“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878
Keeping your garden tidy can seem like a never-ending duel between you and the crafty undomesticated plants we call weeds. But don’t forget that the ancestors of every common garden plant were once considered weeds themselves. That was until we discovered their merits and began to mold and tame their wild ways to suit our culinary or agricultural preferences.
Many plants that are still classified as weeds though have received a bad reputation due to their ability to quickly cultivate the barren earth. But was fertile soil really meant to be left bare?* Could it be that weeds are serving a much-needed purpose in your garden or lawn? And could it be that these pesky weeds are in fact just as nutritious, or more so, than the plants you’re “protecting” from them?
Let’s explore what some of these “pesky” common weeds have to offer for both your health and the health of your garden.
*Much of the nutrients in soil are lost to the elements when the ground is left bare, either by being baked out (by the sun) or washed out (by rain.)
NB: Although many weeds are beneficial to have in your garden, I am not recommending that you simply let them run rampant. Having a beautiful healthy garden is about maintaining a balance between protecting and nourishing the soil and managing the growth of all the plants you are caring for. We still weed our garden selectively, after the weeds have had a chance to break up and fertilize the soil.
“A weed is but an unloved flower.”
~Ella Wheeler Wilcox
This is my personal favorite weed. It is soft to step on, has beautiful flowers and protects and fertilizes soil at the same time.
Companion plant for: Brassica (cabbage and its cousins like broccoli and cauliflower), corn, cucurbits (cucumber, squash, melons, gourds). Along with clover’s ability to bring nitrogen back into depleted soil (hosts nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots) clover also benefits many plants by stabilizing the moisture around their roots.
Edibility: Clover is a high-protein legume, but is not generally eaten, although it is a viable food source.
Advisory: Do not grow near nightshades (tomato, pepper, eggplant).
This plant can overtake a garden quickly, but you get even by simply eating it.
Japanese Knotweed [Fallopia japonica]:
Companion plant for: Unknown. This is classified as a noxious weed and is unwise to plant purposely.
Attracts/hosts: Butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Edibility: This weed is edible and easy to harvest. Simply break off the new shoots and the top four inches of larger plants. They can be sautéed or grilled like asparagus. This plant is also compared to rhubarb and can be used in the same fashion.
Advisory: Do not intentionally plant this in your garden as it can quickly take over. Best to harvest for dinner if you see it growing on your property.
Stinging nettles are nutritious, make a wonderful fertilizer for your garden and contain many medicinal properties.
Nettles [Urtica Dioica]:
Companion Plant for: Broccoli, tomato, Valarian, mint, fennel.
Edibility: Despite its “sting”, much of the plant is edible, when blanched, steamed or dried. Stinging nettles are an excellent source of vitamins A, B and C, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. They have been used to treat conditions like arthritis and seasonal allergies for many years.
Advisory: It is best to carefully dig this weed out of the garden (with gloves on) and keep it in a pot. Although this plant is worth having around, its sting is still painful.
Next: Dandelion, Plantain and more!
Japanese Knotweed photo by: thelazygardener