Herbaceous Plants: Plants without woody tissue in their stem.
Wildflowers: A non-cultivated wild flowering plant.
Weeds: A plant that is not where it should be. Any plant can be considered a weed if it is growing somewhere that it is not meant to be growing.
Grasses: Green plants with jointed stems, long slender leaves, and stalks of clustered flowers.
Sedges: A plant that is like grass, but has solid stems and grows in tufts in marshes.
Rushes: A grasslike marsh plant with hollow rounded stems (rushes are round).
*Classification definitions from: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
*Any references to edible or medicinal uses of plants are meant solely for the purpose of education and not as a reference for using the plants. Please do NOT collect or eat any plants in the parks! Collecting plants could disturb the ecosystem as well as potentially cause a danger to yourself if ingested. Even safe to eat plants may have been sprayed with pesticides, and many safe plants have deadly look-a-likes.
Parts of a Flower:
Yarrow has alternate, fern-like leaves that grow around 3-5 inches in length. Yarrow grows up to 3 feet tall. White (sometimes slightly pink) flowers are clustered together in compact clumps at the top of the stem.
Yarrow has a long lineage of medicinal uses and folklore. Remnants of yarrow were found in a burial site of a Neanderthal grave along with other medicinal herbs.
The name Achillea comes from the Greek hero Achilles who was said to carry yarrow with him into battle to heal the wounds of his soldiers. The story goes on to say that Achilles received yarrow “that grew from the rust on his spear” from a centaur named Chiron who showed him how to use the plant.
Yarrow represents both healing and war in the early Victorian language of flowers.
Yarrow is still used medicinally today for stopping nose bleeds (hence its common name the nosebleed plant), aides stomach cramping and digestion, breaking fevers, externally used for sores, including a number of additional uses.
Doctors used to use mashed yarrow root and whiskey as an anesthetic for surgeries.
The dried stalks of yarrow are also used in I Ching divination.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Plant Database, “Achillea millefolium.”
“Growing and Using Healing Herbs” by Gaea and Shandor Weiss.
Wikipedia: “Achillea millefolium.”
Rosemary Gladstar's Garden Wisdoms: Yarrow.
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):
Burdock (Arctium minus):
In its first year, the stem is low and the leaves form a rosette. In its second year, it develops much longer, branched stems. Burdocks’ thick, heart-shaped leaves are dark green and have a hairy underside. The globular purple, sometimes white, flowers are easily confused with thistles, but can be distinguished by their hooked bracts.
Burdock makes an appearance in several Shakespeare plays, including “King Lear.”
The Cherokee have used the seeds and roots as a blood cleanser and many Asian cultures prepare Burdock into soups and teas, in addition to using it medicinally. It has been used for dandruff, acne, eczema, gout, sores, as a diuretic and laxative, and for many other ailments.
Burdock burrs were the inspiration for Velcro
In 1941, George de Mestral went on a hike and became fascinated by the Burdock burrs that kept sticking to his dogs fur. Inspired by the wonders of nature, de Mestral set out to replicate this design. However, this ended up being quite a difficult task and took almost a decade for this inspiration to turn into the Velcro we use today (Velcro is technically a trademarked name, the product is actually called hook and loop fasteners).
Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Burdock."
Los Angeles Times: "A healing herb from Shakespeare's garden."
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension: "Nevada Nuisance Weed Field Guide."
Velcro: "About Velcro Brand."
Natural Ingredient: "Leung's Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics."
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Dandelions have a distinctive hollow stem which secretes milky white liquid. Leaves are smooth surfaced and irregularly jagged, but the leaf shape can differ quite drastically from extremely jagged to moderately jagged. They have yellow ray flowers.
Though many people view dandelion as an obnoxious weed, dandelion seeds were brought to North America intentionally from Europe by the settlers as dandelions were used as medicine, food, wine, dye, and coffee.
Dandelions also have ecological uses, being a nectar source for bees, forage for rabbits, and seeds for small birds.
