Never under-estimate a weed!

Dandelion and bramble are a nuisance to most of us, but delve deeper and you’ll find they are hugely powerful plants.  As well as St John’s Wort, they were the stars of the show at a recent Herbal Medicine Walk, led by local herbalist Lucy Blunden and hosted by The Box Moor Trust. Despite the extreme hot weather we’ve been having, there was no shortage of medicinal plants on our trail.

At the Box Moor Trust Centre where the walk started, the only thing green we could see in the lawn around the car park were dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Dandelion leaf is a diuretic containing potassium and its root works on the liver, encouraging the flow of bile which acts as a natural laxative. The flowers make a wonderful infused oil which can be used for treating muscle aches and pains and arthritic joints.

All that medicine and we hadn’t even left the car park!

Off along the lane and the first tree we come to is elder (Sambucus nigra). This wonderful tree is steeped in Folklore which is fantastical both in the positive and the negative. It also has medicine in every part. Elder requires some careful treatment as it contains Cyanogenic acids which are converted to cyanide in the body. However, the parts we use are low in these acids (flowers) or we cook them (berries) which renders them neutral.

Brambles are abundant almost everywhere, and there were plenty along the walk. The young leaves make a great tonic drink, a bit like a tannin-y green tea. The tea can be used for a mouthwash and gargle for sore throats, mouth ulcers and gum disease. The berries are rich in antioxidants due to their dark pigments and vitamin C. They also mix well with elderberries and rosehips to make a winter elixir to stave off colds and ‘flu.

We were delighted to see one of our favourite plants in the lane again this year: the glorious St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Sunny yellow hypericums are often grown in the garden, but only this wild one tends to be used medicinally. It is well known as an anti-depressant and said to help you confront your demons! It also works on the liver which is why it is contraindicated with many other medicines.

We encountered many more plants along the way that had medicinal uses including plantain, hawthorn and nettles.

If you fancy looking for your own medicines in the countryside, please remember the foraging ‘rules’ which state that you take no more than you need and no more than 1 in 10 plants. Do not take the root unless you specifically need it and leave plenty for the wildlife.

Please note that none of the information contained here is designed to replace individual medical advice. If you are on long-term medication or have a chronic condition, please consult a herbalist before undertaking home treatments. Herbs are powerful and safe when used and prescribed with knowledge.

“Thank you for a stimulating and interesting walk, and for all the thought you put into it. A wonderful way to spend an afternoon!” Participant on Herbal Medicine Walk.

Lucy Blunden is a medical herbalist based in Hemel Hempstead. She has a clinic at home where she works with children and adults specialising in digestive conditions. Follow Lucy on Facebook and Twitter by searching for: @HertsHerbalist and her website is www.lucyblundenherbal.com