Horseweed – Conyza Canadensis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Another Overlooked Pollinator Fav of Wild Plants

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Maybe it’s the name “weed”. Or maybe it’s the location; weedy parking lots and driveways. But I always assumed horseweed was a nonnative plant. Surprise! It’s actually native to Ontario and a powerhouse for small pollinators.

Horseweed (conyza canadensis syn. erigeron canadensis) is fairly common around Haliburton county in sand flats, disturbed ground, and roadsides. I see it most in weedy parking lots and driveways, often in large colonies. It was once classified in the same genus as fleabane. Both horseweed and fleabanes are important to beneficial insects. Horseweed was the first weed to develop glyphosate resistance, fighting for its life and its little friends.

Horseweed (conyza canadensis)
Horseweed (conyza canadensis)

Edible Uses of Horseweed

Young leaves or the whole seedling can be boiled and eaten, or dried for later use as a sweet herb. The taste is kind of like sarsaparilla, root beer, sweetish. The flavour of the fresh leaves is so strong that it may be best used as a herbal ingredient to prepared dishes. The raw leaves can be irritating, but like stinging nettle a thorough chopping may be enough to make them palatable. It’s just easier to cook or dry them.

The essential oil in the leaves is used to flavour condiments, sweets and soft drinks.

Medicinal Uses of Horseweed

Horseweed is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Astringent, Diuretic, and Styptic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the oily, astringent leaves or other parts in concoctions for sore throats, dry coughs, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, etc. The essential oil in the plant is harvested for Oil of Erigeron Canadensis and is the most powerful constituent of the plant. But like the majority of essential oils it should never be used alone – do combine with a carrier oil.

The boiled, oily root tea is used as a uterine stimulant for some menses issues.

The crushed flowers have been used as a snuff to cause sneezing.

Alternative Uses of Canadian Fleabane

Horseweed (conyza canadensis)
Horseweed (conyza canadensis) found in my neighbour’s driveway

Smoke from the burning dried leaves repels some insects, including fleas.

Growing Conyza Canadensis

Horseweeds abundant and massive flowerheads are visited by small bees, wasps and flies, plant bugs, and other insects. Both the nectar and pollen are in high demand. And so is the rest of the plant; leaves, stems, etc. Larvae that feed on its parts include many moths, grasshoppers, crickets, the list goes on.

Both horseweed and fleabanes and the aster family as a whole are not to be overlooked in pollinator friendly landscaping! Some of these including horseweed are annuals. Because they are so abundant it can be easy to collect wild seeds. It is recommended to take no more than 10% of the seeds from a patch, so the plant can still reseed itself. You may also find some of the popular asters at native plant nurseries, especially New England aster. If you try no-mow here (which people often do at the start of their native plant journey just to see what’s already in their yard!), some of these will show up on their own. Or they may be there or along your driveway or road already. Plant them in a sunny location!


The foliage can cause contact dermatitis for some people.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

#ads in References

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Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

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2 thoughts on “Horseweed – Conyza Canadensis: Edible & Medicinal Uses of Another Overlooked Pollinator Fav of Wild Plants”

  1. I was raised eating what we called wild greens. it was a nessitary to have food in the spring before the garden come in, but we still eat them often because we loved our wild greens. I did know they had medical benefits back then but I knew some times when one was sick she would go out and get some plants and make us tea. we drank sasfrs tea ever Febuary Dad said it perified our blood and keep us from being sick I still love Sasfras tea and there was another tea we drank a lot of spicewood tea. what is lambs quarter one of my doctors said I was highly allergic to it that I shouldn’t even walk by it and mom feed it to me in wild greens we didn’t know that was the reason I was so sicklysome days I’d brake out with hives and be real sick to my stomach and one time I vomited over the place and after that I felt better. this old doctor told me years latter that if I hadn’tupchucked it up I probably would have died. He said it probably was lambquarter.

    • Lambs quarter isn’t related to horseweed (horseweed is in the aster family; though an allergy to the aster family isn’t uncommon!) But lambs quarter (aka wild spinach) is in the amaranth family, so that would be an amaranth allergy. This family includes beets, chard, “regular” spinach, quinoa. Can you eat those? Either plant and more could have been in a wild green mix. It sounds like this doctor was guessing?

      With his “probably” lambs quarters, avoiding both families/wild greens may be the way to go until you know for sure from a poke test. If I had food allergies I would probably avoid trying new plants or sparingly dabble. And even people without food allergies should add one new food at a time to be sure (like mums do when giving babies new foods, for the same reason).


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