Fleabane Weed (Hairy Fleabane)

The name “flea” comes from the Latin word fluere which means “to stink”. It was originally used to refer to a variety of weeds that were poisonous or repulsive. Later it came to mean any plant with hairs, especially those growing on the stem.

A few centuries later, when horses became popular in Europe, they brought their stench along with them. By the time the Industrial Revolution arrived, horses had become common in many parts of the world. People began using manure from horses to fertilize fields. Horses are omnivores and eat grasses, leaves, flowers and other plants. They do not like roots or tubers but will eat some fruits if they have been treated properly. If you feed your horse something that tastes bad he may refuse to drink its water; if he refuses to eat his food he may die within a day or two. You cannot force a horse to drink water contaminated with horse urine, but you can make sure that it does not get sick by feeding it only clean water. Horses excrete ammonia gas when they breathe so you must keep the area around your house free of horse manure.

When horses died out, fleabane weeds took over most of the country. There are several species of fleabane, all related to each other and to horsetail. They can survive in almost any climate, although they do not like extremely cold or dry areas.

Some of them will grow under water and others can survive a brief submersion; some species can live in wet soil, sand, moss or even concrete!

Most of them reproduce by seed. The seeds are very light and need only the slightest breeze to disperse them. Each plant can produce hundreds or even thousands of seeds each year and can remain fertile for decades.

Most species of fleabane are highly flammable and burn at a particularly high temperature. They were used to start fires in the early days before matches became common. Some Native American tribes poured the contents of fleabane pods into gun barrels to clean them.

Habitat and Distribution

Horsetails (Equisetum) are found in almost every habitat on Earth except for cold, dry areas such as the polar regions and deserts. They are especially common in damp or wet areas, such as swamps and marshlands. They consist of a central stem with finely divided hollow pipes (also known as penstocks or straws) on the underside.

The stems grow in a spiral pattern like a tightly-coiled snake with multiple heads.

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The central stem supports the plant’s weight and also grows in a spiral pattern. It can grow up to four inches in diameter and up to an incredible sixty feet in height. The hollow pipes are located on the underside of the stem and act as extensions of the stem, giving the plant extra support.

They resemble long wooden tubes and have a similar structure to bamboo.

There are two basic types of horsetail, those that grow in non-flowering clumps and those that grow individually. The clump-forming types grow in tightly packed clusters that can be several feet across. Each clump consists of many stems, all arising from a single root system.

The individual types of horsetail consist of a single stem with no branches.

Cultivation and Collecting

The best time to collect the stems is in early spring before they begin to grow anew. They can be cut with a sharp knife or saw but it is preferable to wait until they are dry and then snap them off near the base. The stems can be dried in an oven set at low heat, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, for about an hour.

They can then be stored in airtight containers until they are ready to be used.

Uses and Cultivation

The stems were traditionally used by Native Americans for weaving baskets, mats, nets, roof thatch and sandals. They were also used as flutes, the larger pieces producing a deeper tone than the native flute made from cane. They are most commonly used for fire starting.

To do this, a piece of the stem as long as your arm and as thick as a pencil is carved into apointed tip. This is then scraped with a knife to produce a rough surface. One or two drops of MVK Fuel are then applied to the tip and ignited.

The stems burn brightly for about a minute and will easily start a fire if subjected to a fresh spark from two stones. This is particularly easy if a jute string has been tightly wound around the stem just below the point. The entire string burns rapidly and produces an abundance of sparks.

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Horsetail stems are preferred over flint for starting fires because they produce more instant heat and are easier to carry.

Horsetail stems can be dried and stored for future use. A single stem dried and stored in a sealed container will retain its usefulness for at least a year. Horsetail is not as flammable as other tinder such as dry grass, cotton or even tree resin.

It can be used to safely ignite more dangerous materials and in wet conditions where other tinders would not be practical.

Magical Properties

The stems contain a very fine magical charge that can be harnessed by wizards for magical purposes, such as recharging depleted crystals. The magical energy is strongest in the spring and may be drawn upon at any time. It is especially effective for brewing love potions.

