The Surprising Benefits of Common Weeds


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Walk along the sidewalk, go on a stroll through the park, or even just take a look in your very own backyard and you’re sure to see numerous types of weeds of all shapes and sizes. Weeds are simply plants that are seen as undesirable in the location that they are growing in, and are typically treated with chemicals or uprooted and disposed of.

We often take nature for granted, especially when it is, quite literally, right beneath our feet, and these weeds are no exception. While they may seem like a nuisance to homeowners and gardeners, they may actually pose many benefits for both the land and for our health. In agriculture, weeds can help to protect and restore degraded soils as well as offer a home for beneficial organisms. Medicinally, herbs have been used for approximately 60,000 years, and many of the weeds growing around us can offer therapeutic properties.

1. Dandelion

Probably the most common and recognizable weed is dandelion, known for its tall, long leaves, bright, yellow flowers and fluffy, white mass of seeds, known as a dandelion clock. Dandelions are found in almost every habitat and can thrive in just about any soil or temperature. They often pop up in lawns and in gardens and are a beneficial source of food for wildlife such as bees and butterflies that use them as a source of pollen in early Spring. Dandelion is edible and the greens can often be found on grocery store shelves as a nutrient dense addition to salads, soups and smoothies. Traditionally it has been used for organ detoxification, and animal studies supported claims that it may protect the liver. Dandelion has also been found to have anti-diabetic properties, potentially due to the active compounds chicoric and chlorogenic acid which help to manage blood sugar levels.

2. Chickweed

Yet another edible weed, chickweed is often found in lawns and landscaped areas, grows tiny, white flowers and is a food source for wildlife. The most familiar is common chickweed, originally native to Europe and has now spread throughout the United States. It can be consumed raw in place of sprouts or cooked similar to spinach and is said to have a flavor reminiscent of corn silk or a mild lettuce. Traditionally, it was used as a treatment for inflammation to help with ailments such as arthritis and menstrual cramps and reviews have supported its ability to fight general inflammation. Chickweed can also be made into an oil and applied to the skin to treat rashes and infections.

3. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is actually a member of the mint family and a commonly used herb for both ingesting and topical treatments. Like most mint plants, it can grow rapidly and quickly take over gardens, which is why it is often thought of as a pesky weed. It has many health benefits, however, and has been used traditionally in numerous ways. Multiple studies have confirmed that lemon balm is an effective treatment for reducing levels of anxiety as well as improving sleep quality. It is known to destress and calm the brain thanks to the compound rosmarinic acid, which helps to increase available levels of GABA in the brain. It can be taken as a tea, oil tincture, or in capsule form. However, if you have thyroid disease or known issues, it is best to avoid using lemon balm as it can impair thyroid functioning.

4. Curly Dock

Commonly found in wet, overwatered land, curly dock, also known as yellow dock, is a large plant with broad, green leaves and clusters of branching flowers. It is found across the world, originating in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. Curly dock contains the compound anthraquinone in small amounts, which can have laxative effects by stimulating peristalsis, and it is therefore used in the treatment of constipation. It may also minimize symptoms of bloating due to its diuretic effects.

5. Red Clover

This weed has vibrant reddish-purple flowers that stand out wherever it grows. Red clover has long been used as a diuretic to “purify” the blood and as an expectorant to clear the lungs of mucous and treat coughs. It is thought to cleanse the liver and improve circulation, which is why it is found in many common supplements and teas. Most notably, it is a common ingredient in many natural products tailored to women’s health, as it contains isoflavones. These compounds may produce estrogen-like effects in the body, potentially helping to manage menopausal symptoms caused by decreasing levels of estrogen, such as hot flashes.

In summary, while these weeds may have many benefits, it is always important to consult with your doctor before supplementing with anything new. Additionally, wild foraging should not be attempted without expert guidance as many plants may have similar appearances and yet vastly different, and potentially harmful, effects. Foraging in urban areas along roadsides also poses a risk as these weeds have most likely been contaminated by pollution and pesticides.

Fiona Riddle is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD