By Tina Finneyfrock tinfin(a)juno.com
The amount of time, money and energy devoted to the eradication of weeds is probably equal to or more than the enjoyment of our cultivated crops. Weeds are plants too, though, and each species has a story to tell.
I find that there are two kinds of weed: those that are truly invasive, which are really worth getting rid of, and those we can live with because they are attractive or useful in some way. In reading the history of the town of Lebanon, I found that 100 years ago, people were paid to uproot Bullthistle. This plant, however, is the proud national plant of Scotland, and along with Gorse, is credited with keeping invading armies out of their country.
Quack grass is my totally unwanted weed. The roots are known to aid in kidney diseases, but other plants can do the same and besides, I have enough of this tenacious growth to cure the entire world population of kidney trouble. It is an ongoing struggle that will never end. There are useful weeds that come up in the middle of flower beds that I prefer not be there, so I pull them. Many times, though, I'll pile them up and immediately make them into a remedy or a salad.
Looking at weeds for what information they can tell us about our soil and environment is a great way to see them as gardening helpers or mini Extension Agents. After learning from your weeds, you can still eradicate them if you wish, but do so based on soil improvements instead of pesticides and incessant weeding.
The following common weeds in your area can alert you to nutrient shortages or excesses and overall soil health. Some weeds love good soil and let you know you've done a great job, while a second bloom of some weeds may show that the soil is declining. Knowledge of what the presence of certain weeds means helps you to manage your soil in a more productive and less haphazard manner. Your neighbor may need more lime, but what do YOUR weeds say
Bindweed - poor drainage, compacted dirt caused by tilling while wet.
Mustard - (includes Shepherd's Purse and Peppergrass) - too much potassium and sodium, indicates hard pan. These plants are increased by building roads, as compacted soil from roads are seed beds. Plants then spread into nearby fields. These are highly medicinal and nutritious which are used as circulatory tonics, to stop bleeding and they taste great in salads.
Lamb's Quarters - this annual can produce up to 40,000 seeds per plant! They love to grow in well-manured, cultivated soil. The leaves are wonderful in quiche or spankopitas and are very rich in nutrients, much like spinach.
- Wild Carrot - (Queen Anne's Lace) - Shows that poor soil is improving. If the roots are well formed, there is humus. If the roots are knotty, the soil is compacted, but rich.
Water Hemlock - Poor drainage - Poisonous!
Plantain - Grows only in compacted soil. The leaves are excellent poultices for wounds, stings or hemorrhoids.
Pigweed (Amaranthus spinosis) - Cultivated, light, dry sandy soil.
- Nightshade/Bittersweet - Poor, overcultivated soil which has been used for heavy feeding crops.
Cinquefoils - Hard pan. Poor soil needing lime.
Wild Strawberry - Same indicators as cinquefoil.
Chickweed - Good, fertile, cultivated soil. These plants bloom under the snow, and are nutritious and good in salads all year long.
Burdock - Too much lime, creating a gypsum soil. Aside from being highly medicinal, these plants recover the soils fertility.
Daisy - If these are growing well, the soil is too acidic.
- Chicory - Excellent soil.
Clovers - Grow in poor soil, and work to rebuild it.
- Dandelions - Actually PRODUCE humus (as do nettles) just like earthworms! Soil that won't grow them is totally unfit.
- Mallows - Potassium excess, wet, sandy soil.
- Milkweed - Moist, cultivated soils. This plant is useful at all stages of growth medicinally and to industry. At certain stages, it is useful as a food also. The white sap is an athlete's foot remedy and helps with wart removal.
Horse Nettle - This prickly plant shows areas of crusted soil produced by frequent flood/drainage cycles.
The battle with weeds is one we will never win because they are not weak, hybridized specimens, they are adapted creatures that can withstand poor soil conditions. No matter what you do in your yard, your neighbor's actions-or lack of them will affect your soil. Relax and learn to live with them. Use them for a mulch. The most important thing is to cultivate before they go to seed and year after year, you may see a decline in population, but weeds, as an entity, aren't going away. Besides, without them, the landscape would look pretty dreary. Think of weeds as pestering acquaintances - you don't want too many of them, but their idiosyncrasies and color make the tapestry of life a bit more interesting.
About the Author
Tina Finneyfrock has studied herbs and healing traditions for 21 years. She is a certified childbirth educator, a Master Herbalist and Wholistic Therapist who earned her degrees from Wild Rose College of Natural Healing in Canada and holds certificates in Homeopathy, Iridology and Women's Health. Originally from the Washington, DC area, Tina has established six herb and flower gardens during her 17 years at Mountain Spring Homestead. She also tends a quarter-acre organic vegetable garden which provides the family with a bounty of natural foods... In addition to teaching workshops, Tina maintains a wholistic health consulting practice, lectures on herbs and related topics and has published Wholistic Healing for the Family... She teaches to pass on the knowledge of the natural world taught to her by her grandparents.