Teaching Children About Wild Plants: 4 Summertime Herbs, An Herb Camp Extra!

  Originally published in   Natural Herbal Living Magazine * , May 2014.

Originally published in Natural Herbal Living Magazine*, May 2014.

Summer is in full swing.  The days are hot and long beckoning forth lovely little plants everywhere!  It is the perfect time for an adventure, to go searching for happy, lovely child-friendly herbs that are commonly growing this time of year.  Often referred to as weeds, these plants are powerfully healing, nutritious, and tasty!  Take a walk and see if you can find them in your neighborhood.  To help really get to know the plants, when you and your child are meeting each of these plants share the little stories below and consider creating something tasty or crafty with your new plant friends.  

DANDELIONS

Taraxacum officinale

This common plant is beloved by children everywhere.  What child hasn’t created a bouquet of dandelions as a gift for their mom or enjoyed blowing on the full seed heads until not a single winged seed remains?  

What They Look Like & Where To Find Them

Dandelions grow pretty much everywhere from mountain meadows to backyard lawns to cracks in the side walks.  Their tenacity is part of their medicine, strong and powerful.  Dandelions have jagged edged leaves that look like teeth.  Hence the French name dent-de-lion.  The leaves grow from a center point in and have no stalk or hairs.  The flowers are bright yellow and fluffy, changing into white seed heads that simply beg to be blown upon!

Gifts From Dandelions

Dandelions are great medicine.  The leaves and roots help to heal the liver and kidneys.  They are high in vitamins and minerals.  The young Spring leaves, harvested before the flowers appear, gently cleanse and stimulate the body, waking it up after a long winter.  The flowers help to relieve pain and help to heal the skin.

Activities, Recipes & More

Spend the day playing with dandelion.  For kids a couple of wonderful activities include make crowns with the beautiful flowers.  You can also use the flowers with stems attached as paint brushes.  Cook up a tasty meal with dandelion.  The flowers are tasty added to cookies and muffins, just pull the petals off of the flower head and add to your favorite recipe.  Or make dandelion flowers fritters!  Add the leaves to salads, saute them or use in pesto.  The leaves are often bitter after the plant flowers and are best harvested in the spring.  However some of the bitterness can be removed by boiling the leaves in two changes of water.  

Read “The Dandelion Seed“ by Joseph P. Anthony and Cris Arbo.  This book tells the tale of a dandelion seeds journey from it’s mama flower head out into the world where it makes a home and eventually it’s own baby seeds.  The pictures are beautiful!  

Dandelion Stories To Share

How did dandelions first come to be?

“In the ancient days when the world was populated by fairies, elves and gnomes, the first humans to arrive caused problems as they could not see these elemental beings and so kept treading on them.  Some of the sun-loving fairies dressed in bright yellow had nowhere to hide, unlike the gnomes and elves who took refuge behind rocks or under the ground, so they were transformed into dandelions.  If you step on a dandelion it will soon spring up again, as it is said to contain the spirit of fairies!”  

                        - From “Flower Power” by Anne McIntyre

Make A Wish!  

When I was a kid my friends and I believed that if we closed our eyes, made a wish and then blew all the seeds from a dandelion flower in one breath, well, our wish would come true.  Other beliefs abound.  One tells us the number of puffs it takes to blow all the seeds from a dandelion tells us the hour of the day.  Another is that after blowing on the seed head, how ever many seeds remain indicate how many children you will have.  Yet another legend explains that the tallest dandelion stalk a child can find will show how much they will grow over the next year.

~ Kid-Worthy Interesting Dandelion Facts ~

Each dandelion flower is not a single flower but instead is made up of many little tiny flowers all growing together to make the beautiful yellow blooms we enjoy.

Dandelion flowers are like Mother Nature’s clock.  The flowers open at five in the morning and close at eight at night! 

MALLOW

Malva Neglecta

This amazing little plant is often overlooked and disregarded.  It is a wonderful plant for kids because it is approachable and fun to play with!