Dandelion has a long list of purported medicinal uses, one being the ability to aid in digestion due to Dandelion’s bitter properties.
Invasion Biology Species Summary Project, Columbia University: “Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)” by Hourdajian, Dara.
Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine: “Dandelion.”
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus):
Biennial plant. First year of growth in a rosette stage of leaves close to ground. Second year flowers in a tall stalk of yellow flowers. Leaves are soft with small hairs.
One common name of Mullein is pioneer toilet paper since Mullein has soft leaves which are perfect for when you have to go on the go…
Mullein is a great survival plant since its leaves have soft hairs that are great tinder as they catch fire easily, and the stalks can be used as a hand drill for starting the fire.
One of the first references to Mullein was in Homer’s Odyssey where Ulysses was given Mullein by the gods to protect him from Circe.
During funeral processions in ancient Rome, Mullein stalks were used as candlesticks after dipping the stalks into tallow.
Mullein leaves and flowers have been used medicinally in teas for the treatment of respiratory ailments such as asthma and chest infections.
Identify That Plant: Common Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)” by Angelyn.
"Mother Nature’s Herbal" 2nd ed. by Judith Griffin.
Art & Nature Center: “It's Torch! It's a Medicine! It's Mullein!” by Waldron , Laura.
Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa):
Opposite leaves with tiny surface hairs, large, tear-drop shaped fruit pods that split to release wind dispersed seeds with long white hairs, small white/pink flowers in rounded clusters.
The leaves, stems, and pods contain a toxic (cardenolides) milky sap that deters herbivores from grazing on the plants!
The pollen is stored in masses that contain millions of pollen grains (pollinium) rather than individual pollen grains, which attach to pollinators and are carried to other milkweed plants.
Milkweeds serve as a host plant for monarch butterflies, the leaves are a main food source for monarch caterpillars, who also depend on them for shelter, reproduction, and metamorphosis.
The major decline in monarch populations over the past decade is mainly due to the loss of milkweed plants because of urbanization and agriculture, as well as the application of herbicides in croplands, rangelands, and roadsides.
Showy milkweed is a hardy plant that can tolerate slightly saline soils, drought, well-drained soil, seasonal flooding, and some shade.
Jepson EFlora Taxon Page: Asclepias speciosa
Luna, Tara and Dumroese, R D. 2013. “Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and milkweeds (Asclepias species): The Current Situation and Methods for Propagating Milkweeds.” Native Plants Journal 14(1):5–15.
Xerces, NRCS. “California Pollinator Plants: Native Milkweed” (Asclepias spp.) Jan 2011.
Borders, B and Mader, E. 2014. “Milkweeds: A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide.” 146 pp. Portland, OR. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Purple Sage (Salvia dorri):
Purple Sage, or Dorr’s Sage, is a fragrant, woody shrub with rough, peeling bark. It grows up to 36” in diameter and up to 32” high. Leaves are soft and silvery, like other plants we call sage, and they can grow to 4cm long, 1.5cm wide. Around Reno, the blue-purple flowers bloom in May.
“Salvia,” the name of the genus, comes from Latin salveo, meaning “I am well.”
While found throughout the arid Western states, Purple Sage is also used as an ornamental plant.
Purple sage has historically been used by many Native American tribes for a wide array of medicinal purposes, including treating colds, headaches, influenza, and epilepsy.
USDA Plant Guide: Purple Sage
Poison Hemlock (Conium Maculatum):
Poison Hemlock can grow around 5-8 ft tall. The leaves are two-to four pinnate, giving the leaves a lacy texture. Usually spotted or streaked with red or purple on the lower half of the stem, all parts of the plant are hairless. The white flowers form in clusters of umbles, which look like umbrellas.
Poison Hemlock grows in damp areas, it is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (butterflies and moths fall under this category).
All plant parts are extremely poisonous to livestock and humans, containing an alkaloid poison called coniine which can cause respiratory collapse and death.
