10 Summer Backyard Herbs, Nature’s Medicine & First Aid

10 Summer Backyard Herbs, Nature’s Medicine & First Aid


When left to grow all that nature generously shares with us, our yards sprout up many nutritive and medicinal healing plants. When we learn to identify these summer backyard herbs, we can head out and pick a fresh salad for a meal (or just sit on the lawn grazing as you go) or harvest leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots to make medicinal infusions, decoctions, oils, tinctures, and other healing medicines. Depending on the plant you are using, and the medicine you are making, some plant parts work best in the intended medicine as a fresh plant and other plants / medicinal substances work best when we dry the plant parts and pieces before using them to make medicine. 

I will give simple information about these herbs and their uses. Embarking on a quest to learn herbal medicine, in my eyes, is comparable to learning a new language. The quest is a commitment for the long haul, immersion in the learning, and using the information for life. Basically, use it so you don’t lose it way of approaching herbal medicine.

Medicinal Uses Of Summer Backyard Herbs 

Medicinal herbs have affinities for specific body systems and are used for several healing purposes. I recommend getting to know wild plants by learning to identify them and practicing hands-on work with them. Discovering the best times to harvest plants, and the various parts of plants used (leaves, blossoms, seeds, roots) help you learn about plant life cycles and seasonal changes. When we couple learning with experience, we build our own wisdom around what a plant’s healing potential is.

I recommend books by Rosemary Gladstar, Jim Duke, Matthew Wood, and James Green. If you like the Wise Woman’s perspective on natural/herbal healing, try Susun Weed’s and/or Pam Montgomery’s books. This is the shortlist, there are so many wonderful herbal authors and teachers. I just embarked on a year-long course with Sajah Popham, School of Evolutionary Herbalism, to learn another perspective on herbal healing that correlates herbal medicine and body types with astrology. Fascinating learning and he also has a book titled Evolutionary Herbalism, good read.

Let’s get started with those 10 plants. I confess I narrowed down my original list of about 25 herbs to these10 herbs.  Simplicity when getting started learning herbs. In fact, I recommend picking 1-3 herbs to learn at a time. Really work with them:

  • Identifying them at various stages in the life cycle
  • Feel their texture and the prominent features of each plant
  • Taste them
  • Make infusions and experience them as a liquid medicine
  • Be in awe when you start noticing them everywhere: wood walks, sides of the road, other’s yards, parks, community spaces, etc.

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettles, Urtica dioica, is an herb known for its body cell nourishing benefits. Our body cells receive nourishment from the foods we eat. Nettles, as food or medicine, is deeply rich in vitamins and minerals and works to aid healing in several body systems. Nettles is on the top of my favorite healing medicine plants.

Parts used: leaves, seeds, and roots.

The leaves are used as food and can be gently sauteed or added to soups, stews, and stir fries. I tend to add them at the end, when I am just about finished cooking a dish, to prevent overcooking the wild plant food. 

I like using the raw leaves to make a mixed pesto with basil and garlic. Grinding the raw leaves into water, grinding removes the sting, and drinking this mix is strong nutritive medicine. I will throw a leaf or two of Nettle into a strawberry smoothie. Fresh and dried leaves are generally the plant part used to make medicinal infusions (medicinal herb teas. The directions for proper herb tea medicine making will be shared at the end of part 2 of this article.). 

Nettle seeds are good medicine for the thyroid, glandular system, skin, and hair. Harvesting and drying the seeds creates a store to use over the winter months. Susun Weed recommends using ¼ tsp. daily in her book Healing Wise.

Nettle root is used to nourish prostate health in cases of inflammation and enlargement.


Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, is an underappreciated plant. Yard grass enthusiasts seem to want to rid lawns of these golden beauties. I invite you to consider keeping them in your yard and even encourage them to spread. The sea of beautiful yellow flowers, against the green backdrop, creates an artistic color diversity. Nature’s beauty has healing benefits its own.

Parts used: leaves, flowers, roots, milky sap, and stems.

Besides yard art, dandelions are just good food and medicine. Dandelion leaves and flowers can be eaten, raw and lightly cooked, as nourishment for the liver. Dandelion leaves are bitter. Bitter tastes stimulate bile production and secretion by the liver and gallbladder. Dandelion greens, available in early spring, help to clear out the digestive tract and our bodies after a more sedentary winter and heavier foods of the colder months. Dandelion increases elimination through the liver, digestive tract, kidneys, and through cleansing of the blood. Dandelion leaves can be used fresh to brew a medicinal infusion or dried and stored for winter infusion making. Dandelion, because of its bitter bile stimulation, is an excellent remedy for constipation.

The milky sap of dandelion is very alkaline. The sap has germicidal, insecticidal, and fungicidal properties and is useful in treating skin conditions.

Dandelion roots are used as food and medicine as well. The roots can be dug and eaten raw and in cooked dishes. Again, I practice very light cooking of *most wild foods to preserve the nutrients. Dandelion roots are used in gallbladder conditions and gall stones, skin issues such as psoriasis and teen acne (I make a tincture called Zit Zapper that has dandelion as a primary herb.), and in nourishing the pancreas. The roots can also be dried for winter food and decoction making.

