By Roy Lamb
If I say to you superfoods, you probably think of acai berries, chia seeds, or some other exotic plant. So, you may be astonished to discover that a wide range of plants common to Ireland can provide a whole host of health benefits. You may even find a fair few growing as weeds in your garden.
So, before you throw all that nutritional goodness in the compost bin, check this list to find out if they could be put to better use in your kitchen.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale L.)
One plant we’ve all found growing in our garden at one point or another is the dandelion. And while we may have enjoyed a glass of dandelion and burdock at some point, we may not have considered the health benefits of this incredible plant.
Dandelion has long been used in folk medicine as a cure for sore throats, high blood pressure and urinary infections. Recent research has substantiated a number of these health benefits, showing that dandelion can indeed reduce cholesterol, blood glucose levels and inflammation. As a mild diuretic, it can also help if you are suffering from a UTI (urinary tract infection).
All of the dandelion plant can be used in various recipes, from petal-infused wine or honey to simply eating dandelion roots whole, just like carrots.
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella)
A perennial weed native to Ireland is wild sheep sorrel. A small flowering plant, it’s commonly found growing in back gardens across the country.
As a good source of vitamins C and E, it can contribute to a healthy immune system and glowing skin. Sheep sorrel is also a very good source of antioxidants. However, due to its high levels of potassium oxalate, it should only be eaten in small amounts.
Sheep sorrel has a tart, almost lemony flavour that can be a wonderful addition to salads or mixed into a stir fry for a healthy boost. It is best harvested in summer or early autumn.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
The stinging nettle grows pretty rampantly throughout Ireland. But did you know that it contains about as much Omega-3 as spinach, essential amino acid levels comparable to chicken, and a whole host of vitamins, including: 100% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin A, up to 50% of Calcium, 20% of Fibre and up to 12% of Iron.
To prepare nettles to eat, simply drop them in a pot of boiling salted water for a few minutes to render the sting harmless. You can then use them in a variety of recipes, such as nettle pesto or soup, or as an infusion in tea.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.)
One of the most popular ingredients in herbal teas is chamomile. While its benefits to a good night sleep have been widely reported, there is strong scientific evidence to suggest that this common flower has a range of other health benefits.
The chemicals found in chamomile flowers have been shown to be moderate antioxidants and antimicrobials. What’s more, animal model studies indicate potent anti-inflammatory action and some cholesterol-lowering activities.
Chamomile flowers can be washed, dried and used on their own, or as a blend, in herbal teas. Be careful if you are allergic to flowers like daisies, however, as chamomile can cause allergic reactions.
Elderflowers (Sambucus nigra L.)
You can often find fresh elderflower throughout the Irish countryside and sometimes in your back garden. Fresh elderflowers also contain a lot more goodness than their dried counterparts, so making it yourself can be one of the best ways to extract the full health benefits of these flowers.
Elderflowers are a rich source of bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols, which bring a number of health benefits such as anti-pyretic (helping reduce fever), diuretic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory.
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago Major)
When you think of plantain you probably think of the green banana relative found in African and East Asian cuisine. The broadleaf plantain, however, is a completely different plant commonly found across Europe.
Often found by roadsides as a leafy weed, the broadleaf plantain has a wide variety of health benefits that have been used as far back as 1000 years ago. More recent studies have shown that broadleaf plantain can be useful for enhancing the immune system, reducing the size of tumours, and protecting the gut.
It is also an anti-inflammatory, anti-infective, antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral and antioxidant, and they are also high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. It can also be used to heal the skin when applied locally.
Common Purslane (Portulaca Oleracea)
Common purslane is found in gardens and public spaces across Ireland and is often seen as a weed, given its hardiness and ability to rapidly spread. The succulent leaves of the common purslane are also an excellent source of nutrients and antioxidants!
It is incredibly rich in potassium (494 mg/100 g), magnesium (68 mg/100 g) and calcium (65 mg/100 g) and it contains four different types (10) of omega-3 fatty acid ─ useful for controlling cholesterol.
The leaves of purslane can be washed and eaten raw in a salad, mixed into delicious chimichurri sauce or blended with basil and pine nuts into a healthy twist on pesto. In fact, there are lots of things you can do with purslane for an extra healthy kick to your food!
Roy Lamb is a pharmacist and co-founder of Nasslor Health-drinks Ltd., makers of Emunity. Emunity is the first detox health drink to harness the healing and immunity-boosting benefits of Nettle and make it available in a ready-to-drink can. Emunity’s founders are two pharmacists with a passion for helping people stay healthy. Taking an old family recipe they have blended nettles with English Garden Herbs to create a great tasting, refreshing drink loaded with immune boosting health benefits. It is 100% natural, with no artificial Ingredients and only 53 calories per can. Emunity is available from www.Emunity.co.uk, Amazon, and independent health stores.