The Twelve Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Trying to Conceive

After launching my rather lengthy story chronicling my journey to conceive I came up with a shorter list of the top things I wish I had done or known about before starting that quest. So here is a bit of a follow up for those of you who like lists or not reading tomes.

- It does not always take just one time! In fact the window for a women’s egg to be fertilized each month is very tiny. Only 30% of women get pregnant within the first cycle.

- Be ready emotionally, spiritually, and physically There are many forces out there that may help prevent conception and not just physically. Address emotional concerns within yourself and with your partner before you begin trying. Release fears, doubt, or childhood trauma which will also allow you to be a more open parent as well.

- Get Taking Charge of Your Fertility In fact I wish I had started this type of charting when I first started bleeding at 13 years old! This book not only addresses how to get pregnant but also how to avoid it. I cannot even begin to describe how much I learned about myself, my anatomy, and conventional myths about reproductive health. Learning your cycles well before starting to conceive will cut down on the time it takes to get there and red flag any potential problems before you spend year(s) waiting to talk to your doctor about infertility issues. Visit the website for more information: Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Have your male partner tested sooner than later It is true that ruling out any male fertility issues is much easier than with women. The trick is to get your partner to get the test in first place. We learned that it is best to get the test through your partner’s practitioner rather than on your own (i.e. at Planned Parenthood) as the results come much faster and you have someone to analyze and/or refer you to a specialist.

Get a hormonal test if you have any hormonal imbalance concerns Getting your hormones tested is a quick and generally easy blood test. This way you can find any potential red flags that can help you understand where the is a potential imbalance. I highly encourage people to not reach automatically for the Clomid but instead work with someone who will work to correct the basic imbalance naturally such as with a naturopath, herbalist, and even through nutritional changes.

Know when you ovulate! This is where the charting comes in. Because there is such a small window of time when actual conception takes place and every woman has a different time for ovulation (not all are 14 days!) then knowing your window will allow you to get pregnant. This should be determined before you begin trying – not 2 years after trying (as in my case).

Patience Sometimes it just takes awhile.

Use diet, exercise, herbs, and other non-invasive treatments before drugs or fertility treatment No really start here first! Unless you know for a fact that you have a major fertility issue that can only be helped by intense fertility treatment the majority of fertility issues are basic underlying health imbalances. You need to be in top shape before your body wants to reproduce. This will also mitigate pregnancy and fetal issues once conception takes place.

Do your research Be in the know about fertility myths and facts. Understand how synthetic hormone treatment works and what side affects they may have on your body. Don’t just assume that the conventional way is the right way.

Be aware that most insurance companies do NOT pay for fertility treatment Fertility treatment for women is simply mostly not covered. You may be lucky to have the insurance that does cover some of it -most women go into extreme debt as fertility treatment is insanely expensive.

Understand your own family history Speak with your mother and grandmother or find the information about any of their possible fertility or pregnancy issues. Your doctor will be asking these questions anyway once you are pregnant. Many times these issues can be genetic.

No expectations This was a big one for me and I had to learn it by completing a 4 day vision quest to get it through my head. Let go. Everyone is different and your journey is your own.

These are just some of my learned experiences and I am sure I had many more lessons and other women have even more lessons to pass on. Above all though have fun and love making love. Sometimes being so exact can take the magic out of conceiving with your loved one so my hope that all of this work can be accomplished before a couple gets to the point of automatic love making. Listen to your body, she is wise beyond her years.

My Journey to Conception

belly shots week 23 x2

Over two and half years ago my husband and I embarked on what i knew was going to be a crazy adventure but had no way of knowing the course it would take to get where I am now. On the first of February, 2012 we decided to start a family and now on the first of February 2015 that small hope will become a reality.

Matt and I had already been together and married for over 5 years and in those last 2 years my clock had begun to tick louder and louder. Baby stuff would come up here and there and we would have minor discussions of if and when but knew we just weren’t ready to make that dive just yet. Matt wanted our home and income to be stable and l just needed the acknowledgement from myself and he that this would hopefully one day occur. I had an enormous stigma about pregnancy through years of fear of getting pregnant too young, having an wanted pregnancy, or feelings of judgment by others. A small part of me knew that I would need to overcome these ingrained thoughts and accept the beauty and want of conceiving and having a child.

