How To Eliminate Weeds With Ease

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Isn’t it a wonderful feeling to watch your lovingly nurtured flowers bloom? To harvest a meal from your well tended veg patch?  
If only we could feel the same enthusiasm for weeds….

Do No Harm

As I’m sure you already know, weedkiller products pose a harmful risk to our health and our planet, yet sadly the destructive practice persists among thoughtless gardeners and farmers!

The more we learn about the eco-system, of which we are (willing or not) a part of, the more we see that everything is connected in ways more complex and wonderful than we could ever have imagined!

But surely there is a better option for the more conscientious gardener than a lifetime of tedious weeding? 

What Is A Weed?

Let’s first examine the question: What is a weed? Why do we delight so in the bloom of a carefully cultivated flower yet scornfully detest the flower that dare grow uninvited?
 
And what, really, is the difference between the two?
 
As the great poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1878:
 

"And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

Fortune Of The Republic, Ralph Waldo Emerson
Those words were probably meant literally at the time, but today it might be more correct to say ‘a plant whose virtues have been forgotten’.
Heart Shaped Leaves
Dioscorea communis

Weeds With Virtues

When you find a plant brazenly growing, without encouragement, among your precious roses there are two important questions to consider before deciding whether to call it a weed or not…
Question One: What is it?
Question Two: What Are It’s Virtues?
Perhaps this seemingly insolent “weed” has some benefit in your garden, maybe it draws the aphids away from your Roses, enhances the quality of the soil or attracts beneficial insects, provides a food source for wildlife or even has something useful to offer you!
It is possible that as you begin to explore the virtues of these plants you may discover more of a blessing than a curse.
 
Why weed in misery when you could be harvesting with joy?

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Rachel Carson

Meet Your Weeds

Today I will list three common “weeds” and shed some light on their virtues, I also intend to continue a series of blogs (or possibly videos) where I will introduce you to more of these botanical outcasts and what they have to offer.

Weed Number One

Dandelion

"Blessings on thy sunny face, In my heart thou hast a place, Humble Dandelion! Forms more lovely are around thee, Purple violets surround thee,-- But I know thy honest heart Never felt a moment's smart At another's good or beauty,-- Ever at thy post of duty, Smiling on the great and small, Rich and poor, and wishing all Health, and happiness, and pleasure, Oh, thou art a golden treasure!"

Helen M. Johnson.
Dandelion

Name: Taraxacum Officinale

Virtues:

Where to begin? Dandelions are a wealth of medicinal and nutritional value. All parts of the plant can be eaten and they have long been used for food and medicine all over the world and still are today.
 

Nutrition: 

Packed with vitamins (A, K, C, E, B6) and minerals (calcium, iron, thiamine, manganese, copper, folate, potassium) they might be the most nutritious vegetable in your garden!
 
 

In the garden:

they provide vital food for bees and other pollinators and can improve the quality of your soil; the long tap roots help to aerate the soil as well as pulling up minerals like calcium, making them beneficial for other plants and a good lawn fertiliser.
Dandelion
They can also be used to make Fertiliser tea, like comfrey and nettles.
 

Medicine:

Medicinally they are diuretic, antioxidant, good for digestion and healthy liver function, used as a skin toner, blood tonic, the milky sap can be applied to treat warts. 
Contains a compound known as taraxacin which has antiseptic, germicidal and expectorant effects.
The plant’s hyperglycemic, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties have prompted scientific interest in it’s anti-diabetic potential.
Ironically for those using toxic herbicides in the garden, Dandelion’s detoxifying action may be just the thing to help eliminate them from their systems!

Culinary:

The flowers can be picked to make a beautiful honey flavoured syrup or tea. Picking the flowers also prevents them from going to seed.
 
The leaves can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked and added to various dishes, they are somewhat bitter but this can be overcome with careful preparation or just adding small quantities chopped finely.
 
The roots, I have found to be quite delicious roasted. They are said to make a good coffee substitute, a fact of which I am somewhat sceptical but I shall be investigating this theory soon (stay tuned!).
 

Dandelion Recipes...

Dandelion Drop scones
Dropscones
Dandelion Pakora
Pakora
Dandelion Miso Soup
Soup
Once you begin to realise the many benefits of this plant, you may not be so keen to get rid of it at all!
Which is just as well, because you never will, no matter how rigorously  you persevere with fire and fury, they will return. Better to embrace them and enjoy the cheerful colour they bring to herald the end of winter.

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust."

Gertrude Jekyll

Weed Number Two

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

Name: Geranium Robertianum

Virtues:

This pretty little plant is one of my favourites. But it’s very easy to remove if you are offended by the dainty pink flowers!
A member of the Geranium family it has a long history of medicinal uses and is thought to have been named after an 11th century French saint, Robert Abbot of Molerne, esteemed for his medical skills.

Insect repellent: 

It is said that the crushed leaves are effective as an insect repellent when rubbed on the skin. One of the common names Stinking Bob relates to an apparent unpleasant aroma, though it seems to effect some more than others (I’ve only noticed it once and didn’t find it offensive, although I use it often).

 Foot Infusion:

Another recommended use is to pour boiling water over the leaves and soak your feet in the cooled liquid to remove toxins, heavy metals and radiation.

Nutritional Benefits:

 

Herb Robert contains flavonoids, vitamin A, B vitamins 1,2 and 3, vitamin C and small amounts of vitamin E as well as minerals calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium.

