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Get Off Your Grass and Create an Edible Lawn

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Pesticides are defined as any chemical designed to kill a living organism and can include herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and rodenticides. Pesticides enter the body via the lungs, mouth and skin. They are tracked into one’s home, and once inside can last for years. In a 1987 grant from the National Cancer Institute, it was revealed children were six times more likely to develop leukemia in households that used lawn pesticides. Children have faster metabolisms and more likely to be in the outdoors, and put their hands in their mouths, making them vulnerable.

The elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and chemical sensitivities are also at risk to having their immune systems further disrupted by exposure to lawn chemicals. A 1991 report issued by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that dogs, which lived where the lawn herbicide 2,4-D was applied more than four times yearly, were at a greater risk of developing canine malignant lymphoma.

Chemicals when sprayed, can drift to other neighbors, kill birds (who eat insects), and endanger precious water supplies. Pesticides can also reduce earthworm populations, which help aerate soil, by as much as ninety-nine percent, for up to twenty weeks. Many insects are beneficial in lawns. Ladybugs, preying mantises, and ground beetles all consume aphids, mites, mealy bugs, mosquito larvae and caterpillars. Honeybees provide valuable cross-pollination and without their help many fruits, vegetables and flowers would cease to exist. Substances designed to kill things are unlikely to be totally safe. Frolicking in one’s yard should not be a health risk to anyone.

What would happen if you stopped watering, fertilizing, pesticiding, and mowing your lawn? You would certainly have more free time. The grass would grow a bit higher or lower depending on weather conditions. And then the wild things, which are naturally adapted to be hardy, and require no special care, would grow. For two and a half years in the 1970s, I lived in The Ozarks in a teepee, totally subsisting on all the wild edible fruits, roots, leaves and berries that were provided in the untamed wild. All without watering, fertilizing or spraying. It was a very healthy time.

We do not need to fear wild plants. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Dandelions look like rays of sunshine and have edible leaves and roots. The dreaded lambs quarter is really wild spinach and far more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. Malva and violet leaves are refreshing additions to the salad bowl. Even the prickly thistle can be dug up, its roots consumed, as Lewis and Clark once did when traveling. Purslane is one of the richest sources of heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. One should focus more on our education of “weeds” and less on eradication. It has been said that the average American recognizes over a thousand logos and the products they correspond to, yet less than five plants in their area.

A few ideas on environmental lawns:

1. Compost. Use organic fertilizers such as manure, rock dust, and wood ash. Do a soil test and find out what your land requires.

2. Choose plants that tolerate dry conditions.

3. Learn to use wild plants that are low growing, not water demanding and might even provide salad fare or herbal teas. Turn your lawn into a wildflower sanctuary specializing in sunny well-drained dry areas. Consider buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) chickweed (Stellaria media), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla species), clover (Trifolium pratense or T. repens), English daisies (Bellis perennis), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), penstemon (Penstemon species), pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), plantain (Plantago major), pussy toes (Antennaria neglecta), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetelosa), strawberries (Fragaria species), thyme (creeping, lemon and wooly) (Thymus species) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Periwinkle (Vinca species), speedwell (Veronica officinalis), uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and violet (Viola odorata), grow well in dry shade.

4. Mulch around plants, using grass clippings, shredded hardwood, dry leaves or wood chips to retain moisture.

5. Group together plants that require similar amounts of water. Use a drip system or soaker hose that waters a plant’s roots, rather than sprinkles the air. Frequent watering encourages shallow roots. Water in the early morning before the sun is hot, to give the plants more benefits. Watering during the heat of the day is wasteful, as the water quickly dries.

6. Collect water from washing vegetables. Recycle rainwater. An ancient Hindu proverb says, “If you have water to throw away, throw it on a plant.”

7. Don’t water, don’t fertilize and in many cases you won’t need to mow. Let the wild things grow and learn to use them. Learn to eat dandelion, malva, purslane and violet.

8. If you do mow, keep the mower’s height around three inches, or the highest setting. Have sharp blades. The taller the lawn, the more drought resistant it will be. Tall grass shades the soil and helps keep it moist.

9. Use a non-gasoline push mower. (Less noise and pollution). Leave clippings on the ground as mulch and fertilizer.

10. Use an organic landscape service. Find out what products they are using and tell them you want to look at the labels.

11. Boycott places of business that use lawn pesticides. Write them a letter and tell them why you are no longer giving them your business.

12. Those that live in condominiums and apartments can organize the neighborhood to create edible landscaping and community gardens. Let the maintenance managers know you would rather have a few weeds than be subjected to sprays.