I had many expectations of what I thought I knew about getting pregnant and was beside myself that very first night we tried. Everything that I had been taught had been drilled into me: “it only takes once!” “If you don’t use protection you’ll get pregnant” among other phrases to scare me into being extremely cautious and convinced that it would take no time. Not to mention that I was a surprise to my own parents. I never allowed myself to think that this could actually take time.

This became a reality after the first month of trying had gone by and the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth! I began to get nervous. This was not meeting my preconceived expectations. Was there something wrong with me, with him? Of course all of the information you get is if you are under 35 years of age then you don’t need to seek help until a year of trying. A year! Twelve months of depressing agony every time my cycle comes round and I don’t know why?! I tried to go in at 6 months just because I always had a certain feeling that maybe there was something preventing me from being able to conceive.

My mother had severe endometriosis and the doctor’s still scratch their heads as to how she had her children at all. This is technically genetic and I could fairly easily have this issue. But the doctor I visited was not ready to perform any tests and said “Just keep trying.” I was pissed.

I began to go to a Naturopathic Doctor convinced I would find something wrong with me. She did find that my progesterone levels were too low along with my cortisol. All of these hormones are interconnected and if one is off that can and does lead to reproductive imbalances including infertility. I began a regiment of heavy duty licorice extract (which if in strong enough form is basically a drug) and a pre-progesterone extract. At the same time I decided to visit my herbalist as I was dealing with minor weight issues, frequent migraines, and hypoglycemia. After a month of the naturopathic supplements my condition worsened exponentially where I was barely able to function the majority of the month.

My herbalist finally knocked some sense into me. I definitely have a hormonal imbalance issue reproductive and otherwise, however I had to look at my issues in a different light. Giving myself hormones whether naturopathic or allopathically is only throwing a band-aid on the crux of the issue. Once I start giving myself these hormones, over time my body will not see the need to produce them herself. I would perhaps reach my goal of getting pregnant if the hormones were the issue in the first, but I would have just created a whole new set of problems and my body would not be balanced naturally.

What I needed to address and correct was my basic health so I could begin on firm ground and adjust from there. I didn’t need to jump right into fixing my reproductive hormones but rather the more distressing issue of my sugar and digestive imbalance. Everything is connected in the body and if I am having insulin issues then that will certainly throw off everything else.

More and more I realized this was going to be a long haul and I needed to get myself in line before I even considered bringing another human being on board.

For the next year and a half I worked through herbs, diet, and exercise to recreate a healthy base line. Working with my liver and yes even some reproductive herbs to begin a balance, and ensuring adequate protein intake my symptoms began to disappear. My sugar lows and crashes dwindled to maybe one or two a month, my headaches were nearly gone, and my energy levels balanced out all within 4 months. I began biking to and from work 13 miles a day and watched my body tone and brighten. Magnesium, Vitamin B, and Fish Oil supplementation also helped kick things into gear and I was the healthiest I had ever been.

By the end of 2013 I was a new person. Fit, healthy, no recurring health problems and kept to my regiment with blinding faith. Come February 2014 I hit the 2 year mark of trying to conceive. I was officially infertile and was becoming depressed again now completely convinced there was something wrong with me physically.

We had of course checked out Matt and his sperm count was lower than normal but according to the doctor not low enough to be of any real concern. The only likely culprit for him was an unknown reason for hormonal imbalance. Matt doesn’t drink alcohol, smoke, work near chemicals (in fact he works in our house or outdoors), and so I decided to whip him up a male reproductive tincture focusing especially on his liver to help correct whatever issue might be there.

