In recent years, many gardeners and urban farmers have become more acutely aware of the usefulness of weeds. Many herbaceous plants, climbers and shrubs that we have long held as annoying, invasive and downright pesky are now being seen in a whole new light – dare we say useful weeds.
What permaculturists and many traditional and organic gardeners have known for centuries, many gardeners and farmers are just now discovering – that weeds are simply a plant growing in the wrong place. Weeds have been discriminated against for too long, but the weed usefulness revolution is on and it’s a great time to explore more about the ‘weeds’ that many people poison, pull out, mow over and generally dislike.
What is a weed? A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place. A weed in a lawn may be unwanted and intrusive, but that same plant in another place may serve a purpose, and indeed may have come to Australia, for example, as a legitimate herb or vegetable from another culture. It may be a staple food for someone else. In fact, a great many of our common weeds in Australia, perhaps over 90%, did actually arrive here as food sources from other countries. Some of them became mainstream food for us today, such as many Asian greens and European herbs. Some of them remained as food sources, while spreading, unrecognized and unwanted, into Australian bushland, parks, verges, lawns and gardens – eventually to be despised by the uninitiated. And still many weeds are making a comeback as food and medicinal plants, such as dandelion, chickweed and purslane, to name only a few.
As we start to shift our awareness of weeds from foe to friend, our mind opens up to whole new possibilities and potential. Weeds suddenly take on new meaning and real purpose – they can be eaten, they can be dug into soil as green manure, they can be fed to animals and pets, they can be removed and converted into nutrients for our gardens, as compost or liquid ‘weed tea’, they can be used medicinally, they can be used as materials for a variety of projects, they can help to form habitat and increase biodiversity, and they can even be great indicators of soil by how and where weeds grow.
But runco caveat emptor! (let the weeder beware), for not all weeds should be welcome in our gardens or landscapes. Some weeds are just too intrusive and run the risk of running rampant. Some weeds, while they may offer some of the uses mentioned above, if allowed into our gardens, can become extremely challenging to remove and manage, especially organically. Nutgrass, paspalum, Singapore daisy, lantana and some runner grasses, for example, are very invasive and persistent weeds that plague the best of gardeners and farmers. For such examples and many others, prevention (don’t allow them onsite at all costs) is better than cure.
So, now that we have a new appreciation of the weeds that previously mocked and taunted us, what to do with them when they appear in our gardens? Well, depending on the weed, there’s a few choices. We can eat them, feed them to our animals, compost them, mulch them, use them in creative ways in our gardens and much more. I’ll be exploring the use of many weeds in upcoming posts. In the meantime, get hold of some good books on weeds in Australia and start rethinking their usefulness. Identification is the first step. I recommend The Weed Foragers Handbook, by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland.
We are hosting an Edible Weeds Workshop this coming Sat 15 Oct, 9 - 11am. $25 per person.
Please contact us if you'd like to attend at firstname.lastname@example.org