A forager and a nutritionist team up to reveal natural medicine in their own garden

Foraging is the process of identifying and gathering wild plants, berries, nuts, roots and seeds to eat and use as health remedies. While humans had been foraging for millennia until supermarkets and health clinics sprung up, this ancient practice is now a popular way to eat smarter and improve your health.

Once you learn which plants grow wild in the wild you can eat and use, you’ll find yourself foraging for food too! And it doesn’t matter where you live. You can forage just about anywhere, a park, a forest, the side of the road, and even your backyard. To help you get started, here’s how to find six edible plants that aren’t just delicious, but have study-backed health benefits, including cooling hot flashes, improving sleep, and balancing blood sugar.

Photos of dandelions

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Sleep better with dandelion pancakes

They may seem like a nuisance weed to some, but dandelions are delicious and can be eaten from root to flower, says Minnesota-based foraging expert Maya Bolduan of TikToks mayakindamischief.

This herb is actually an edible healing herb, and it has been used for centuries around the world as a liver tonic and blood purifier, adds natural health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. Eating dandelions has also been shown to help you sleep longer and sounder. Thank the prebiotic fiber in the plant. University of Colorado Boulder scientists say the unique fiber helps your gut produce compounds that regulate your circadian rhythm, so you feel more sleepy before bed. It also helps you experience more non-rapid eye movement sleep (where you get deeper rest). rapid eye movement or REM sleep (a flashpoint during sleep when the study authors say your body recovers from stress).

To reap the benefits, Gittleman recommends pulling dandelions from your garden, washing them, and mixing them with other greens as a base for salads. They can taste bitter, so he suggests looking for small, vibrant green leaves, which have a milder flavor. Bolduan offers another idea: You can dough and fry dandelion flowers for savory and mildly sweet pancakes, he says. Or he tries to make your own dandelion tea.

Wild roses

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Decrease stress with rose petals

Roses are not only beautiful to look at, they are also edible! You can consume the petals, rose hips (fruit of the rose), and leaves, Bolduan points out. And you can make rose water with just a few simple steps: pick and gently clean the rose petals, place them in a saucepan with just enough distilled water to cover them, simmer over low heat until drained of all color, then filter. Rose-infused liquid can be added to cakes, jellies, and teas for a floral flavor. And if you inhale the rich aroma of rose petals as they simmer, you’ll feel calmer in just 3 minutes! Japanese scientists have found that a rose scent diminishes sympathetic nervous system activity (responsible for the fight or flight response) by 40% and reduce adrenaline (a stress hormone) by 30%.

Jewelweed flower

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Prevent a poison ivy rash with jewel weed

Adorned with bright orange and yellow cornucopia-shaped flowers, the jewelweed is known for its exploding pods that you can eat wholeSelf you can take them to your mouth before they open! Bolduan says. Another use for jewelweed: You can counter a poison ivy rash by crushing jewelgrass leaves and stems to release their juices, then applying to affected areas immediately after contact and letting dry, he reveals. That’s good advice, say researchers at Ohio Northern University. They tested this traditional Native American remedy and found that the seaweed puree prevents itching and swelling thanks to saponins (used to make soap bubbles) which bind and remove the compound causing the rash urush it. Conveniently, Jewelweed grows in the same areas as poison ivy, so there will likely be some Bolduan notes nearby. Or wash your skin with a poison ivy soap that contains valuable algae, like Natrulo (Buy at Amazon.com, $9.95), which the same study found as effective as the mashed plant.

Purslane yellow flower

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Lower triglycerides with purslane

Purslane’s thick, juicy leaves add a lemony twist to sandwiches, tacos and salads, says Bolduan. They’re also considered a superfood because they have the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids of any plant on Earth, he reveals. So it’s no wonder that a review of 6 studies in the journal Phytotherapy research found that regular consumption of purslane reduced harmful blood fats known as triglycerides by 19 points within 16 weeks. Omega-3 fats (including alpha lipoic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid AND Docosahexanoic acid) speed up the body’s removal of this bad fat so it can’t stick and clog your arteries. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, walnuts and salmon.

Red clover flowers

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Cool flushing with red clover

You can use the pink, purple or red pom-pom heads of red clover as an edible garnish, or dry them and then steep them for 15 minutes to make a sweet-tasting tea, Bolduan says. This is good news if you want relief from menopausal symptoms, as red clover is a proven remedy. In a study conducted in Austria, women who took 80 mg. of one red clover supplement per day resulted in a 74% reduction in hot flashes, a 72% reduction in night sweats, and a 75% reduction in the overall intensity of menopausal symptoms within 90 days. The credit goes to isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogens) in red clover which counteracts the side effects of estrogen decline during menopause by mimicking this hormone. Also smart: Take a red clover supplement, like Promensil (Buy at iHerb.com, $22.95).

Mulberry plant

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Mulberry leaves balance blood sugarR

Mulberries aren’t the only edible part of the mulberry tree! Bolduan says. The young mulberry leaves can be cooked, then stuffed with rice like grape leaves or dried for use as a tea. Not only are the slightly sweet mulberry leaves tasty, they also lower blood sugar spikes after meals thanks to a unique compound in them (1-deoxynojirimycin) which reduces the absorption of carbohydrates, say the Polish researchers. And if you want to keep this tasty blood sugar balancer handy, you’re in luck: You can find prepackaged mulberry leaf tea at health food stores and online retailers. Try Bio Nutrition White Mulberry Leaf Tea (buy at Vitacost.com, $10.49). Note: Avoid if you are allergic to latex as mulberry tree contains natural latex.

Photo by Gabrielle Lichterman

Photo by Gabrielle Lichterman

Gabrielle Lichterman is an award-winning author and journalist who has covered health, personal finance and lifestyle for Woman’s World since 1997. Gabrielle is best known for pioneering the worldwide “cycle sync” movement that began with her groundbreaking book on women’s health. 28 days: what your cycle reveals about your moods, health and potential. Learn more at GabrielleLichterman.com.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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