My gynecologist was stumped and said after 2 years you should have conceived by now. It’s time for further tests. Guess what most of those tests aren’t covered under insurance! We couldn’t even afford the first test they wanted to try and the fertility center requires a $600.00 deposit just to be seen for the first time. I was beyond frustrated. I wanted to conceive without the need for intervention and without the need to dish out thousands of dollars even before there was even the possibility of a child. We broke down in March and scheduled our fertility center appointment. I remember telling Matt “we need a miracle”.

Now at the beginning of 2014 I decided to finally try a couple of things that for whatever reason I was dragging my feet about doing. After all this time I only sort of knew when I ovulated. A high school friend of mine suggested an incredible book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.

I knew that charting, temping, and checking cervical fluid was helpful but I just couldn’t get my head out of my ass to actually try! Well I tried it and was blown away by the information I could glean about my own body, the actual knowledge of how my system was working, and well taking charge! I have to convince myself not to go to “what if I had actually done this when I first started trying” because I would drive myself insane.

The author of the book said that if I didn’t get results within the first 4 months of trying then it would be best to seek further assistance. The first month went by, second, third, and the fourth. We even purchased that pre-seed lube to see if maybe we could help out these little swimmers a bit. I poured over the forum attached to the book online and read positive and not so positive stories. I read my chart over and over and was diligent about temperature taking. Also around this time I started charting I decided to try Susun Weed’s fertility tea blend of Raspberry Leaf, Red Clover Blossoms, and Stinging Nettle. I drank this infusion by the quart every day.

Then as the fourth month was about to slip by I noticed some strange things around the time I was supposed to bleed. I didn’t get the regular cervical mucous color- change that I see when I am about to start and I distinctly remember feeling very odd cramping right where my uterus should be – it was almost imperceptible and I was 2 days late.

Now I have been convinced SO many times before and never allow my mind and heart to hope. But this seemed different. Finally I had Matt take me to the store to get some tests because I never had them on hand (I hated taking those things) and came directly home to pee on a stick. This was evening time and I knew it was better to test in the morning but I bought two boxes so thought I would try again in the AM if it was negative.

A strange thing happened though. Where there is usually one horizontal line I began to see the faintest outline of a vertical one intersecting the first. I thought I was seeing things — but then it grew darker, and darker until I was staring at + sign. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, found Matt and said “Could you help me interpret this?” As calm as ever he said “Well, looks like a plus sign.” I honestly was in shock and just started laughing. Laughing at all of the lessons I had learned on this journey, laughing at the pain and heartache, and laughing from joy and fear that it was now a reality.

I am celebrating my 6 month mark this week. My goal of conceiving and bringing myself to healthy level with only herbs was achieved. I have had so far no complications and am radiating with health and that pregnancy-glow (or so I am told). I don’t know if there ever was physical problem and may never know and will probably never know why exactly it took so long. But I am glad it did. I have learned about myself and as the lifelong student that I am I now can take these experiences and help out the women in my community. There is still a fairly long road ahead until that day I can deliver this little bundle but I can take the time to feel proud and grateful for this journey.

baby_5

Dandelion Wine – Part 3 Bottling!

First and foremost – Happy Herb Day!

Part 3 of making Dandelion Wine nearly completes my series. The last installation won’t take place for months out – that is when we will enjoy the fruits (or flowers?) of our labor.

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After nearly 3 weeks the wine finally stopped bubbling and fermenting. The first two weeks were none stop bubbles and my airlock was constantly jostling around inside its container. At the 2 and half week mark there was a significant decrease in the bubble action and for a couple of days it nearly fooled us into thinking it was done.

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The importance of it being completely done fermenting lies in the fact that if we bottle it while still under pressure we could risk exploding the bottles. This tid bit does actually come from direct experience. My husband and I were playing around with making Nettle Soda (blog post to come about that!) and in order to not make it so alcoholic we only let it ferment for a day or so then put it in the fridge to stop the process. For whatever reason 3 or 4 exploded outside and inside of the fridge. Glass shrapnel is kind of a safety hazard.

Luckily we waited until we saw no more bubbles for an entire day before making the decision to bottle.