Poison Hemlock is in the same family as carrots (Apiaceae), which is one reason why plant identification is so important if you ever plan on foraging in the wild-this would be a deadly mistake to make.
In ancient Greece, hemlock was used to poison condemned prisoners. This was thought to be a form of a humane death sentence.
It is thought to be the plant that Socrates was forced to consume in 399 BCE.
“Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada” by Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas
Carnegie Museum of Natural History: “Poisons of the Carnegie: Hemlock”
ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA: Poison Hemlock
Wikipedia: Conium maculatum
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica L.):
Stinging nettle is found in wet and shady places in the Truckee Meadows and all over the US. The plants have dark green, opposite, toothed and pointed leaves. Stems may grow 2 - 5 feet high. Up close, you can see the thin, stinging hairs (“trichomes”) covering the stem and undersides of the leaves.
The trichomes (hairs) contain formic acid, acetylcholine, serotonin, and histamine, which can cause swelling along with mild to intense burning/stinging sensation. This reaction can last several hours, but it is not known to cause serious harm. The rash can be treated with cold compresses and topical antihistamine.
The sting from the nettle plant has actually been used medically to treat arthritis, bursitis, and even things such as stimulating hair growth and ED!
An individual plant will produce either male or female flowers.
Stinging nettle is edible- it can be made into a tea, brewed into a beer, or used like spinach or other leafy greens. It must be cooked to prevent stinging.
In the UK, they have raw nettle eating competitions to see who is the toughest and can tolerate eating the most with the sting.
Stinging nettle is high in many vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and proteins. Make it into a tea or cook the leaves like greens to get these many benefits. You can also make nettle pesto for a healthy and tasty treat!
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Stinging Nettle
Wild Edible: Stinging Nettles
Daily Mail: “Why DO stinging nettles hurt so much?”
American Botanical Council: “Food as Medicine: Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica, Urticaceae)”
“Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide” by Rosemary Gladstar
Lambs Ear (Stachys byzantina):
This groundcover is easy to recognize by its light silvery-green leaves which are soft and fuzzy, similar to a lamb’s ear - hence the common name. Their flowers, when produced, shoot straight up on a stalk and are purple in color. They grow between 12 and 18 inches tall.
Lamb’s Ear is known to spread rapidly. Quickly taking over wherever it is planted. They are considered invasive to North America and have creeping stems which root wherever they connect with soil.
This plant generally loves the sun, but when in the desert they prefer partial shade. The leaves suffer when watered overhead and in areas with high levels of humidity.
Due to its thick leaves, for centuries this plant was used to dress wounds. It, however, has no antibacterial properties. It is known to have analgesic, or pain relieving properties and can reduce swelling after a bee sting.
In the West Indies, the leaves have traditionally been used in cooking, and they are commonly steeped as a tea which tastes similar to chamomile. To make a beverage, chop fresh, young leaves or dry out the leaves and pound them into a powder and add with boiling water. The more leaves, the stronger the drink! To find out all the health benefits here!
Some infuse the tea leaves with water and use it as an eye wash to treat stye or pink eye.
The Chippewa Herald: “Greenspace: Lamb’s Ear: A Durable, Interesting Plant”
The Spruce: “Lamb’s Ears Plant Profile,” by David Beaulieu
New Life on a Homestead: How To Grow & Use Wooly Lamb’s Ear by Kendra
Common Mallow (Malva parviflora):
This plant appears similar to geranium with thick veins on the back of its leaves. They are soft and fuzzy leaves with a rough stem. It has multiple stems and tends to spread where it is planted, making it a “creeping” plant.
This plant is a relative of okra and when cooked, similar to okra, it becomes gelatinous in texture. It is entirely edible, a great additive to use to bind foods! For example, it is great for binding smoothies, and in the past was used by cheese makers to bind cheese.
