There has been a bit of interest in weeds and what they can tell us. So here are a few tidbits you may not know about weeds.
Tap root (deep-rooted) Weeds have a long, deep, single root – a ‘tap root’. The deep root ‘taps’ into, or mines the rich nutrient pockets from deep layers of the soil. This is partially why they grow first, in unhealthy, ‘dead’ soil, they can reach the nutrients further down. The deep roots bring up nutrients from deep, stores them in it’s leaves, and when it dies, deposits the nutrients on the surface, making the available to other plants without the deep roots. When you pull the weeds, you loose all these nutrients! They also bring up deep moisture to the surface. Improves drainage.
Ground Cover, low growing dense weeds maintain moisture in your soil, moderate soil temperature, and prevent absorption of nutrients by the sun, as well as soil erosion. They prevent crusting from hot and dry conditions, hence allowing water and air to enter and move around soil more easily.
Too many of any of these plants taking over, acting as an invasive, is simply an indicator that your system is out of balance! These plants getting out of control are flashing warning lights that you are not doing a good job building your garden. A healthy, balanced, ecosystem will not be taken over by weeds.
Ask yourself, why are they taking over? Why are there so many here? Your weeds are trying to tell you something, whether it’s a comment on soil composition, quality, nutrition, hydration, bugs, other plants, something is out of balance.
Lambsquarter a prolific annual plant, with as many as 75, 000 seeds on one plant. Lambsquarter is one of the first greens to poke up out of the ground in spring and is available all through summer, best eaten when young. Sometimes known as wild spinach but regarded by many as superior to spinach. lambsquarter has 309 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams of raw leaves and 11,600 international units (IU) of vitamin A plus thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
Purslane In North America, this low growing, edible green is one of the commonest of all weeds and one found most often as a garden “pest” throughout most of North America. A continuously growing plant, purslane can be enjoyed from June to October. Many people eat the seeds and preserve the stems by pickling them. It contains 2,500 IU of vitamin A in 100 grams of leaves, 10 milligrams of riboflavin and it is a great source of EPA, an extremely important long chain omega-3 fatty acid crucial for brain development.
|Plant||Can I eat it?!||Is it Medicinal?||How does it help my garden?||What can it tell me about my soil?||Notes|
|Canadian Thistle||– Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked (remove prickles first)- rhizomes, stems, and roots can be peeled and eaten raw or steamed (like asparagus)- Leaves can be rolled up to smash the spines.- Source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals
– Young spring shoots are considered most tasty – a delicacy in Scotland!
– Use in salads, throw it in your green smoothie for extra nutrients, bake in a lasagna, try out Thistle chips, etc.
|– Infusions and extracts of root were used for mouth diseases, infections, and a general health tonic.- Leaves can be chewed to relieve tooth aches or sore throats due to anti-inflammatory properties||– An excellent source of nectar and pollen for honey bees (and given that they grow easily in poor soil, they do well in attracting pollinators to areas that need them!)
– Miner plant
– It’s incredibly deep roots help break up subsoil
– Roots bring up iron, in particular
|– Balance*- Indicates heavier, compacted soils
– Indicates dry soils
|– Roots contain inulin, an indigestible starch, so may cause bloating/gas- The thistle became the national symbol of Scotland after a Norwegian arm mounted a surprise attack, taking off their shoes to quietly cross the fields – their resulting cries of pain alerted defenders.
– In Norse mythology, the thistle is the lightening plant – those who wore it were protected by Thor, God of thunder.- “I pick them in quantity when the plant is under 1 foot tall, then rinse them to remove dirt and bugs. I find that rinsing (under a stream of water) tends to disable the prickles to a noticeable extent. I cut the plant’s stem with scissors via gloved hands, but rinse the leaves with bare hands. Then I cook them in water or stock (the latter is tastier) and the prickles are fully disabled”
|Purple Dead Nettle||– Leaves, stem, and flowers are all edible- Very nutritious, high in iron, vitamins, and fiber- Eaten as raw green, or cooked
– Best collected when in flower for fresh eating- Make a tea, sweetened with honey
– Salads, stir-fry, pesto,
|– Bruised fresh leaves can be used to staunch wounds/cuts
– Used as a complimentary treatment for controlling and reducing allergies!
– They are significantly anti-inflammatory, and pain-reducing(inhibits the release of the hormone prostagladin-2, the main mediator for inflammation in allergies and chronic inflammatory conditions)- Has a range of antimicrobial and antifungal properties.
– Natural source of immune system building Vitamin C- Concentrated tea can be a laxative
|– Important nectar and pollen plants for bees, as they arrive in early spring (have been known as “bee nettle”)||– Balance*- prefers moist, well-drained soil
– Will grow just about anywhere!- Typically indicates less nutritious and shadier areas
|– Consult your doctor before combing purple dead nettle with prescription medications- A beautiful plant! Use in flower bouquets an enjoy their bright colours and purple shine!- called ‘deadnettle’ in reference to the fact that they are not a stinging nettle|
|Sheep Sorrel||– Delicious lemon taste!