What It Looks Like & Where To Find It

Malva generally likes the disturbed earth of vacant lots, waysides and gardens.  It has downy leaves that look similar to the geraniums found in garden nurseries, being round with 5 to 7 lobes.  When crushed or chewed the leaves created a slippery mucilage.  The long leaf stems come off the main stem.  The flowers are small and cupped shaped with five petals ranging in color from blue to white sometimes with stripes that run vertically up the petals.  The center of the flower contains the stamens fused to the pistil forming a mass.  The fruits are flat and round in the shape of an old fashion cheese wheel.  

Gifts From Mallow

Mallow is an demulcent plant that soothes irritations of the respiratory and digestive tracts.  It helps ease dry coughs and calms the stomach.  It can be used on the skin to make a soothing poultice just like plantain.  

Activities, Recipes & More

You can eat flowers, “fairy cheese” and leaves!  Add them to salads and soups.  Even use the beautiful flowers to decorate tasty treats like cupcakes and cookies.  The darling little cheeses, flowers and leaves make a great addition to a tea party for fairies to come and enjoy.  

Have young children practice their counting skills by collecting a certain number of flowers and fairy cheese for your dinner time salad.  For example, ask your child to collect 16 fairy cheeses, 23 leaves and 8 flowers for dinner. 

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Mallow Stories To Share

The little seeds of mallow look like cheese wheels and so are called fairy cheeses!  A lovely little poem from Cicely Mary Barker about the Mallow Fairy is fun to share with kids when learning about mallow.  

The Song Of The Mallow Fairy

by Cicely Mary Barker

  Copyright: Encore Editions

Copyright: Encore Editions

“I am Mallow; here sit I

Watching all the passers-by.

Though my leaves are torn and tattered,

Dust-besprinkled, mud-bespattered,

See, my seeds are fairy cheeses,

Freshest, finest, fairy cheeses!

These are what an elf will munch

For his supper or his lunch.

Fairy housewives, going down

To Their busy market-town,

Here me wheedling: “Lady, please,

Pretty lady, buy a cheese!”

And I never find it matters

That I’m nicknamed Rags-and-Tatters,

For they buy my fairy cheeses,

Freshest, finest, fairy cheeses!”1

 

~ Kid-Worthy Interesting Malva Facts ~

Malva is in the same plant family as the marshmallow plant which is what the original marshmallow was made from!  Malva has other members in it’s family that you might be familiar with such as okra and hibiscus.  

RED CLOVER

Trifolium pratense

Red clover has lovely pink, purple blossoms that seem to herald in the joy of Spring and Summer.  

What It Looks Like & Where To Find It

According to herbalist Michael Moore, “red clover can be expected anywhere.”2 Yet, meadows and farm pastures offer the most chance of finding this little treasure.  The plant stands one to three feet tall with round to oval shaped flower heads composed of many single flowers.  The leaves are divided into three parts each with a distinctive marking of a light chevon or “V” shape.  

Gifts From Red Clover

Red clover has long been used to help children with spasmodic coughs.  It is full of vitamins and minerals.  It has a mild relaxing action and can help you rest at the end of a long day.  Red clover is part of the pea family (Fabaceae).  The plants in this family help to fix nitrogen in the soil which helps other plants to grow strong and healthy.

Activities, Recipes & More

Pull each tiny little flower from the flower head and nibble on the succulent white ends of the flowers.  This is where the nectar is stored, yum!  This flower is a favorite of bees and butterflies.  Spend a lazy afternoon in your favorite clover patch listening to the exciting buzz of insects and watching them dance among the flowers!

Red Clover Stories To Share

If you find a four leaved clover you will be lucky indeed.  Keep it close for a luck charm!  It is also said that holding a clover in your hand will give you “fairy sight” so you can see and talk with fairies!

Special note about Red Clover ~ Red clover may have an estrogenic effect in the body and so should be avoided by those with hormone sensitive conditions that may be exacerbated by estrogen exposure.  Use in limited amounts when pregnant or breastfeeding.  Red clover acts at a blood thinner therefore it is not recommended for people on blood thinning medication or for those with bleeding disorders. 

