Grow Your Own: Weeds with a Purpose
by Juan Jardinero
“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
? Ralph Waldo Emerson
As gardeners we spend much of our time going through our fields, backyards and pots pulling out weeds. These persistent pesky plants grow everywhere, competing for water, sunlight and soil nutrients with the plants we do want to grow. However the more we understand nature and its interconnectivity we find that some of these so-called weeds do have a purpose and a use. It is important for first time gardeners to run a site analysis of their space to be planted. During this analysis you must identify the existing plants in your garden, weeds included. Having done this, we will be able to separate the useful plants from the less useful ones and gradually figure out how to preserve and use these once called weeds.
The three following plants—all considered weeds—taste great in soups and salads, are rich in vitamins, make great additions to the first-aid kit and have long been used as cleansing tonics. Best of all, they’re almost always free for the taking (make sure not to harvest weeds from areas that may have been treated with chemical pesticides or where a local street dog might have pissed upon). Take advantage of the weeds near you with the following tips.
Dandelion is one of the most versatile weeds. Finely chopped dandelion leaves make great salads, especially when they’re picked young and tender before the flowers form. If you like bitter greens such as arugula, you’ll find dandelions a good wild replacement. Steaming dandelion greens (removing the central rib first) or mixing them with other greens will mask their bitterness. Harvest dandelion roots in spring or fall. The root can be used medicinally to treat liver and urinary tract problems. Dandelion roots also are a diuretic that won’t leach potassium from the body, unlike most of the drugs prescribed for this purpose.
Another wild weed awaiting your discovery is clover. A tea made from clover flowers has a light taste that mixes well with other herbs. Any type of clover can be made into tea, but red clover is most sought-after for its medicinal properties, which include cleansing the liver, clearing the lungs of mucus, and improving circulation, respiratory problems, whooping cough, and skin conditions. Clover is also favoured and encouraged by organic farmers due to its nitrogen fixing properties.
Sheep Sorrel gets its name because, when inverted, its soft, thin leaves resemble a sheep’s head with long ears. This plant loves disturbed soil, so it makes itself at home in yards and gardens. Raw sheep sorrel adds a lemony, green apple taste to salads. Use it to make a salad dressing with a wild side—just put a few sprigs in a blender with oil and vinegar. Also try a recipe for French Sorrel soup. This weed is easy to propagate and can be around all year long. Can’t get tired of this one!!
So explore your home & you could find your next salad in the cracks of your sidewalk or parking lot.