Table of Contents
- Edible Uses of Horseweed
- Medicinal Uses of Horseweed
- Alternative Uses of Canadian Fleabane
- Growing Conyza Canadensis
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.
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:
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
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.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
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.
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