The flowers are also said to retain a magical charge and are used in various potions, especially sleeping drafts and healing potions.

Other Uses

The flowering spikes were also used by Native Americans as toothbrushes. A few were used for toilet paper. To do this they would remove the seeds and soft bits and then split the spike into thin strips.

These were then placed in the mouth against the teeth to remove plaque and chew on them to remove fresh stains. They would last several months before needing replacement. This use has also been adopted by the modern world.

Horsetail is not only a practical item but also has decorative value. The pink or yellow flowers that appear in the spring are attractive to look at and may be placed in a vase on a table or hung from the ceiling. Strangely, unlike most flowers they are even more colourful when placed in a glass of water.

Placed among flowers or other plants in a garden horsetail will protect them and increase their growth. A horsetail flower picked on St Anthony’s day (17th June) and placed under the pillow is said to induce vivid dreams about the future.

Petals placed in the eyes are said to improve vision, especially night vision, and also prevent against eye infections. They will also relieve burning and itching of the eyes caused by exposure to smoke.

Finally, a horsetail flower placed at the foot of a bed is said to ease the pain of childbirth.

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Elder (Sambucus)

Elder is a medium-sized shrub that can grow to the size of a small tree. It has irregular branches and dark brown bark with clusters of small leaves and clusters of small flowers that grow into green berries. The berries ripen in the early autumn and stain everything an deep crimson colour.

Elder is native to temperate climates and can be found in many parts of the British Isles.

Parts used

The berries, harvested in the autumn.

Harvesting

The berries should be harvested in September or October and can be picked by hand or by placing a container beneath the shrub and shaking it gently.

Curing

Place the berries in a dry, well ventilated place for 2-3 weeks turning them regularly. The berries will naturally begin to ferment in this time. After 2-3 weeks they can be stored away.

Uses

The berries can be eaten raw, cooked or even made into wine. They make a popular jam and are often used to flavour desserts and puddings. The berries can also be boiled to make a nutritious and refreshing jelly.

The berries can be dried but they lose some of their flavour. Elderberry wine is a very popular drink which can be made with or without the addition of sugar.

The flowers can be used to make an excellent wine and the leaves can be dried, ground and used as a coffee substitute.

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Over the years the berries have been used as a remedy for all manner of things, from soothing sore throats to preventing and curing the common cold. They can also be used for treating high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and AIDS. They are also said to slow the effects of ageing process and even help in the growth of new neurons.

There are a number of different varieties of Elder that grow throughout the world, many of which have been used medicinally by native peoples where they grow. In fact in many parts of Europe the Elder is still known as the Medicine Tree.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Also known as ‘the stinking rose’, Garlic is a plant with a reputation that far outstrips its utility. A member of the lily family it grows to a height of around 40cm and has a selection of white flowers and a cluster of small bulbs. It has a very strong smell and grows best in dry, temperate climates.

It is native to central Asia but has been introduced to a variety of other temperate regions and is now widely cultivated throughout the world.

Parts used

The whole plant including the bulbs, flowers and leaves.

Harvesting

Whole plants are harvested in the summer and dried thoroughly. The plant contains several small bulbs which can be easily pulled apart from the rest of the plant.

The dried bulbs can be stored for around a year if kept in a cool and dry place such as a cupboard. For long term storage it is best to crush the bulbs to prevent them from clumping and then store in an airtight jar.

Handling

The bulbs of the garlic plant contain several chemicals that give it its strong smell and some of these are unaffected by drying, so dried garlic still has a very strong taste and smell. It is best to always handle the dried bulbs with gloves as any contact with skin can cause an irritation that can last several days.

Uses

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The most common use of Garlic is as a flavouring for food. It is widely used in cooking in many parts of the world and goes particularly well in Mexican, Indian and Chinese dishes. It is commonly used in meat products such as sausage and beef burger and is often used in dip and salad dressing.

It is also widely used in the preparation of seafood particularly crab, prawn and shrimp dishes.

It is sometimes eaten raw in countries such as China and Japan. It has a strong taste so only small amounts are normally required.

