Ragweed – Ambrosia Artemisiifolia: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sneeziest of Wild Plants

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Oh, ragweed. This maligned plant while rare-ish in Haliburton and considered a “weed” in this part of Ontario is actually native to North America. It’s at least as valuable to a swath of wildlife as it is likely to cause a human to sneeze.

You might find ragweed here along a roadside or gravelly parking lot. Folk names include American wormwood, bitterweed and many other names with weed in it. “Hay fever weed” may be the most telling on its current unpopularity.

There was a time when goldenrod was blamed for hay fever, but we were wrong. It’s ragweed that makes being outside hard for allergy sufferers during hay fever season.

Ragweed – Ambrosia Artemisiifolia
Ragweed – Ambrosia Artemisiifolia

Edible Uses of Ragweed

If you search, you can find people who have eaten various parts of ragweed before it blooms and is covered in pollen. I assume it’s not a popular edible because hay fever is so common and the plant is so maligned. That and that it’s so bitter.

It wasn’t always so maligned. Archeological digs in Ontario unearthed cultivated large ragweed seeds. The seeds contain up to 20% oil and linolenic, an essential fatty acid. Oil was harvested from the seed crop. It was a popular grain crop before corn.

Medicinal Uses of Ragweed

Ragweed is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

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

Common usage includes, surprise – to treat allergies. Many people have had success working with a qualified herbalist to use ragweed tincture to help with allergies. The leaves contain an antihistamine and a tincture is made from the leaves, harvested before the plant flowers. (You absolutely don’t want pollen coated leaves.) A couple drops and your sinuses may clear.

Again, before the plant blooms, if you just chew the leaves and swallow the juice it can relieve sinus congestion from allergies.

Another concoction for ragweed allergies is a mix of nettle, goldenrod, plantain and chamomile, which you can find in our goldenrod feature!

Ragweed is also used for many of the same old astringent concoctions we talk about frequently, like skin salves.

Alternative Uses of Hay Fever Weed

The seed oil has a red tint that can be used as a dye.

It’s planted to remove heavy metals (e.g. lead) from soil.

Growing Ambrosia Artemisiifolia

“The ragweed genus Ambrosia is the eighth most productive herbaceous genus in the East, supporting caterpillar development for 54 species of moths.” via https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/meet-ecologist-who-wants-unleash-wild-backyard

Are we playing devil’s advocate? Many insects love ragweed, and the seeds are eaten by birds in the winter. And not only is ragweed an important plant for pollinators, it won’t outcompete other perennials. It’s one of those plants that likes to grow in the most disturbed places. If you see ragweed mentioned in gardening communities it’s usually about pulling it out ASAP. And that’s understandable if you’re allergic. But if it’s not making you suffer, why not let some be. It’d be polite to check-in with your neighbors about it though!

If you’re allergic to ragweed, note that goldenrod blooms at the same time and its heavy pollen stays in the flowers, unlike ragweed pollen which the window blows straight to your runny nose. Some popular goldenrod choices for Ontario include zigzag (solidago flexicaulis), blue-stemmed (solidago caesia) and showy (solidago speciosa), but there are many to choose from.

WARNINGS

Ragweed is highly allergenic, the most common pollen allergy in Canada. It can also cause dermatitis.

The sap of the plant can stain skin and clothing red.

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.

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REFERENCES

wiki/Ambrosia_artemisiifolia

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs

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