I had a rare privilege this week. I was invited to be a guest instructor for an inter-agency survival training camp for some folks who answer to the Department of Justice. Twenty guys from a diverse group of agencies were working on their wilderness survival skills in the mountains of Virginia, and I had the pleasure of joining them to provide a little training on edible and medicinal plants, with a focus on common weeds that are found globally.
While I cannot get into the who, what, where, or why they were doing that training (nor provide you with pictures due to operational security), I’m glad to share a bit of what I told the team about the virtues of weeds that we all probably see every day.
This European native can be found in sunny areas, globally. Its flowers, leaves, and roots can be eaten raw or cooked, but its bitter bite goes down a lot easier if cooked. Just don’t gorge on it if you are starving and caught behind enemy lines, as dandelion tends to liberate toxins stored in your body – dumping them into your bloodstream and making you feel like you caught the flu.
Another Euro-native gone global, this weedy little plant has no kinship with the banana-like fruit that shares its name. The weed plantain has greens that are good raw or cooked. The mashed leaves are an outstanding medicinal poultice on venomous stings and bites. Regardless of whether you find yourself on homeland soil, or in a hot/wet climate or hot/dry climate overseas, chances are great that you will have plantain growing somewhere nearby to treat the bites and stings of unfriendly locals.
This thorny plant has cousins all the way around the northern hemisphere, providing tasty compound berries in the summer, and medicinal leaves during the rest of the growing season. If you end up with dysentery from water, food or dirty hands, make a tea from the leaves and sip it throughout the day until you’re feeling better. If that’s not strong enough, make a tea of the blackberry plant roots and sip on that over several hours.
This Asian native plant is another globe-trotting weed, common in farming areas and open sunny ground. The leaves and roots can be eaten, after boiling in several changes of water to remove the bitterness. Eating this plant is a great way to control the symptoms of gout, should you get caught somewhere without your medicine. Good luck getting the whole root though, it can be over 3 feet long.
Again, this is just a quick thumbnail of the plants we covered during my stay. I would like take this opportunity to say how glad I am, that the men and women on the front lines of conflict and criminality are taking these kinds of steps to ensure their own safety and the safety of their teams. And I’d like to reemphasize what an honor it was to share a little training time with them. My thanks to JC and KG for including me in this training; and my thanks to all who serve their country and countrymen.