We didn’t have any wine bottles and I was too lazy to get some. Instead we used some of our beer bottles with either disposable caps or with a latch.

Wash and sterilize the bottles in the dishwasher using the hottest setting if possible. Remove the airlock from the wine jug and using a funnel, gently pour the liquid into the clean bottle.

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There is a lot of sediment at the bottom of the jug so be sure not to swish it around as we don’t want that in our finished product. Cap all the bottles (or cork if you are using wine bottles) and label. Be sure to add the date as well since these will not be drunk for quite some time.

I am going to wait until at least the winter solstice before opening one of them. Dandelion Wine ages very well and becomes more complex and flavorful over time. Right now mine smells pretty yeasty and I hope that will work itself out in time. I also think it is going to be quite alcoholic – but we will see. Here is a very interesting blog from a winery whose family has been making Dandelion Wine for many years – Bellview’s Blog.

Happy waiting!

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Lilac Flowers – an Edible and Medicinal Treat

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Lilac shrubs have always been one of my favorite signs of spring. Growing up in Eastern Oregon we wouldn’t see the blooms until at least May, but here in the Willamette Valley we are blessed seeing them bloom as early as the beginning of April. Vases filled with freshly cut lilac reminds me of family home and my grandmother who passed on her green thumb to my mother and on to me.

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My grandmother Vera Mezger circa 1940

Lilac or Syringa spp. (the common species is vulgaris) is in the olive family and is native to the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. People emigrating from Europe brought the shrub to plant in their gardens in order to savor a piece of home. Here out west pioneers brought lilacs with them during the 1800′s and now you may find lilac that grows nearly wild in abandoned lots and homesteads.

Lilac fragrance is wonderfully intoxicating however it is very difficult to capture the scent and only until recently is there even a true essential oil made from the flowers.

The flowers are edible and have some medicinal qualities. I have to say eating even a single flower raw is a flavor exploding experience with slight astringency (drying to tissues), almost bitter, and very floral. I would say these are best for garnishes and edible flower displays on pastries rather than whole meals.

Medicinal uses are still a gray area when it comes to just the flower. Most resources that I have found (random blogs, pfaf.org, A Modern Herbal) list that the medicinal benefits of Lilac come from the leaves and fruit. Apparently used as a tea or infusion historically it has been used as a anti-periodic. Anti-periodic basically means that it stops the recurrence of disease such as malaria. There has been some studies that indicate a febrifuge action which may help bring down fever.

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The flowers themselves I can only guess based on my taste observations that it will have astringent, aromatic, and perhaps a little bitter qualities.

Astringents tighten, draw, and dry tissues such as skin. So a wonderful application would be a cold or warm infusion to use as a toner on the face. Or using the same method but apply to rashes, cuts, and other skin ailments.

An aromatic action causes irritation to the place that it is touching (think GI tract) and irritation brings blood flow and blood flow equals healing! Eating the flowers raw may help with gastric issues such as flatulence or constipation. Making an herbal infused oil may be a great way to capture the aromatics for healing purposes and to make your own fragrance oil.

At the end of the blog I have included some links to great recipes to try with lilacs. I decided to try my hand at two of them that I will share. Lilac honey and lilac infused oil.

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Lilac Honey

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Local, pure honey

Fill jar with freshly picked flowers with a little room at the top. Pour over honey to the top and cap. Allow to infuse for at least 6 weeks. No need to strain afterwards – eat the flowers along with the honey! Great for adding to recipes, spreading on bread, or adding to teas.

Lilac Infused Oil

Jar size of choice (1/2 pint, pint, quart etc.)
Carrier Oil – Olive Oil, Jojoba, or Sweet Almond Oil are options
Optional – Vitamin E Oil for preservation

Fill jar with wilted flowers (make sure the flowers are as dry as possible to discourage rancidity). Cover with carrier oil and cap. Allow to infuse for up to 6 weeks. After 6 weeks strain and use in salve formulations or as a base for an aroma oil. Try combining with Lavender, Patchouli, or Jasmine Essential Oils.

