Perceptions rule our reality. Where some see nature’s beauty and bliss others see chaos and destruction, so it is easy to understand why perceptions can control our opinions of innocuous plants. To a farmer, a plant he cannot control is a pest, a nuisance that must be remedied but like everything is life there is another side.
Oftentimes man’s need to be in control of nature has lead to catastrophic results. Our modern agricultural practices are in many ways a testament to this. We now spray tons over tons of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides on our crops in order to keep up production with no concerns of relative impact to our environment and our health. Backyard gardeners are riddled with advertisements claiming to solve their weed dilemmas with a douse of toxic chemical spray. We can’t have unwanted plants grow where we don’t want them to! Why? Has nature somehow gotten it wrong? Could it be that in the millions of years of this planet’s existence it would end barren if not for the helpful hands of modern man’s technological marvels? I think not, in fact quite the opposite.
“The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.”
What are weeds?
I cannot even recall how many times I have been asked, “what is a weed?“. In truth a weed is just a plant like any other, that might happen to be in the way of what you are trying to do. I choose to see it differently, in fact I am here to tell you that weeds might hold more benefits than you could ever imagine if you just changed your perception. We’ve all been there, hunched over digging up this crazy plant that will just not go away, but did you know that certain weeds can tell you about the health of your soil? Some are warning signs that your soil is too acidic, others appear in only alkaline rich environments. They can also let you know if your soil is extremely compact or worn out. In all these examples weeds will give you a “heads up” allowing you to address issues with little concern and if you are planning a garden, keen observation of weeds already flourishing can give you a good idea of what will do well with the soil you have. Here are examples of some plants or “weeds” and why they might be appearing in your garden or lawn.
Alkaline soil (High pH levels)
- Field peppergrass
- Nodding thistle
- Salad burnet
- Scarlet pimpernel
Edibles & decorative plants that tolerate soil that’s on the alkaline side include: asparagus, broccoli, beets, muskmelons, lettuce, onions, spinach lilacs, Persian candytuft, dianthus, baby’s breath, helianthemum, dame’s rocket, lavender, and mountain pinks.
Acidic soil (Low pH levels)
- Stinging nettle
- Wild pansy
Edibles & decorative plants that thrive in lower pH levels include: endive, rhubarb, shallots, potatoes, watermelon, blueberries, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and azaleas.
Healthy fertile soil
This soil is prime for vegetables like corn, broccoli, lettuce, melons, squash, tomatoes, and peppers.
Along with being great indicators for cultivation they serve to fix many of these same soil issues. Deep rooted weeds like comfrey & wild amaranth mine the depths of soil bringing up minerals that many of our conventional vegetable crops cannot reach, think of it as natures elevator bringing up all the goodness to the top floor. Weeds like clovers can also serve as ground cover that prevents empty barren soil from eroding due to extreme winds and rains.
Companion planting & Biodiversity
In the permaculture garden at Washington Park you will often find weeds growing right next to the vegetables untouched. Though not by design, if the weed is providing a purpose than we really see no reason to pick it and in fact leave it to provide its natural assistance in the garden. You might encounter flowing purslane under the tomatoes and peppers which breaks up hard soil and brings up water and nutrients to the surface as well as providing ground cover as mentioned earlier. Not only that but it is an edible which provides tremendous amounts of Omega-3s and commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The dandelions are rarely touched and besides the countless medicinal properties also attracts honeybees. Many of these “weeds” serve to attract pollinators such as honeybees & butterflies as well as predatory wasps, ladybugs and other insects that create natural pest control. (nothing more organic than that!) Nature truly never gets it wrong and each and every plant, animal and insect has a purpose, I just hope we are willing to change our perceptions to realize this.
I could go on and on about weeds…and I will so stay tuned for the next installment where I will explore the medicinal and health benefits of various “weeds”. Until then let me know what discoveries are taking place in your garden, farm or balcony. Blessings.