– Used directly in cooking, salads, sauces, and soups
– Used across the globe
– Stewed leaves are popular with lamb and pork
– Used as a garnish
– Can be used to curdle cheese
– Provides flavour with it’s tartness
– Chop finely and cook on salmon
– Make a lemony cordial, champagne, or wine with the leaves
|– Anti-inflammatory agent
– Immune system booster
– Has been used in treatment for cancer, fever, and scurvy
– Vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K
– Can help reduce inflammation and pain in sinusitis
– Tannins in the plant help decrease mucus production
– Can be used to quench thirst
|– Brings up calcium and phosphorus, mineralize that alkalinize the soil||– *Balance
– Indicates acidic, low lime soil (pH below 7.0)
|– EXCESSIVE use may lead to kidney stones if one is prone to them, due to high amounts of oxalic acid
– Generally recommended children/breast-feeding women avoid this herb, due to lack of research
– Called “azeda” in Portugal, meaning “sour”
|Gout Weed||– Was used as a main salad ingredient and pot herb in Europe- Older gout leaves are often cooked with cheese (think, spinach and artichoke dip? Gout and artichoke dip!)
– In Northwest Germany, Gout is made into grune suppe, or green soup
– Leaves eaten raw or cooked can have a tangy taste- For best taste, harvest before it flowers
– Use anywhere you’d use spinach
– This tends to be a love it or hate it plant, when it comes to taste! Give it a try!
|– All parts are a diuretic
– Has been used to treat rheumatism, arthritis, and bladder disorders- People consumed and externally used gout, crushing the root and holding it at the join to fight the sickness gout
– Stimulates digestion and metabolism
– Good Source of Vit. C and A, iron, manganese, copper, and trace minerals such as boron and titanium
|– Acts as a good ground cover plant
– Part of the umbellifer family, which are great pollinators!
|– Will indicate that your soil with healthy moisture levels
|– The veins of Gout weed leaf ends at the tip of a tooth on the underside of the leaf. Toxic hemlocks have veins that end between the teeth.- The genus, Aegopodium, is from the Greek words “agios” meaning goat, and “podion” which means little foot – the leaf shape resembles a little goat foot!
– RHIZOMES ARE NOT EDIBLE
– A good early season green
|Bindweed/ Morning Glory||– Tea
– Steam the stalks
– In Turkey, leaves are used like spinach
|– Long known for its properties to purify and cleanse the body and calm the mind
– Works to eliminate toxins/heavy metals from your body- A rich source of compounds such as tropine, aspartic acid, alanine, etc.- Indigenous Peoples used it as an antidote to spider bites
– It exhibits actions similar to anti-diabetic mediations, checking blood sugar levels
– Flowers are believed to exhibit antibacterial and antifungal properties
– Treating stress; can be used to soothe and calm mind and nerves
– Research is being conducted on Bindweed and fighting cancer tumors
– A strong purgative
|– Can be used to purify and make cultivable chemical-laden, and overly used agricultural land (get rid of those pesticides, heavy metals, etc in your soil!)
– Specifically works well to eradicate chromium, copper, and cadmium from the soil
– works to restore the fertility and balance of the soil
– Acts similar to nitrogen-fixing plants, enhancing soil fertility
– Excellent ground cover plant
– Roots contain minerals that are returned to the soil when decomposing
– Attracts pollinators
|– It thrives in nitrogen-rich areas, hence indicating high-nitrogen soil (a result of chemical fertilizers or natural causes)
– Indicates poor drainage, often hard soil with a crusty surface
– Grows in neglected areas, does not like cultivated soil
|– Strong twining vine can be used for weaving or making good rope
(stems were commonly used as pack rope for carrying bird and marmots home after hunting)
– A green dye can be made from the whole plant
– Brought for medicinal and ornamental values
– Many European superstitions about the plant: if a young woman picks the flowers of Field bindweed, the object of her affections will die. If you pick the flowers there will be a thunder storm – often called “thunder flower” for this reason.
– Whole plant produces a green dye
|Daisy||– Leaves have been used as a cooked green, boiled or as a pot herb
– Flower petals eaten in salads- Typically more bitter taste
– Flower buds eaten in sandwiches, soups, stews,
– Pickle and use flower buds or green shoots like capers!
– It was a medieval delicacy to have a salad of young leaves with sorrel leaves and dandelion
– Flowers, before opening give a pleasant taste similar to that of walnut
|– Leaves are especially rich in Vitamin C in early spring (comparable to that of lemons!)- Infusion of leaves can make a mosquito repellent
– In folk medicine, flowers are macerated in water to make a cough remedy
– Daisy preparations have been used to help heal wounds, and treat bruises
– Slows bleeding
– Tea has been used to treat asthma and whooping cough
|– Attracts pollinators- Popular with honeybees and hoverflies||– Loves well-drained soil – often indicate drier soil
– Tends to thrive in low nutrient soils – grows in ‘worn out’ soils
– Low tolerance for shade, so indicates highly sunny areas- Enjoys more neutral soils
|– ‘Daisy’ is from ‘Day’s Eye’, meaning open only during the day- A daisy is not a flower but an inflorescence, being composed of many, tiny flowers, yellow, arranged in a flower head or floral disc
– Can be used to make a yellow dye
– Christianity told this flower came from the tears of Mary Magdalene- Found everywhere on Earth except Antarctica
– Introduced intentionally as an ornamental and accidentally imported
– Use in flower bouquets!
