Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
Among the native wildflowers that grace my mountain the daisy fleabane has always been one of the most welcomed. It typically shows up as a small rosette of wooly leaves just before the grass really starts to turn green. The hair on the young leaves is velvety and soft to the touch. The stem is also quite fuzzy and soon shoots up to around two feet tall give or take a few inches. It’s one of the first plants to flower in spring and the blooms seem to last until the climate finds its summer heat. The flower is a greenish yellow disk and what we commonly call the petals is white tinged with pinks and purples. Being a member of the compositae family the daisy fleabane flower is actually a cluster of little tiny flowers. Each little bump in the disk and every one of those petals is it’s own individual flower.
It’s most likely that fuzzy coat that prevents us from considering daisy fleabane as part of our vegetable garden. But it is considered an edible plant. I’ve not worked up the nerve to try it myself but those who have tell me that it has a peppery flavor. The edible part is the leaves which are boiled like spinach. It’s also said that it should be mixed with other ingredients such as basswood leaves or buds to help conceal the fuzzy texture.
But why would we want to add those fuzzy leaves to a meal in the first place if we have more palatable options to bulk up the pot? Well, Hippocrates advised to let food be our medicine and medicine to be our food. And the main things that fleabane seems to bring to the table is it’s medicinal values.
Some of my own hesitancy in trying fleabane comes from it’s name. I’d always assumed that because of it’s name that it contains some toxic components that are so offsetting that not even a bug would touch it. And it’s true that the plant was once dried and placed in bags and used as a sachet in a belief that it repelled fleas. However, the plant is neither toxic to fleas or humans. The whole thing was simply marketing. But I have an idea of where someone got the idea that fleabane would repell fleas.
In all of online sources that I reviewed fleabane is listed as an anti-inflammatory. As such it’s reasonable to presume that it was commonly used to relieve itchy bug bites such as one might receive from a flea. An association was made between the use of the plant and the source of the itch and the sachet was invented in hopes of preventing the bites.
The secret of fleabane’s anti-inflammatory power lies not in the power to repel anything but in it concentration of Caffeic Acid . As you might suspect Caffeic Acid is found in coffee but it’s not caffeine and coffee only has modest levels of Caffeic Acid. And Caffeic Acid is actually found in a wide variety of foods including thyme, sage, spearmint, apple sauce and even barley.
According to various articles Caffeic Acid may help improve athletic performance and weight loss, help with viral infections like HIV and Herpes and even help prevent different types of cancer.
Herbalism commonly uses fleabane in the form of a tea. The teas are said to help with tumors, bronchitis, kidney stones, bleeding from the bowels and digestive tract, nosebleeds and diabetes. Peterson’s Field Guides also warn that some people could suffer contact dermatitis from handling fleabane. I have never suffered any ill effects from just touching fleabane though.
I also see quite a few comments from folks that are active on Facebook and MeWe wild food groups and plant ID groups that praise fleabane as an edible. So if you are one of those people I’d love to hear about your experience with fleabane as an edible or wild medical plant. You can comment on the social media post or at the bottom of each blog post.
Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days!
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