A healthier environment begins with you. Businesses including parks, schools and industries need to set a better example and not buy into the harmful hype about a chemicalized lawn. Make all your actions conscious of conserving, nurturing and honoring the earth. Resist conformity and allow your ecological lawn to flourish, and flower, celebrating life and diversity!

Read more: Eating for Health, Eco-friendly tips, Green, Green Kitchen Tips, Health, Lawns & Gardens, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, , , , , , , , ,

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Brigitte Mars

Brigitte Mars, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, is a nutritional consultant who has been working with Natural Medicine for over 40 years. She teaches Herbal Medicine at Naropa University, Boulder College of Massage, and Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts and has a private practice. Brigitte is the author of 12 books, including Rawsome!. Find more healthy living articles, raw food recipes, videos, workshops, books, and more at brigittemars.com. Also check out her international model yogini daughter, Rainbeau at rainbeaumars.com.

132 comments

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3:14PM PDT on Sep 4, 2014

Dandelions and violet are good for salad.

8:58PM PDT on May 16, 2014

An interesting and insightful comment, edible lawns are a marvellous and healthy way to go.

8:38PM PDT on May 16, 2014

Good ideas! Thank you!

9:10AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

end of my post

Also the idea of lightly massaging the greens to break down the cells walls & make them more digestible was something I didn't know about. I will be trying that recipe this spring!

9:09AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

We have a lawn on which we use only organic fertilizer, no commercial fertilizers/pesticides/herbicides. We don't do any weeding so we have lots of dandelions, clover & other "weeds". We do get it mowed, & the cutting height is shorter than 3" but in the northeast ticks carrying Lyme disease are a serious problem. Keeping your lawn shorter is one of the ways to discourage them because they become dried out. Spraying your entire property for ticks is extremely harmful environmentally, as any insecticide that will kill ticks will also kill beneficial insects and butterflies. The other "least harmful" methods to control deer ticks I know of are: 1) Guinea Hens, who will chow down on ticks & clean your lawn up in no time but require care & may wander off, 2) creating a "barrier" around your lawn with a 3' wide "fence" of stones, mulch or landscaping fabric which ticks are not eager to cross because they may dry out - you can also spray just this area with Pyrethrum or Permethrin, relatively low toxicity pesticides; or 3) in spring, put out cardboard tubes with cotton balls soaked in Pyrethrum or Permethrin. Mice take the cotton balls for their nests. This does not harm the mice, but it kills the ticks & white footed mice are the primary hosts for Lyme ticks, not deer.

I found the video informative. I never thought about picking dandelion greens before they flower, although of course it makes sense since you want to pick spinach before it bolts. Also the id

11:06PM PDT on Nov 2, 2013

thanks for sharing

10:13AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

GOLF COURSES are one of the WORST ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS. They benefit, of course, the WEALTHY 1% who are building more and more golf courses on beautiful islands and other "vacation areas", DISRUPTING VILLAGES AND SUSTAINABLE INDIGENOUS ECONOMIES while doing so, all IGNORING their SELFISHNESS.
This just for variety of "fun" and "recreation"! The tourist dollars generally go to foreign hotel chains and in NO WAY benefit the local people, except a very few, "lucky" ones, may get servants' jobs.
GOLF COURSES of course, use HUGE AMOUNTS OF HERBICIDES AND PESTICIDES to keep their lawns clean and smooth -- there is NO OTHER WAY, of course.

Very IRONIC, that Golf itself started as a game in Scotland, utilizing rough ground that was not useful for any other purposes, "waste" ground! It was "standardizing" scores and competitive gaming, that called for "even" lawns and "pre-planned" "hazards", standardized from one golf course to another. When it was a game of the People, they just took what came on that particular patch of rough ground!

6:00PM PDT on Jul 5, 2011

Good article. Thanks for sharing these great ideas.

10:15AM PDT on Jun 9, 2011

Where I live in the UK all garden waste has to be composted, a special bin is provided and the waste is collected from those who cannot compost at home. This year though it has been so dry, we have had 10% of our normal amount of rain (we live in the semi arid East Anglia part of the UK) that the grass is pretty much dying and not growing. Our water is metered and watering the lawn is simply that we don't tend to do, it is simply too expensive.

4:01AM PDT on May 22, 2011

people in countryside in Javaness society where i was born always plant edible plants in their yarn, so if they don't have money to buy vegetables or something to eat that day, they just simply go to their lawn and pick vegetables, chili, and others to cook, cassava leaf, papaya leaf and flowers,spinach, and others. not to mention many kind of fruit trees (children always love to climb it) and herbs to make traditional medicine.
of course it's not that easy in urban areas nowadays, but here in Indonesia, it's just common

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I'll have to try the insecticide.

Buying in bulk is good as long as you don't let it spoil!

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