Wild Weed Walk and Talk

Learning about herbs can be much more fun in Nature's classroom, the outdoors.

People organize walks all over the world for various causes - walks for cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, etc. The purpose is typically to raise funds for research to 'fight disease'. The atmosphere is usually that which goes along with paved walks and city streets - highly charged (physically and emotionally) and with hundreds of people flocking to join in, or just to observe. Horns honk, officials direct, fast-food aromas and exhaust fumes fill the air, and people co-mingle for a common cause.

Contrast that to an herb walk, a stroll through the calm and quiet countryside - with grass paths, dirt roads, and pine needles beneath your feet. Your nostrils are filled with nothing but fresh air and the sweet scents of greenery. Birds caw, rabbits duck into the brush, and squirrels scamper up the nearest tree; in the nearby pasture you can hear the snorts and whinnies of grazing horses. The purpose is not to 'raise funds to fight disease', but to educate those interested about nutritional and medicinal herbs (known as weeds to many) that grow in our own back yards. It's a different way to 'fight disease' - by sustaining and restoring health.

On an herb walk you can get acquainted with numerous herbs and learn about their health benefits. Many of them are nutritious and delicious as well as healing. What better reason can there be for organizing a walk than for promoting good health? If we support health, we minimize disease, and herbs can play a big role in maintaining and regaining health, for both people and horses.

The leader of our "Wild Weed Walk and Talk" was Dr. Charis Lindrooth and the place was Maiden Springs Farm in eastern Pennsylvania. This experiential workshop filled a good half-day in July and brought a group of walkers from various walks of life, with several coming to learn about herbs for horses. Charis, a clinical herbalist, is also a horsewoman who happens to keep her young paint gelding at this farm.

Dr. Charis Lindrooth points out wild rose, milk thistle, wild carrot, and other useful wild weeds growing along the pasture fence.

The great outdoors is the best place to learn about herbs, where one can see, touch, and taste them - being sure that the area is clean and pollution-free, away from traffic, and pesticide/ herbicide/ GMO-free. Numerous varieties of wild weeds lined the fenced pasture, and more wild weeds grew along the streams, in the woods, and among the grasses. In a short time we were all able to recognize and point out quite a few edible wild weeds among the abundant vegetation. Although we had seen many of these plants hundreds of times before, we soon saw them through different eyes. We also realized why horses eat them!

The 30-plus wild-weed herbs we were introduced to include the following:

Chicory, with its pretty blue flower, is a nutritious herb that is good for the liver, and good for digestion - for humans and horses alike. The whole plant is edible. In the spring the leaves are young and tender and look similar to the dandelion. When it blooms, the flowers can be served in salads and other dishes. The chicory root, harvested in the fall, can be roasted to make a coffee-like flavored beverage, however after roasting it is no longer medicinal.

Wild carrot, also known as Queen Anne's Lace, has a root that tastes like carrot. The seeds can be used for seasoning - if eaten green, they taste like carrot; if dried, they taste like celery. It is a diuretic and emmenagogue. It looks a lot like poison hemlock and similar to valerian, so be sure to learn the difference!

Thistles are beneficial to the liver and have been known to regenerate liver tissue. Leaf, seed or root can be used. Horses somehow can eat these with little concern about the spiny thistles. The milk thistle has big leaves that look like milk was spilled on them. The seeds can be sprinkled on salad and toasted for a different flavor (though they will lose some nutritional value when toasted).

There's no end to what you can find growing along fence rows, tree lines, creeks, and in the woods.

Strong-scented goldenrod can be dried to make a good, strong-flavored tea for stagnant mucus, cloudy urine, and stuffed sinuses. It also is a carminative so it helps digestion. Harvest it when the tops flower.

Milkweed, with its very fragrant flower, has a milky-white latex in the stem and leaves, which has been reportedly used for warts. The flower is edible if eaten sparingly and double-boiled. Milkweed contains cardioactive compounds; it looks somewhat like dogbane.

Burdock, the plant that gets those annoying burrs that we are constantly picking out of our horses' manes, tails and forelocks, has a large root that is rich in inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides. It is also good food for beneficial bacteria; horses dig down in the winter to get the roots. The leaves can be used for pit cooking - wrap food in the leaf and cook it. The large leaf is edible. The burrs must be avoided, or very carefully handled, because the spiny parts can become airborne and get in the eyes and lungs and cause problems. The Chinese used the seeds found inside the burrs for dry, crusty, scaly skin conditions.

Wild rose, also known as wrinkly rose, has fragrant blossoms whose petals make a nice tea, or bath. The rose hips contain vitamin C and make a nice tea, too. Wild rose is useful as a heart tonic, and helps with emotional 'heart' issues.

Violets are more than just pretty - their flowers and leaves are tasty in salads and other dishes. The flowers can be used decoratively on cakes and in ice cubes. Violets are alterative and eliminative, and help with congestion and lymph flow. Violets also make a good poultice for eczema. They can be used fresh, dried, or as a tincture.

Many common herbs are wonderful sources of food and medicine - for our animals and ourselves.

That's just a small sampling of what we learned that day. Many other wild weeds were found and discussed. The walk ended with our minds full of new ideas, and our hands and mouths full of sweet, juicy, freshly-picked wild raspberries.

Think about arranging a wild weed walk in your neck of the woods. Different seasons reveal different life stages (and therefore different uses) of the plants, so spring, summer, and fall are all good times to have one. Contact the herbalist in your area for help in getting a walk together, and offer an alternative to walking the city streets. Walk for health awareness and genuine dis-ease prevention via good health. If we learn the benefits of herbs, and use them as natural food and natural medicine, perhaps cancer, heart disease, etc. can be avoided. Let's get the cart back behind the horse where it is meant to be - supporting health is the best prevention.


Dr. Charis Lindrooth has been a clinical herbalist for almost a decade and an avid equestrian for more than thirty years. As director of the Indigo Natural Healing Center, she maintains a busy practice, teaching and training schedule, and still manages to find time for her son, Dominic, and her two-year-old paint colt, Wild Indigo.

Indigo Natural Healing Center
Dr. Charis Lindrooth