PLANTAIN

Plantago major, P. lanceolata

Of course we can’t forget plantain!  Did you know plantain is a great herb for every kid to know?  It grows in many places, is easy to recognize and makes a wonderful first aid helper for scraped skin, insect bites and stings.

What It Looks Like & Where To Find It

Similar to dandelion, plantain’s distribution is widespread and it can be found pretty much anywhere.  The leaves are egg or oval shaped, growing low to the ground, in a rosette.  Plantain has leaves with highly ribbed veins which remain connected, string-like, when the leaf is torn apart.  The presence of these string-like veins, which are similar to celery strings, are a good indication that you have found the right plant.  When in flower the plant sends up a leafless stalk upon which tiny green and yellow flowers reside.  

plantain.jpg

Gifts From Plantain

The most common use for plantain is as a skin healing herb often made as a poultice using the fresh leaves and applied to wounds and insect bites.  Plantain will also help to cool and soothe colds and coughs.  

Activities, Recipes & More

~ Fairy Bandage ~

Use plantain to make a “fairy bandage”!3  In the excellent book “A Kid’s Herb Book” herbalist Lesley Tierra explains that plantain will stick to the skin all by itself creating a soothing, healing fairy bandage.  

~ Leaf Rubbings ~

The raised, defined veins in plantain leaves make the perfect botanical for making leaf rubbings.  Simply place a leaf or two or more on a hard surface with the veins pointing upwards.  Cover with a sheet of paper and gently rub over the area where the leaves are with a crayon.  You may want to remove the paper from the crayon and lay it sideways on the paper to get the best coverage.  This action brings out the shape of the leaves and veins making neat print and record of the plant.  

Plantain Stories To Share

It is sometimes called “white man’s footsteps or footprint” because it was brought to America by Europeans.  So I often find myself looking for it in places where people walk. 

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A Bit About Safe & Ethical Wildcrafting

I hope you enjoyed learning about dandelion, malva, red clover and plantain.  The adventure has just began, these are just four of a multitude of wild plants that are just waiting to play with us!  Before you head out looking for your new plant friends, it is important to know a few guidelines to follow that will keep you safe and protect the plants.  Know your plant, never consume something that you can’t positively identify.  Make sure to instruct children to ask an adult if it is ok to eat a plant before they eat it.  Some plants are very poisonous, keep yourself and your kids safe.  See the list of resources below for learning more about plant identification.  

Harvest plants away from roads, polluted areas.

Never harvest all of a plant from an area.  Always leaving behind a healthy population of plants insures that the community of plants and animals continues to grow and flourish.

 

*Please Note: This post contains affilate links to Natural Herbal Living Magazine.  If you use these links to purchase products from this company, I get a small commision that helps me continue the work I do here on Mama Rosemary.  It does not effect your purchase price in anyway.  

Thank you so much  for your support!

 

 


Sources For Learning More About Plant Identification:

  • For on the go plant indentifcation from an excellent wild food and plant medicine forager: http://brigittemars.com/iplant-app/

  • http://www.survivalplantsmemorycourse.com/ is a great website with indepth information on how to identify and use a wide variety of common wild plants.

  • “Botany In A Day” by Thomas J. Elpel will help you learn all about the basics of plant identification.  

1 Cicely Mary Barker, The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies pg. 147

2 Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West pg. 139

3 Lesley Tierra, A Kid’s Herb Book pg. 77

REFERENCE

  • Barker, Cicely Mary, The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies, Frederick Warne & Co., 1996

  • McIntyre, Anne, Flower Power, Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1996

  • Moore, Michael, Medicinal Plants of the Mountains West, The Museum of New Mexico Press, 1979

  • Tierra, Lesley, A Kid’s Herb Book, Robert D. Redd Publishers, 2000

  • Tilgner, Sharol, N.D., Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, Wise Acres Press, Inc., 1999

  • Weed, Susun S., Healing Wise, Ash Tree Publishing, 1989

http://www.survivalplantsmemorycourse.com/

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Shared On: The Kid's Weekly Coop, Wellness Wednesday, Mama Moments Mondays, After School LInk-up, Thoughtful Spot