5. Mullein: Verbascum chaixii
I’ve heard that this plant came over with the Europeans and wherever they went, this plant went, too. It’s also a fun plant, though.
It grows in Zones 3-9, in full sun.
It grows quite tall—up to 6’! It can really spread out—you’ll sometimes see it 2’ across.
Its hallmark characteristic is its big stalk that shoots up. It has yellow flowers that are quite fragrant.
At one time, it was called the torch plant because people would dry it, dip it into slow-burning oil, light it and use it as a torch.
You can use all parts of the plant except the seeds—they are toxic. The leaves, however, are great for respiratory ailments, bronchitis, and asthma sufferers.
Make tea from the leaves and then breathe in the vapors. After the tea cools, drink it.
If you take the flowers and put them into oil with equal parts of garlic you can make an infused oil that will treat ear infections. Add just enough oil to cover the mullein flowers and garlic in a pan, then warm them over low heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool, strain, and store in the refrigerator.
For ear infections, heat the oil to body temperature by leaving it on the counter or heat very briefly in a pan. Using a medicine dropper, deposit 3-4 drops into the affected ear. Repeat frequently until the ear feels better.
The oil can also treat cuts and scrapes.
Indeed, these five weeds have special value to us as humans. They are beautiful, too!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on January 05, 2013:
Audrey - thank you! I intend to explore these weeds more in the coming seasons for sure! They're so beautiful and fun! Cheers!
Audrey Howitt from California on January 05, 2013:
Someone made me some nettle soup once that was just delicious! This is such a great hub Cyndi! I have always been curious about Chicory!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on November 16, 2012:
Oscarlites - that's what happened to me. :) I moved to a different part of the country and didn't know anything, so little by little I started investigating. It's fun, hehe.
Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on November 15, 2012:
I'm always interested in herbs and their uses.. thanks for the information and pictures. I guess I better start seeing what native herbs Alabama has. After living in Alaska so long, Now back where i was born, I am learning a new culture it seems. thanks!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on November 15, 2012:
Vellur - aww, thank you! How sweet you are to come by to another hub - I appreciate you. Until I started doing all the research for these, I never really gave them a second thought. Wouldn't you know, they all benefit us humans so much. It's fun to find out about them. :)
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 15, 2012:
A very interesting and a unique topic. Who would have thought a weed can be useful!! Voted up and shared across. Congratulations on your award.
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on November 04, 2012:
RedElf - haha, that sounds like a horse with sense. :) It also sounds like she had a special spot for grampa. :) Thank you for stopping by!
RedElf from Canada on November 04, 2012:
One of my grandfather's horses was crazy for mullein - she would come to a dead stop and much out until she's had her fill. Not even straying calves or a good poke in the ribs could persuade her to move along once she started eating. She would move along for my grampa - a cavalry man in WWI - but she knew she could ignore us kids with impunity. We would just have to wait for her to finish.
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on September 06, 2012:
Jamie Brock - aw, thank you so much! You know I ended up starting to study weeds because there are SO MANY colorful weeds where I live. Hummingbirds, bees, animals and even other plants seemed to thrive in some areas of my yard and not in others - it became this fascinating point of study for me. LOL. Thank you for stopping by! ;)
Jamie Brock from Texas on September 06, 2012:
Wow, I had no idea these weeds had so many uses! I am curious if there are any around here where I live... we have a field right next to the apartments. I may have to go exploring sometime. Congrats on winning the Hubbie Award :)
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 30, 2012:
Christine - haha, I like both of your suggestions. I'll tell my hubby he might have found a niche! LOL. But, I have often dug up weeds I like growing somewhere around where I live and transplanted them to the yard. It's really weedy but so colorful and I'm learning about all the different sorts of weeds and they're so much fun to experiment with - I'm really careful to positively identify them, but yes, I have so much fun exploring "weeds." Hehe.
Christine Miranda from My office. on August 30, 2012:
The Totem is awesome. You should get hubby to do more and sell them online! I tend to go for drought resistant flowers in my yard because I am too busy (and lazy) to water daily. Every summer I see lovely flowers growing wild on the side of the rode and tell myself I should carry around a shovel and a bucket to transplant them in my yard. :) I figure if they grow on the side of the rode with little maintenance then they should be good a good fit for me.
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 30, 2012:
Nifwlseirff - indeed, my backyard IS wild and green. Haha. You know, I've always thought if I had a balcony, it would be overrun with vines and herbs, fruits and vegetables and, yes, even weeds. Haha. Thank you for your comments and feedback. Great to see you. :D
Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on August 30, 2012:
I love your backyard and garden! So wild and green! I have a strong aversion to weeding, especially when the weeds tend to attract the pests away from my more 'valued' plants. Occasionally I raided the dandelions and baby nettles for salads and herbal teas.
Now, with only a balcony garden, I get few helpful weeds, so I make sure to have at least one mixed pot of the less common herbs and some wildflowers.
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 29, 2012:
Born2care2001 - I'll take a look as soon as I get a chance. Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm glad I've met a fellow "wild weeds" appreciation friend. :D
Yes, jewelweed often does grow right next to poison ivy - interesting that the "cure" grows next to the culprit, huh? Hehe.