In addition to its culinary uses it has several traditional medicinal uses as well as uses in traditional folk magic and superstition. It has been used as a pesticide for centuries and garlic water was often used to wash salad crops. It was also said to ward off evil spirits and witches so could be hung from the ceiling or carried in amulets.

The most common medicinal use is as a cure for colds and influenza and a number of studies have shown that it does indeed have some antibiotic and anti-viral properties. It is particularly effective against the flu virus and is often taken at the first sign of cold symptoms.

The ancient Egyptians used it as an eye medicine, rolling it into pills and storing it in small phials.

In more modern times it has been used to prevent the spread of leprosy and as an antiseptic in the 1st World War. It was used in the treatment of syphilis before proper antibiotics came along and studies have shown it to be effective against gonorrhoea.

It is also very nutritious, containing high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron, protein and selenium. It is claimed that a clove of garlic a day can prevent heart attacks!

Garlic is widely used in traditional Asian medicine, particularly Chinese medicine. It is often used in tonic wine and as a general health supplement.

Other Uses

The leaves, stems and roots of garlic can all be eaten depending on the variety. The leaves are most often consumed as salads or cooked like spinach in a similar fashion. The stems can be chopped up and added to dishes as a flavouring in the same way that the bulbs can.

The roots can also be eaten either raw or cooked.

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The flowers are very pretty with a delicate scent and can be used in salads or to decorate food.

The seeds can be toasted and ground into a powder then used as a condiment in the same way that you would use pepper.

The oils from the cloves are used in the production of soaps and some topical medicines.

The bulbs can be dried and ground down to produce garlic powder that is used for cooking or as a condiment.

The biggest use for garlic is in the manufacture of garlic butter and garlic oil that is eaten by itself as a spread. A combination of processed garlic, sunflower oil and salt this is both delicious and popular with most people.

Harvesting

Garlic takes about 10 months to grow from planting to maturity and it grown in the same way as onions. After growing it can be left in the ground until required or harvested as required. It should be allowed to dry out completely before storing.

Some varieties will produce multiple small bulbils around the main bulb that can be dug up and harvested as a different variety to the main bulb. Each bulbil will grow into a small clove and produce its own wrapper leaf around it. They can be eaten but are quite small.

It is possible to replant these bulbils to keep growing a particular variety.

Storing

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The bulbs will last for a long time if stored correctly. They can be kept for up to a year if kept between layers of sand, sawdust or soil in a dry place that is not subject to extremes of temperature.

They can also be braided together and hung up in a dry place out of the sun.

Sources & references used in this article:

Control of glyphosate-resistant Canada fleabane [Conyza canadensis (L.) Cronq.] with preplant herbicide tankmixes in soybean [Glycine max. (L). Merr.] by HP Byker, N Soltani, DE Robinson… – … Journal of Plant …, 2013 – NRC Research Press

Glyphosate-resistant hairy fleabane (Conyza bonariensis) is reported in Greece by IS Travlos, D Chachalis – Weed Technology, 2010 – BioOne

Glyphosate-resistant hairy fleabane (Conyza bonariensis) in Spain by JM Urbano, A Borrego, V Torres, JM Leon, C Jimenez… – Weed Technology, 2007 – BioOne

Chemical control of flaxleaf fleabane (Conyza Bonariensis L. Cronq.) in winter fallows. by H Wu, S Walker, G Robinson – Plant Protection Quarterly, 2008 – pdfs.semanticscholar.org

Control of flaxleaf fleabane (Conyza bonariensis) in wheat and sorghum by H Wu, S Walker, G Robinson, N Coombes – Weed Technology, 2010 – BioOne

Biology and management of horseweed and hairy fleabane in California by A Shrestha, K Hembree, S Wright – 2008 – books.google.com

Roadside management of annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and wild carrot (Daucus carota) by SJ Fleischer, MJ Gaylor, R Dickens, DL Turner – Weed Technology, 1989 – JSTOR

Glyphosate-resistant hairy fleabane documented in the Central Valley by A Shrestha, B Hanson, K Hembree – California agriculture, 2008 – calag.ucanr.edu

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