Here are some ideas for using lilacs in cooking from other recipes online:

Lilac Jelly
Lilac Wine
Lilac Liqueur/Cordial
Lilac Infused Blueberry Syrup
Lilac Ice Cream

One more point of interest. Lilac wood is supposed to be one of the densest in Europe and has been historically used to make musical instruments such as pipes or flutes. We had to cut down one of our lilac shrubs I am sad to say, however we kept all the branches. I will choose one to make a pipe (hopefully one day soon) and will describe the process in another blog post.

Stop and smell the flowers!

Making Dandelion Wine – Part 2

Addendum to Supply List
Candy Thermometer (optional but handy)

Straining Infusion After 3 Day Soak

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It’s time to strain the future wine after allowing it to infuse for three full days. Now you will need to grab:

Medium Size Cook Pot
Strainer
Cotton Cloth
Ladle

I have a great large sized strainer that I usually use when I am making jam however the mesh size is still too large so I lined the strainer with the cotton tea towel. You might need another person to help you pour out the infusion through the strainer and into the cook pot since stoneware crocks are pretty heavy. I think I actually ladled out the first half to make it lighter so I didn’t spill it all over the counter. Once the entire solution was poured through the strainer and cloth I used the towel to squeeze the remaining juice out of the flower bits and composted the leftover mass. (FYI my white tea towel is now stained a lovely shade of yellow)

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Heating the Mixture

This section you will need:
1 large (or 2 small) Oranges
1 Lemon
Dried Ginger
Liquid Wine Yeast (I used Wyeast)
Candy Thermometer
Stirring Spoon
2 pounds sugar

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Bring the cooking pot to the stove and start heating up the solution. While the pot was heating I sliced the orange and lemon into small thin slices, rind and all, and added to the solution while stirring. Then I added the teaspoon of dried ginger and stirred again.

Lastly, I added the 2 pounds of sugar and stirred well until it was mostly dissolved. After speaking with an employee at one of our local fermentation stores we decided to go with using Dextrose for our sugar. Dextrose is pure glucose derived from plants (usually corn) and does not add any additional flavors to the wine that cane sugar or honey tends to do.

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I put the lid on the pot and turned it up a bit more so that it would come to a boil. Once at a rolling boil allow mixture to continue a slow (almost simmering) boil for 20 minutes. Don’t let it get out of control like I did as my boil ended up being more like an intense churning – a simmer is fine.

After 20 minutes I turned off the heat and allowed it to cool a bit before restraining again back into the stone crock. I would recommend using the cotton towel again so that the bits of ginger doesn’t get into the solution. I did not do that and so I have some bits in my fermenting wine.

Pitching the Yeast

Pitching yeast simply means adding yeast to the juice or infusion. Allow the infusion to cool which may take up to an hour to get to a cool enough temperature for the yeast to thrive. This is where the candy thermometer may come in handy to get the temperature down to a specific degree. I had some difficulty determining what was the best temperature to pitch yeast. Some say 60-70 degrees F while others talked about pitching at higher temperatures for different results. I decided to stick with the round number of no higher than 100 degrees F and waited until the thermometer registered 100 or below.

We got a wine yeast packet from the fermentation store that was also recommended by the employee. This was kept in the refrigerator until we were ready then it requires activating the yeast by slapping the bag so that it begins to mix and activate. Each yeast mixture or types of yeast are different so just follow the instructions on the bag. Add the necessary amount of yeast and stir.

Let the Fermentation Begin!

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I really wanted to get away with not having to get a carboy and airlock, mainly because I was lazy and didn’t want to pay for it. So for the first couple of days we just covered the crock with a plate that fit completely over the top so that limited air would get in but the gases could still escape. I finally broke down realizing that I did not want to risk getting wild yeast and other contaminates into my wine and so found a gallon size glass carboy and airlock kit for under $30.00.

The wine can bubble and ferment for as short as a week or for as much as 3 weeks. You will know it is done when it stops its bubbling. So far my wine has been bubbling for a week and half and has barely slowed down at all.

