Plants for health and well-being

Posted by Megan Nichols on Apr 26th 2018

If you've attended our Edibles Expo in the past two years you've been lucky enough to have the pleasure to speak with Jodi McKee about edible "weeds" and medicinal uses for plants. Jodi is full of fun and useful information, so we asked if she'd share her knowledge with us in a blog, and she said "yes"! She's also opening Jewelweed, a new health and wellness boutique in Wayzata in May where her teas, tinctures, and other goodies will be available for purchase. Read on for advice from the expert on how to use plants in ways you may never thought of before!
So it is spring here in Minnesota. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands back in the dirt! Soon the locals will storm Tonkadale, eager to bring a beautiful summertime garden into bloom. As a tried-and-true gardener and herbalist, I am often asked around this time of year: What plants can help to promote health and well-being? Here is a list of my top 5 easiest to use plants perfect for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Dandelion One of the first plants to pop out of the ground after the winter thaw is Dandelion, a primo bitter. Dandelions were intentionally brought over by European settlers as prized medicinals. These early spring greens are a replenishing source of vitamins and minerals after a long hard winter. Dandelion helps to detoxify the body by tonifying the liver. Use dandelion to aid digestion and increase vitality. The leaves, if harvested before flowers appear, are tender and a little less bitter; so harvest early! I prefer to eat them in a salad with olive oil, parmesan cheese and a squeeze of lemon. Fresh dandelion root or leaves can be used to make a wonderfully bitter tea and the flower heads are especially good fried crisp in oil. Nettle patch Nettle is another vibrant spring green with a long history of medicinal use. Yes, this is the infamous stinging nettle we’re talking about! Many great-grandparents used nettle, and sometimes you’ll find a nettle recipe in an old family cookbook. This plant is packed with nutrients: iron, vitamins, and trace minerals. Nettle is often recommended to ease anemia, allergies, gout, inflammation, and to support healthy kidney function. The tastiest nettle is harvested early in the season, when the leaves are tender. To avoid a tingly sting, harvest the tips wearing gloves. (If stung, a Plantain leaf will soothe the affected areas.) Cook the tips thoroughly in boiling water. Drink the water for a detoxifying tea, then serve the leaves with lemon and butter. They also make a great addition to a soup, casseroles or egg dishes. Lemon balm in jar Lemon balm is a lovely garden plant. It is easy to grow, offers a continuous harvest throughout the season, and comes back year after year. This plant lifts the spirits and creates a sense of well-being. Lemon balm is a nervine, which means that it nourishes and soothes the nervous system. It is a mild sedative, and can help with irritability and insomnia. Lemon Balm makes a delicious tea: pinch off the tips, add to your mug, cover with hot water, and let steep. For a cooling beverage best enjoyed on a steamy summer day, use lemon balm to make a sun tea. Start by adding water and a few sprigs of lemon balm to a glass jar. Let the jar soak in the sunlight for a couple of hours. Remove the leaves, then garnish with ice and cucumber. Tulsi Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is known as a sacred plant around the world with over 3000 years of use. Tulsi is an adaptogen, which means that it helps us adapt to stress while supporting every major system in the body. There are several varieties of Tulsi, but I find Kapoor to be the tastiest and easiest to grow. Pinching the plant back early will encourage it to bush out and ensure vigorous growth. Tulsi makes a delightful tea that you can’t get enough of, so be sure to plant plenty! My best Tulsi tip is to replace half of the basil in your pesto recipe with Tulsi Kapoor. Watch out— the kids may lick their bowls clean. elderberry Elderberry has been used for centuries in Europe and North America. It is a native Minnesota plant and grows wild throughout the state. Research is beginning to prove what old-timers and folk-healers have known for centuries: elderberry can lessen the duration and severity of colds and flu. I use a small amount daily during peak cold and flu season— to help keep those nasty bugs at bay.  I highly recommend planting Elderberry in the yard (be sure to purchase the “edible” variety, not the ornamental). Elderberry syrup is a perennial favorite, made with the fresh berries that ripen at the end of August.  Adventurous foodies can use Elderberries to make jelly, muffins, cordials and even wine (be sure to remove the seeds). Dandelion, Nettle, Lemon Balm, Tulsi and Elderberry are accessible, easy to grow, and have all stood the test of time. Some are found in the garden, while others are considered “weeds.”  These plants are sure to add a new dimension to your spring gardening frenzy while promoting greater health and wellness. Happy planting. A word of caution: 100% positive plant identification is essential before you ingest any plant. DO NOT harvest plants growing within 15 feet of a road, and DO NOT harvest plants that have been treated with herbicides or pesticides. *These statements are for educational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Jodi McKee Jewelweed Health and Wellness Boutique Opening in Downtown Wayzata May 2018