Ignugent17 - I appreciate your feedback. They offer so many fun benefits. :)
ThoughtSandwiches - Well...lemon balm is a fine herb, hehe. Thank you for your comments - you always make me smile. Now, go enjoy another sandwich. :D
idigwebsites - thank you so much! I had some fun writing this hub. It's fun discovering all these weeds. I appreciate your feedback. Cheers!
idigwebsites from United States on August 29, 2012:
This is one of the best discovery I have so far, thanks to your wonderful hub. It is really really a good hub. Another food variety for my list.
ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on August 28, 2012:
What? No lemon balm?? Although the "weed" I came to find wasn't represented...you have a wonderful selection with beautiful pictures (do I sense another HOTD coming? I bet I do!
Your hubs are always so incredibly informative! You got talent!
ignugent17 on August 28, 2012:
Very useful and interesting. Thanks for the information about the benefits that we can get from weeds. Voted up and more.
Rev Bruce S Noll HMN from Asheville NC on August 28, 2012:
Great Hub cclitgirl,
The area we live in is rife with all kinds of great "weeds." I wrote a hub with a different perspective on weeds. You might get a kick out of it!
Voted up, useful and interesting. I'll be reading some of your other work too!
Jewelweed often grows adjacent poison ivy so be careful!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 28, 2012:
B. Leekley - hey there! Great to see you! I hope lots of edible and beautiful wildflowers grow in your area. :) Thank you for the votes and shares. Cheers!
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on August 28, 2012:
Thanks for the useful information, cclitgirl. I'll keep an eye out for those edible wildflowers here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared.
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 28, 2012:
kelleyward - Haha, that's really awesome! I love it when we can discover things right in our own yards. I am still making discoveries - there are so many different varieties of plants that as soon as I discover one, I find another that I don't know about. Haha. Thank you for your comments ~ have a wonderful day!
kelleyward on August 28, 2012:
Now I'm hungry....LOL. I remember reading this hub a while back and learning so much. Thank you for writing this. I'm definitely keeping an eye out for these weeds where I live. I love learning something new. Voted up and shared. Kelley
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 19, 2012:
beckyefp - perhaps you'll get to come back to NC. :) In any case, it's so much fun identifying different weeds - you never know. We were on a hike right after I had learned about another weed: plantain. One of my friends' dogs got hives and I used a poultice of the plantain leaves to help calm the hives. I thought, well, that was good to know. Haha. Thanks for stopping by! ;)
beckyefp on August 19, 2012:
I just visited North Carolina for the first time, and I wish I had read this hub prior to my visit. This information inspires me to look up the weed in my hometown. Thanks!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 14, 2012:
Grandmapearl - hehe, you know, I went out searching for yarrow, nettles, red clover and raspberry leaf yesterday in the woods. I'm thrilled to be drying some now. I got chiggers around my ankles, but nothing a little tea tree oil won't fix. :D That is very cool about the birds! I love birds - they are such spiritually uplifting creatures! Thanks so much for stopping by!
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on August 14, 2012:
cclitgirl, kindred spirits is right! You know many years ago I watched the bees and butterflies swarm all over my nettles patch when it was in flower. Those flowers seemed tiny and insignificant to me, but they were certainly attracting a lot of attention. So I did as you have and investigated all the cool stuff that nettles have to offer. Its seeds are also beneficial to birds. They probe for them in the soil and pull them off the plant as well, all because of the minerals, specifically calcium. The nettle not only helps to keep them healthy during the cold winter months, but it builds up their calcium levels so they can produce viable eggs and happy baby birds! All this right there in my little weed patch--who knew! That's one of the reasons I dedicate a whole garden box to them.
Definitely keep the good stuff coming!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 13, 2012:
Grandmapearl - I'm starting to think we're kindred spirits! Nettles are definitely an herb that grow in abundance around where I live. I've focused so much on red clover and raspberry leaf, I need to explore nettles even more. I was just reading about them last night (again) and learned something new: they have just about every vitamin and mineral that humans need packed into just ONE plant. I can't believe humanity doesn't have this selling at every store and in every tea! But then again, I kind of like the idea that this stuff remains mysterious and isn't heavily cultivated. :D Thanks for stopping by at another hub of mine. You know you're inspiring me to keep going with this, right? Hehe.
Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on August 13, 2012:
You have listed and shown some of my very favorites. My grandfather told me when I was very little that if you have jewelweed, you have poison ivy nearby. It seems that this may be the case for a lot of 'natural cures'. My hummers are in the jewelweed patch hundreds of times a day! Those nettles are great plants. I have a whole 6' x 12' planter box full of them. Mostly I share them with the insects and birds! I like the way that you work with Nature and not against it. Very impressive, informative and well-written. Voted Up, Shared and Pinned!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 10, 2012:
rbm - yeah, only once did I ever buy "Roundup" and boy, that was one time too many. I only actually used the stuff once on two weeds in my garden - a long time ago. The alarming color and awful smell told me it couldn't be good and that it was probably better to just pick the weed if I didn't want it there. I remember that moment so poignantly. Since then, I've worked with the weeds in the garden and just pull them if they're competing with my veggies. I have a great garden, too, and beautiful wild-flowered-weeds that often come in handy. :) Thanks for stopping by!
rbm on August 10, 2012:
It's amazing to me how many wonderful and useful plants we call "weeds". A lot of them are full of nutrients and healing properties, and we just ignore them, or worse try to eradicate them. Great hub, voted up!
Cynthia Calhoun (author) from Western NC on August 09, 2012:
DeviousOne from Sydney, Australia on August 09, 2012: