I have always been a little amazed and much amused by people that hate dandelions. Some people dig up every hint of one with great passion as if they were hunting drug dealers or chasing evil out of town.
Weeds as Food?
The year before the Y2K (year 2000) scare, a lady posted a question on a website, asking what she could do to make sure there was food available. She was afraid of starving to death. I told her to stop killing dandelions immediately because every part of the plant was edible. I know that is quite a simplified answer, but I ask you, Why is the general public so intent on stamping out weeds? Why is a yard filled with perfectly green grass so much better than one left to nature's mix of weeds and grasses?
More than 10 years ago, I purchased the wonderfully interesting book "Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants" by Bradford Angier. It identifies "more than 100 edible wild foods growing free in the United States and Canada". Even-numbered pages list detailed information on specific plants, including common names, descriptions of the plants, where they grow and what parts are edible. Odd-numbered pages are lovely renderings of each plant.
Here are some quotes from the book; "The dandelion, which has saved peoples from starvation, is a three-tiered food..." and "Raw dandelion greens...have an abundant 14,000 international units of Vitamin A per 100 grams, plus .19 milligrams of thiamine, .26 mg. riboflavin, and 35 jmg. of the vital ascorbic acid." "This same portion of edible greens is further enriched with 198 milligrams of calcium, 76 mg. of sodium and 397 mg. of potassium." (I remember reading somewhere that the blooms are high in lithium also).
My friends, plants with these qualities should be given free reign to grow anywhere! Why are we frantically throwing them in the garbage whilst running to the health food store for vitamin A, ascorbic acid, calcium, lithium and potassium supplements? I guess it is the same reason that we fight for a parking place nearest to the door...of the gym. If we pay for something, it must be more valuable than the same thing when it is freely available.
This article is about appreciating many different weeds. What if many weeds that fill our yards and fields are really excellent food items or cures for cancer or other maladies?
Many people hate the white blooms of clover sprouting in their beautiful green lawns. So, what about clover? The above referenced book by Bradford Angier states that clover leaves, roots, stems and flowers are all edible. He also states "Bread made from the seed-filled dried blossoms has nourished entire groups of people during famines."
Weeds or Treasures?There are hundreds of different plants that will muscle their way into tidy little useless perfect green grass lawns. These plants are the curse of the earth and should be eradicated from the planet according to some gardeners . Other people will extol the virtues of these dastardly weeds. A casual visit to weeds listed on PlantFiles can be quite amusing. The comments range from highly negative; "This is the worst weed in my garden, I would never plant it..." to quite positive; "It's growing in my lawn but we just mow over it...". Some weeds are extolled as the greatest cure-all while other writers love the way that weeds take over places where "nothing else will grow". One man's trash is truly another's treasure.
Almost 30 years ago, I dug violets in my back yard to give to my boss' wife (and co-worker). She wanted something that would grow in the shade and that would fill up the area under some trees. It was not long before my boss killed the violets with herbicide. Perhaps he thought anything that grows under a tree must be evil or he might have been taught that violets were just bothersome weeds. I, however, have always delighted in violets. A area is filling with violets outside my back door now. I rescued these plants from the lawn mower and gave them their own bed in the shade. They reward me every year with this beautiful display.
Wildlife loves weeds
Wildlife depends on weeds. My backyard is full of birds that love to eat from the free smorgasbord of weed seeds in my back yard. I do not mind; the song of a happy bird is music to my soul. Of course, some of my neighbors do not like the weeds so they purchase weed seed to feed the birds but keep their lawns lovely. A neighbor down the street mows his lawn with an almost religious fervor. Perhaps he thinks he will have to answer for how beautiful the green grass grew.
Okay, I have to admit. When we decided on a home to purchase, I ruled out some neighborhoods because of the beautiful, weed-less yards. I informed my husband that there were probably too many chemicals used in those neighborhoods. I do not want to live in a chemical world. Give me a yard full of dandelions, clover, purslane and ground ivy instead of an award winning yard of the month, full of death and chemicals.