Decoction is the term for medicinal teas made with the hard parts of plants: roots, seeds, and barks. Medicinal infusion is the term used for herbal teas made from the plant’s softer parts: leaves, flowers, and stems.

*Some wild foods need more lengthy cooking times and procedures to remove certain constituents before they are consumed as food. I generally avoid wild foods with intensive cooking needs. That is my preference.


Plantain, Plantago major, is a plant that is used topically and internally, both the leaves and the long stems of seeds.

Parts used: leaves, stem, seeds, roots.

When outside and an insect decides to sting, grab a leaf of plantain. Chewing the leaf, into a mash, and applying the mash to the skin helps to relieve the sting and itch. 

Putting plantain into topical skin formulas helps with wound and rash healing. 

Young plantain leaves can be eaten raw in salads. The mucilaginous and astringent actions of Mullein support the soothing, tightening, and the relief of inflammation in digestive lining tissues. Gently cook leaves and roots in soups and stews for their cell fortifying nutritional value. 

Plantain has been used traditionally to treat respiratory and digestive complaints, liver congestion, inflammation in the digestive tract, mixed with nettle root for prostate inflammation, and in topical skin formulas. 

Plantain seeds are rich in fiber and mucilaginous factors making the seeds well suited for constipation (mix with dandelion!).


Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus, is a healing wizard. 

Parts used: leaves, flowers, roots.

Mullein’s big, velvety leaves are an excellent healing and nourishing remedy for the respiratory and glandular system. Dr. Christopher, a notable herbalist and healer 1909-1983, called Mullein the master herb of the glandular system. It is an herb I put into every formula for glandular health: tonsils, thyroid, ovaries, testicles, adrenals, etc. 

Traditionally the leaves are dried, rolled, and smoked for asthma. Seems counter-intuitive to smoke anything for asthma but I have heard first hand accounts of very positive and healing impacts. 

The yellow flowers are gathered and soaked in organic olive oil to make an oil extraction. This oil can be used in the ears to relieve ear aches and infections. The oil can also be rubbed on glandular tissue as a topical healing remedy. Examples of glandular conditions to massage with the oil would be thyroid conditions, undescended testicle, nourishing the thymus gland for immune health, lower pelvic massage for ovarian health, and prostate massage to name a few. Mullein is taken internally as a tincture, mixed with Lobelia, to feed glandular health. 

Mullein leaves are a soft toilet paper replacement when out wilderness hiking. Know your plants. You can’t confuse mullein leaves with poison ivy or poison oak leaves… but, if you made such a mistake, well, the results would be hideous.


Self-heal / Heal-all, Prunella vulgaris, as its name implies is an herb that seems capable of healing all when you start reading about its traditional uses. Interestingly enough, I find it hard to find information about this plant in more modern herbals. I have herbals from the early 1900s, handed down from my Grampa Youmell, and Heal-all is described in detail. 

Parts used: leaves, stems, and flowers.

I have read that it is such a common herb that it is very overlooked in western herbalism. European and Chinese herbalism use this herb extensively. Self-heal is being researched for use in cancer and viral infection because of its powerhouse constituents.

I first discovered this plant maybe 10 years ago. It was prolific in my mom and dad’s backyard. Mentioning it to my iPhone savvy sister as we sat on the lawn, she immediately did an image search and got me started on my Self-heal obsession.

Another common name for Selfheal is woundwort, implying its ability to heal skin and tissue wounds. The above ground part of the plant is excellent raw in salads or gently cooked in soups and stews. The fresh herb makes for fine summer infusions and the dried herb makes excellent winter infusions. It has a bit of a Rosemary like taste (another excellent herb to make infusions with for many healing purposes but I digress here…) as it is very high in rosmarinic acid, a healing constituent in Rosemary. 

Fresh or dried plant parts can be used to make tinctures based in alcohol or vinegar.  As a wound healing plant, Self-heal can be used fresh in poultice form (macerate the plant like I spoke of Plantain’s use on insect stings) or dried and made into an herbal oil or ointment for skin and wound care.

Self-heal, all-heal, heal-all is good for what ails you. It’s a very nice plant to 

put into salves, and into teas that are general healing teas. It’s a panacea herb.

– Cascade Anderson Geller

Enjoy getting to know these edible and medicinal plants in your backyard. I will be back with 5 more backyard herbs in part 2.

My written information is from my wisdom, research, training, and experience in western medicine (Functional Medicine RN) and holistic modalities (including Herbalist certification). My views are not necessarily the views of the Potsdam Food Co-op. When we make choices about our health, use other’s advice, and make choices based upon that advice; we are taking our health into our own hands. Our choices, and any actions that result from said choices, are our own responsibility. Using herbs wisely, as food and medicine, requires hands on learning and working with a trained herbalist when your own knowledge is being created. Yes, this is my disclaimer.  –Paula Youmell, RN

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