Stayed tuned for part 3 – bottling!

Making Dandelion Wine – Part 1

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Dandelion Wine is the spring classic beverage for wild food and wine lovers alike. For the past 5 years I have been telling myself “This is the year I will try my hand at wine!”, and then the Dandelion Flowers fade away with late spring and my window for gleaning has passed. I am pleased to announce that I have beaten the procrastinator and I did it.

Google has no shortage of variations on wine recipes so I wanted to record my own experience with some tips that would have been helpful for me in the beginning.

Supplies

2 gallon stone crock
Cotton tea towel or cotton muslin cloth (large enough to cover opening of crock)
Medium sized strainer
8 quart (at least) pot
Basket/bowl
1 gallon or larger carboy and airlock
Empty wine bottles with corks or beer bottles with caps

Ingredients

1 gallon dandelion flower petals
1 large orange and 1 lemon
2 pounds sugar (white, brown, honey, or dextrose)
1 package of yeast (wine yeast – follow directions on package)
1 tsp dried ginger

Begin by collecting the flower heads of Dandelions. The first step of this process really only needs the crock, flowers, and water so you have a few days to get the other items together.

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Harvesting Dandelion Flowers

It’s not as simple as just pulling off the heads from the stem! The trick is to get only the yellow petals and not (or as little) as the green sepals as possible because the green parts are quite bitter and will alter the flavor of the wine. My husband and I found two different ways to do this. The first way is mine. With my harvesting basket in hand I go out on sunny days when the flowers are in full bloom.

Side note – the Asteraceae Family have many sun loving plants including the Dandelion. They will actually open in the morning and close up at night. The fancy term for it is “sleep of plants”.

After popping off as many heads as I can in a few minutes with my basket I then grab another bowl to throw the discarded flower bits. Using my finger nails to slice the flower down the middle so that it will open flat I pinch off the petals pulling it away from the head of the flower until nothing is left but the green parts. FYI your hands will get very yellow and sticky!

Matt on the other hand used scissors (nice kitchen shears) to cut the green sepals and lower portions off leaving just the petals. His lack of fingernails made it difficult for the pinch and pull method.

It takes a lot of time and patience to get a full gallon of flower petals so my solution was to gather each evening after I came home from work and put them in a gallon size zip lock then froze the entire bag. It took me probably about 5 days to gather enough during the week then freezing to fill the entire bag full. I am lucky to have plenty of Dandelions in my yard to yield several batches of wine if so inclined. Do be sure you are harvesting from a place that is free of chemicals such as pesticides or herbicides.

Ants love Dandelions and seem to be a major pollinator. We found that if we came to a bunch of flowers crawling with ants to just leave the bowl full of freshly harvested flowers outside so that the ants disperse on their own. Formic acid (from the ants) will probably not be a great additive to the wine.

Once I gathered the full gallon of flowers I emptied the bag into my 2 gallon crock then boiled about a gallon and a half of water. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, stir, and cover with the cotton cloth. Allow the petals to infuse for 3 days.

This concludes part 1 of making Dandelion Wine. Keep an eye out for part 2!

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Weed Eater

March in the Northwest means the grass starts growing once again and the weeds pop out. I am thrilled to see my old friends popping their heads out once again to say hello. After the winter doldrums of less than exciting vegetable choices behold the spring nutrition of our backyard weeds.

The other day I made myself a “Wild Greens Pita Sandwich” of Dandelion leaf and flower and Peppercress.

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See if you can find some of these great edibles in your yard. My goal is to add a wild food to my meals at least once a day. Tonight I made a salad of Dandelion Leaf, Peppercress, and Nipplewort and topped it with Poppy Seeds, Nettle Vinegar, and Olive Oil.

DandelionTaraxacum officinale
http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Taraxacum+officinale

NipplewortLapsana communis
http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Lapsana+communis

CleaversGalium spp. http://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Galium+spurium

PeppercressLepidium spp. http://pfaf.org/user/DatabaseSearhResult.aspx