Dandelions attract beneficial ladybugs. Milkweed is food for the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly. Cardinals feast on plantain seeds, quail love sea purslane, mourning doves enjoy lamb's quarter seeds, finches delight in shepherd's purse seeds. Bees make great honey from clover. (As a side note, I know that clover attracts bees. I was about 14 years old when I stepped on a bee enjoying some clover. That night, I was campaigning to hold an office in a Christian girl's club. Heedless as to how Charlie Chaplin I appeared, I hobbled to the front of the room with one shoe on and one shoe off. The memory makes me laugh. Needless to say, I did not win.)
Kill the weeds at any cost
Our society may treasure a highly manicured lawn, but what is the true cost? How many herbicides have polluted our ground water? How many birds have been poisoned? How many Monarch butterflies have died? Where have all the bees gone? I was about 10 years old when I read the book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson. Perhaps that is why I look at a beautiful lawn as a problem instead of a solution.
I hold my breath when I walk through the herbicide aisle in the store because the smells produce an instant headache. I was surprised when one of my friends said the same thing happens to her.
It is easy to point fingers at the destruction of the rain forest or the logging industry eating up the trees, or the governments of the world for polluting the skies. But maybe, just perhaps...a gallon of poison in every yard of this melting pot adds up.
Yes, I know there are natural ways to eradicate unwanted weeds. But, frankly, I do not mind most weeds. (Of course, poison ivy and other dangerous plants are a different kind of evil even though they may be useful to the medical community.)
Am I advocating that our yards become jungles? I should say not! I am simply asking for common cautions in the use of chemicals and for us to re-think the goal of a weed-free life.
Hug a weed
Maybe it is time to embrace weeds. Maybe it is time for science to really focus on common weeds for answers to common problems. Maybe weeds were put here for such a time as this. Maybe cancer is caused in part by herbicides, yet perhaps some of the same plants that are destroyed are the actual cancer answer. Maybe beautiful green lawns perfectly mowed in lovely diagonal patterns are part of the problem. Yes, these yards are traditional but some traditions should be broken.
So, what do you think? Has the time come to hug a weed today?
Additional links and articles on Dave's Garden:
The Carefree School of Gardening by Mitch Fitzgerald (A funny article about letting your garden go to weeds. It's a joke so don't get upset.)
Weeds!!! by Lee Anne Stark (A discussion of various weeds and non-weed weeds)
Introducing Bob, Master Gardener by Geoff Stein (Cute cartoons)
Friend or Foe? Weed Identification by Toni Leland (This is an informative article will links to PlantFiles to help you identify plants.)
Wonderful Weeds: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder by Melody Rose (A great article; some weeds are flowers.)
The Story of Queen Anne's Lace by Carrie Lamont
Confessions of a Compulsive Weeder by Lori Geistlinger (A funny little article.)
Mass Planting, The easy way to weed by Jocelyn Wyatt (Thwarting weeds.)
Don't Kill Those Weeds by Darius Van d'Rhys (This article is a MUST read.)
Top 10 List of Weeds That You are Most Likely to Find in your Yard and Garden by Paul Rodman (To kill the weed.)
Prairie Restoration: The Prairie Garden by Lois Tilton (Where common yard grass is considered a weed.)
Purslane, An Edible and Beneficial Garden Weed by Darius Van d'Rhys (Why kill the edible that grows happily?)
Head Over Heels in Burdock by Sharon Brown (A delightful, well written article.)
Aunt Bett, Poke Sallit, and the Asphidity Bag by Sharon Brown (Another delightful article by Sharon.)
Aunt Bett's Sure Cure for Croup: Hawkweed by Sharon Brown (Aunt Bett teaches us more.)
Jewelweed, Aunt Bett's Diamonds by Sharon Brown (Sharon dyes her hair and makes tattoos. This article is too funny.)
Watching Joe Pye Grow by Sharon Brown (Once you read one of Sharon's articles, you just might read them all!)
Smartweed by Sharon Brown (Yes, another great read.)
The Protein Plant: Stinging Nettle by Sharon Brown (I told you so; you just can't stop reading her articles once you start.)
For the purpose of liability, I am not advocating that you eat any of these plants. I am not a doctor and I'm not prescribing anything to you. Be wise; use your own brain, do your own research or consult a physician.