– In the Middle Ages, the knight who wore two daisies on his shield was the “Lady’s” choice. If a woman wore a crown of daisies, it meant she had not yet chosen her suitor.
|Dandelion||– Dandelion tea- Flowers make wine, cordial
– Leaves, flowers, and roots are all edible
– Can have a slightly bitter flavour, which is lessened by spring or fall harvest
– Cooking lessens bitter flavour
– Leaves / flowers make great addition to salads- Milk of the stem is incredibly bitter!
– Eat fresh, In food preparations, dried, in teas or other beverages, dried, crushed and used in capsules for health benefits, etc
– Roast and grind the roots as a coffee-like substitute
– Dandelion ice cream
|– Rich source of beta-carotene (we convert into Vit A)
– Source of Fiber, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Phosphorus, and more!
– Contains more protein than spinach
– Has been used to treat anemia, scurvy, skin problems, blood disorders, and depression
– Acts as a mild laxative that promotes digestion
– Stimulates appetite- Balances the beneficial bacteria in the intestines
– A diuretic that helps the kidneys clear out waste, salt, and excess water
– Has been shown to remove liver toxins
– Rich in antioxidants
– Helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels
– Contains fatty acids and phytonutrients
that reduce inflammation in the body (relieves pain and swelling)
– Tea to treat upset stomach
– A spring tonic, after lack of vitamins in the winter- A one cup serving has as much calcium as half a glass of milk- More nutritious that most of the veggies in your garden!
|– Miner plant (excess numbers are typically a sign of nutrient-lacking soil)
– A pollinator plant – early spring flower
– Strong roots loosen hard-packed soil, allowing other plants to grow there more easily
– Roots aerate the earth, and reduce erosion
– They are natural fertilizers!
– If left alone, a plant can live for years, with the root growing deeper and deeper, up to 15 feet even! Imagine the wonderful nutrients being brought up for your other plants to enjoy!
– Roots in particular bring up calcium and iron
|– Require sun and disturbed soils – where they grow, is likely to have good access to sunshine, and have a history of human disturbance- Typically indicates heavier, clay-y, compacted, acidic soil (however, true, will grow just about anywhere!)- Thrive in ‘sour’ acidic soil (pH below 7.0)
|– Those allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, or daisy should avoid dandelion- Early colonists brought the dandelion to America from Europe- ‘Dandelion’ comes from the French ‘Dent de Lion’, meaning “lion’s tooth” – referring to the jagged points on the leaves reminding you of sharp lions teeth
– The French grow dandelions to eat as we would grow lettuce in our garden- Best flavoured dandelions are those not cut often – instead look for those where the grass grows long and freely
– Best time to gather is before the last frost of spring, before the flower blooms – the further in their lifestage, the more bitter they are
– Believed to be some of the oldest plants on the planet – have found fossils dating back 30 million years ago
– Have been used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and Chinese traditional medicines
– Famous for their beauty – a common subject for poetry!
|Clover||– Try clover flowers sprinkled over rice, or cooked in soy sauce
– White clover is not as nutritious or flavorful as red, but just as edible!
– Every bit, from blossom to root, is edible, though flowers are the most tasty.
– Have a clover flower tea
– Pan roast the flowers until crispy
– Young leaves are good to supplement salads raw (1/2 cup or so)
– Older leaves should be cooked
– Typically seen as a ‘survival food’, as aside from the flower, it’s not particularly tasty, so why not add to a smoothie or soup pot to get their nutrients instead?
– Use leaves like spinach when cooked
– dried seed pods and flowers can be ground into powder and used as a flour
– dried leaves can add a vanilla flavour to baking
|– Flowers are high in protein
– has beta carotene, vitamin C, most of the B vitamins, and more
– Red clover is more nutritious than white
– Red clover is a good source of calcium, chromium, magnesium niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine
|– Obtains nitrogen from the air and fixes it into the soil when decomposed into it
– An excellent ground cover crop
– Brings lots of bees as a pollinator! (So many that in the US clover is legally discouraged in lawns and people might get stung from the bees. “Frankly, I think we need less lawyers than less clover.”
|– Indicates low fertility soil, low nitrogen levels
– Indicates sunny areas and typically moist soils- Red clover indicates high potassium
|– Clover is a member of the pea family, and its blossom is actually a bunch of little pea-like blossoms, called “wings and keels”
– Clover grows essentially everywhere in the world
– Careful if you are commonly allergic to plants.
– NEVER FERMENT AND EAT ANY PART OF IT. Either completely fresh, or completely dried. If too warm in climate, or in fermentation, can produce small amounts of cyanide.- Dried leaves have hint of vanilla aroma- Has much folklore and religious symbolism
– Remember to look for those four leaf clovers!
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