Healing plants hidden in plain sight

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All around us are healing herbs that we take for granted and in some cases actively try and remove from our gardens. Take a moment to observe and it’s likely that you’ll find some gifts waiting for you in your garden. At this time of year the mallow Malva neglecta and chickweed Stellaria media are growing strong. While these two are delicious edibles they also have healing properties for the skin. Chickweed has the ability to gently heal any skin sensitivities and eliminate growths and cysts from the body. Mallow is also known for its skin healing abilities and getting rid of blemishes and irritation.

To take advantage of these healing properties they can be made into a salve. Salves are really simple ointments made from three main ingredients – plant material, oil and beeswax. This time of year local olive oil is being pressed and it’s easy to source. Beeswax can be picked up from people selling local honey. With a skin healing salve in mind I had a look in the garden to find other plants good for the skin and found:

  • Plantain Plantago lanceolata which has antiseptic qualities and reduces skin irritations from bites and stings.
  • Comfrey Symphytum works by increasing cell production which makes wounds heal quickly.
  • Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties which can help to heal minor burns and bites.
  • Rosemary soothes the skin and is good for eczema and burns.

Another good ingredient to use would be Calendula flowers. These flowers can help with cuts, rashes and burns. This salve can be used for skin irritations, cuts, burns or bites and general skin repair and is applied to skin.

To make the skin healing salve:

  1. Gather clean vibrant plant material.
  2. Chop and dry overnight in a single layer on a tray to remove some of the water.
  3. Place plant material in a clean dry jar and cover with olive oil.
  4. Infuse the herbs into the oil. Infusing herbs can be done in many ways, I heated mine slowly at around 50C for about 9 hours all up over three days.
  5. Strain leaves from oil using some cloth and then place oil back in jar.
  6. Ratio to use is for each cup of oil add 80 grams of wax.
  7. Gently heat the oil and wax to combine.
  8. Once wax is melted, pour into containers for storage, wait until completely cool before putting the lid on.

 

 

 

Broccoli budda bowl

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I recently did a Growing Great Veggies course taught by Nat Wiseman from Village Greens and Steven Hoepfner from Wagtail Urban Farm. They both very generously shared their knowledge honed through experience running market gardens using organic methods. Well worth attending if you get a chance. The course was held at the Glandore Community Garden and growing in one of the patches was this gorgeous broccoli.

Broccoli is a favorite in our house and the whole plant can be eaten. The seeds can be sprouted. Leaves can be used in salads, juices or cooked. Stalks can be cut finely and used in stirfries or diced and put in stews and sauces. The heads can be chopped into florets and can be eaten raw or cooked in dishes like Gado Gado. The flowers are also edible. It’s such a versitile plant and fairly easy to grow through Adelaide’s wet winters.

A simple way to prepare broccoli is use it in a budda bowl. Budda bowls are a great way to put together simple seasonal produce into a nourishing meal. Braise the broccoli florets in stock, cook until tender. Roast some pumkin seasoned with oil, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Assemble the bowl by adding broccoli, roast pumpkin, wild or salad greens (mallow, chickweed, cooked nettle), saukraut, and cooked chickpeas. Garnish with dandelion petals. For a simple dressing put together 1 part lemon juice and 2 parts olive oil, season with salt and pepper.

Mallow

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Spotted these mallow seeds in the garden the other day and ate them fresh. I also fried them up for a few minutes with some small mallow leaves in a little b.d farm butter and Murray river salt as a little snack. Pick the seed heads while they are still young and green. They are still ok when turning mauve but once they are brown and dry they are too tough to eat.

There’s a saying in southern Italy ‘La malva da ogni male ti salva’ meaning Mallow saves you from every disease. Mallow has been used extensively across the planet as both food and medicine. In China they have used mallow as a staple vegetable for over 2500 years. The Egyptians and later the french also used the mallow Althaea officinalis to make a marshmallow dessert. This was the healthy precursor to the modern factory made sweet of the same name.

Malva negecta and over twenty other similar Malvas are edible. In the garden it:

  • acts a a nursing plant to seedlings
  • breaks up and aerates heavy clay soil
  • retains moisture in the soil.

The young leaves can be used in salads and older leaves can replace spinach in recipes. Leaves can be added to pesto and green juices. The young green seed heads can be pickled like capers, eaten fresh, added to any salad or cooked dish, or fried in butter and salt and added as garnish to dishes. The root can be used like a potato. The blended root can be used as an alternative to dairy milk. Mallow leaves can be dried and made into tea with a clearer stimulant effect on the body than caffeine. Any part of the mallow can be eaten including the flowers.

Beyond food, older stems and roots of mallow can be prepared into fibre. Soak in overnight and crush the roots, the fibres break apart and can be woven together to make twine. Mallow has also been used as medicine all over the world as an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, anti-bacterial, and an emollient to name a few uses.

Mallow root milk

1 cup mallow root, chopped

3 cups water

1 teaspoon, homemade vanilla essence

1 medjool date or 2 tablespoons of honey

optional – 1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight

Blend all ingredients and strain. Store in fridge and use in place of dairy milk.