In Europe this green is grown to use as a salad green. Often the flowers are used as a salad additive as well.
Common mallow is related to the marsh mallow plant which, as its name suggests, is where the first marshmallows came from. Marshmallows were created as a medicinal treat for sore throats made from the roots of the marsh mallow plant. This treat also dates back to the days of ancient Egypt where this was considered a delicacy for royalty and the gods! Today, marshmallows no longer contain the plant roots and now consist of corn syrup instead.
Check out this video to learn more about the many ways to forage this green and use it in your next meal!
Common mallow with Sergei Boutenko: YouTube Video
National Confectioners Association: “History of Marshmallows”
Cattails (Typha Spp.):
You will find cattails where water is; near ponds, streams, and marshes. Cattail seed heads are long, brown and narrow like cigars. Leaves are long, flat, grey/green in color and are basal (leaves form in pairs oppositely attached from each other).
Cattails have a myriad of uses. Their long narrow leaves have been used in weaving for shelter, baskets, and mats.
The young cattail shoots can be eaten raw or boiled.
The pollen can be collected and used in pancake batter, bread, muffins, etc.
The dried brown flower heads when removed can be used as a down-like fluff for pillows, padding for shoes, or comforters.
Cattails have also been used effectively in phytoremediation projects (using plants to remove harmful chemicals, waste, or heavy metals from the soil or water) such as sewage waste systems!
Check out the awesome work of John Todd and his “eco-living machines” where he uses a variety of plants (including cattails) to clean sewage waste!
“Willow Bark & Rosehips: An Introduction to Common Edible and Useful Wild Plants of North America” by Fritz Springmeyer.
“Phytoremediation of Heavy Metals from Urban Waste Leachate by Southern Cattail” from the International Journal of Scientific Research in Environmental Sciences.
Rushes look similar to grasses, but can be distinguished by their leaves, which are either hollow or filled with marrow. Rushes also differ from grasses in that their modest flowers come off of branches instead of from the stems.
Rushes have not always been of interest to botanists, James Ebenezer Bicheno once described the plant as ‘obscure and uninviting.’
Due to their extensive root system, they help stave off soil erosion.
Rushes provide food for birds and small mammals, but cattle will avoid them.
The scientific name of rushes, juncus, comes from the Latin word jungere, which means to join or bind together. Rushes most likely got this name because they were used by groups, such as Native Americans, for basket weaving, thatching, and binding materials.
Bicheno, James Ebenezer. (1819). XVII. Observations on the Linnean Genus Juncus, with the Characters of those Species, which have been found growing wild in Great Britain.
Cappers, R. T. J., & Bekker, R. M. (2013). Juncaceae. A manual for the identification of plant seeds and fruits.
DiTomaso, J.M., G.B. Kyser et al. (2013). Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States. Weed Research and Information Center, University of California. 544 p.
Sedge (Acorus calamus):
A reed-like aquatic plant, which appears similar to grass. It is easy to distinguish from grass when examining its stem. Sedges have a solid stem which is triangular in shape. An easy way to remember is by using the phrase “Sedges have edges.”
This plant is often found around water. It prefers marshes and wetlands.
Sedges were often spread along the floors of churches and homes due to its sweet fragrance. It is called “Sweet sedge” because of its agreeable scent!
“Acorus” refers to the Greek name for the center of the eye. This plant has been used to cure diseases in the eye.
This plant has rhizomes, sometimes referred to as “creeping rootstocks.”
Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale):
Horsetail, also known as Scouring Rush, is an evergreen, reed-like plant about 3ft tall. The jointed stems are cylindrical and hollow.
Horsetails have been around for 400 million years!
Around 350 million years ago, during the Devonian period, Horsetail ancestors grew in thick forests tall as trees.
Horsetails reproduce via spores.
The plants have abrasive silica inside the hollow stems. This grittiness was used to scour and clean goods as well as pots and pans.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Equisetum hyemale
Purdue University: Ancient Horsetail