5 Good Weeds to Welcome in Your Garden

There’s really no such thing as a weed in nature. As Dwight D. Ligenfelter of the Department of Agronomy at Penn State University points out, weeds are simply plants “whose undesirable qualities outweigh their good points” in the eyes of human beings.

Indeed, it is our human activities — farming, gardening, creating golf courses and parks — that create “weed problems.”

We tend to think of weeds as pests — plants that grow where they are unwanted. As weeds produce an abundant amount of seeds — which can survive for long periods of time in a dormant state – they are, says Ligenfelter, “naturally strong competitors” for the “water, light, soil nutrients and space” needed by the plants that humans want to grow.

Weeds certainly have their drawbacks: they can be hosts for crop diseases, provide shelter for insects and produce substances toxic to plants, animals and humans — think about poison ivy. Not surprisingly, humans spend billions of dollars annually to control and eradicate weeds.

As Ligenfelter notes, however, weeds — which of course aren’t trying to push out human-planted crops — have numerous benefits, from stabilizing the soil to providing habitat and food for wildlife, as milkweed does for monarch butterflies.

These are some good weeds that can be welcomed in a yard rather than viewed as the archenemy:

1. Pennycress

pennycress

Photo Credit: benet2006/Flickr

Helen Atthowe of Vegan Permaculture observed that pennycress, a common roadside plant, did not compete with her crops and, indeed,, attracted beneficial insects. She started to allow pennycress to spread, hoping that it would prevent other weeds more likely to compete with her crops from doing the same. Rather than eradicating weeds, “editing” them can be beneficial.

Pennycress has other potential uses, as well. Researchers are investigating whether field pennycress might be a source of biofuel, as its seeds contain an oil that has uses in producing biodiesel.

2. Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s quarters are just one type of weed — another is goldenrod — that protect your plants by luring away insects that can cause damage.  Lamb’s quarters can also be eaten — though be careful, lest they’ve been planted in contaminated soil — and can provide up to twice as much nutrition as spinach or Swiss chard.

As one urban forager notes, they’re not so tasty raw. But sauté them with a little olive oil, and you’ll wonder why the plant is even called a weed!

3. Clover

clover

Photo Credit: Paul Williams/Flickr

While many seek to uproot it from lawns, clover actually used to be included in grass seed mixes, as it helps to fertilize the soil. A legume, clover fixes nitrogen and adds it to the soil.

Clover also attracts earthworms and  can lure rabbits away from eating your grass and other crops. Clover helps to retain more moisture than it consumes, acting as a sort of “green mulch” or “green manure” for surrounding plants.

4. Dandelion

dandelion

Photo Credit: Sarah/Flickr

This weed may irk those who want their lawn to look like a carpet, but it has numerous uses. Dandelions have strong tap roots that extend far under the ground, breaking up hard soil and bringing up nutrients that plants with shorter roots can’t access themselves.

Dandelions also exude minerals and nitrogen via their roots. Plus, they attract honeybees and repel army worms.

Dandelion leaves are edible — the young ones in salad and the older ones steamed. After being dried, chopped and roasted, the roots can be used to make a coffee substitute that is said to have detoxification effects.

5. Mugwort

Mugwort – also known as “felon’s weed” — grows in lawns, waste places, golf fairways, shores, roadsides and along railroad tracks. As it is resistant to mowing and has ”strong and persistent rhizomes,” it is not easily eliminated.

Peter Del Tredici, a senior research scientist at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, calls mugwort the “quintessential urban weed.” It is not welcomed by landscapers, but the plant has a number of properties, including the ability to absorb heavy metals from the ground, prevent erosion on slopes and replenish soil that has been stripped of nutrients.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, a weed is a plant whose virtues have not been discovered. Indeed, we might even say, in the words of Del Tredici, that “weed” is a “politically incorrect term” and an unfair “value judgment” on plants that have much to offer.

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Photo Credit: Jonas Lowgren/Flickr

99 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

thanks

Kati Patelaki
Kathy P.3 years ago

love this info.

I grew up having dandelions in my diet. We just boil the leaves, drain the water, pour some olive oil with lemon on them and serve them usually with something fried. They keep well in the fridge for a few days. They are excellent in an omelette too.

If you want to try them, just cut the leaves before the plant blossoms. (don't know why).

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F.3 years ago

Learn something new every day :) Thanks!

Margarita G.
Margarita G.3 years ago

Thanks for the info!

Roopak Vaidya
Roopak Vaidya3 years ago

A "weed" is a plant as much as any other plant...

Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider3 years ago

I think there are more 'weeds' in the human race than in the natural world. :(

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan3 years ago

Yes, I too believe that there is no such thing as weeds in nature. All plants are beautiful.Thanks for the nice article.

Ernie Miller
william Miller3 years ago

thanks I love both red and white clover in my tea's

Patricia Guilhem
Patricia Guilhem3 years ago

Pour moi , il n' y a pas de mauvaise herbe. Au contraire, j' aime la diversité. Ce que je n' aime pas, c' est les pelouses, c' est stérile et pas beau du tout.

Christine Jones
Christine J.3 years ago

The only rule in my garden concerning weeds is that if they have prickles or thorns, they have to go. Anything else is welcome, especially if it has pretty flowers like clover and dandelions.