Medicinal Values: 

 
Contains germanium which helps to make oxygen available to cells, making it a potential anti-cancer medicine.
Antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic and astringent; Modern research is limited regarding the healing powers of this plant but it has an esteemed place in traditional medicine. 
It is associated with blood, both to stem the flow and oxygenate. Used as a treatment for diarrhoea and other digestive issues, for healthy kidney and gallbladder function, including prevention of stones.
The leaves are chewed to combat mouth ulcers, throat infections and toothache.
 
A 2010 study suggested anti-diabetic potential in lowering blood sugar levels by as much as 35%.

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.

A.A. Milne

Weed Number Three

Plantain

Ribwort

Name: Plantago spp

Virtues:

There are something like 200 species of plantain but the two most often found in UK gardens are Greater Plantain (P.Major) commonly known as Broadleaf plantain or Rats-tail, and Lesser Plantain (P.lanceolata) commonly called Ribwort or Narrowleaf plantain. 

It is a very good plant to know…

In The Garden: 

Plantain can be very beneficial in the garden, known in permaculture as a dynamic accumulator, it draws nutrients and minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, silicon and sulphur) from the soil and can be cut back to act as a fertiliser.

It also attracts helpful insects like hoverflies and is great for wildlife attracting certain moths and butterflies and the seeds provide food for birds.

Medicine:

Plantain is a great plant to have in your first-aid knowledge!

If you remember being stung by nettles as a child, chances are you may have been instructed to look for dock leaves to relieve the sting?

Plantago

Well, you may want to sit down before I tell you this… 

You were looking for the wrong plant! 

It’s ok, take a moment. 

Yes, it’s true, I’m afraid. Beyond distraction, placebo and the cooling effect of plant juice, Dock has little to offer as a treatment for nettle stings (although, of course, it does have many virtues of it’s own).

Plantain, however, is an effective treatment, not only for stings or bites but for cuts and grazes too. Applied directly to the wound as a poultice, it draws out toxins as well as stemming the flow of blood and accelerating the healing process. It’s also mildly anti-sceptic. 

A popular form of application is to chew a leaf to release the juices before pressing onto the skin to provide quick relief. 
It can even be used for splinters, bringing them to the surface for easy removal.
I wonder how many Plantain leaves we stepped on in our haste to find those Dock leaves! (Tell the children!

Food: 

A source of calcium, vitamin C, carotene, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and more, Plantain provide a healthy and abundant food source!  

I must admit, I have not really explored the culinary potential of Plantain yet, my experience is mostly limited to using it as a topical medicine.

Spaghetti with weeds

However, whilst writing this article, I became very hungry and unable to divert my focus very far, I went into the garden, gathered Leaves of Dandelion, Herb Robert and Plantain and cooked them with garlic and lemon juice. I ate them seasoned and tossed with wholemeal spaghetti!   

Dandelion, Herb Robert and Plantain
Spaghetti
Foraging Foodie Fuel

I wouldn’t particularly recommend this dish as an introduction to wild food, there are much better ways to enjoy these plants but it did provide the fuel for what you see before you now. 

Some ways I have heard to enjoy plantain are cooked into crisps (or chips for Americans) as is popular with kale. 

Some other suggestions include soup or smoothie from Julia’s edible weeds blog or baked with aubergine and avocado from Robin Harfords Eatweeds. 

I’ve heard that the seeds can be ground to make flour or added to baked goods and some say that both parts of the plant have a mushroom flavour!

I don’t know about you, but I am definitely intrigued to explore some of the ways to enjoy this nutritious plant!

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi

Almost Magic

So, there you have it. Thank you for reading and I apologise if the title seemed misleading. Although I cannot offer a magical vanishing trick for the weeds in your garden, I hope I can help you to transform them into something nicer by viewing them through a different lens. 

After all, harvesting a delicious and healthful meal is far less of a toil than pulling out weeds for the compost and much more rewarding! 

I hope you will go outside and acquaint yourself with these and other plants that grow voluntarily. 

 

A note about traditional medicine:

I have only mentioned some of the attributes known to these plants and have tried to include scientific data where possible.

I feel it’s important to acknowledge though, that many wild plants were recognised for their medicinal value by our ancestors way before the birth of modern science. There is a certain lack of incentive to fully investigate the facts of the wisdom passed down through generations. 

Where studies are undertaken, compounds are often isolated, rather than tested as a complete formula.  

 

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous."

Aristotle

Learn More About Wild Plants

I will be introducing more common “weeds” and their virtues soon but in the meantime, if you would like to further explore the joys of foraging and discover the wonderful world of wild plants and their uses, there are many different resources available:

Books are a great way to learn about plants, I shall be adding some of my recommendations to the blog soon.

You can also attend foraging courses in your local area; For a list of UK based foraging guides click here.  

There are several really good plant identification groups on facebook. (when asking for ID it’s best to try to take a picture of the whole plant where it is growing and try to include leaves, stems and flowers)

My own local foraging guru, Robin Harford has recently opened up a great online resource called Gather!* It includes a helpful introductory course and invitation to a private facebook group, as well as full access to Robin’s own collection of extensive plant notebooks, enriched by his wealth of experience. I have found it to be a fantastic asset to my foraging skills! 

I would love to hear your thoughts! Let me know what you thought in the comments below and share any tips or recipes and uses for these or other misunderstood plants. 

As every cloud has a silver lining, so every weed has a virtue

As every cloud has a silver lining, so every weed has a virtue

Disclaimer:

Please remember, you should always be absolutely certain of correct identification before consuming wild plants. Some are toxic to humans and can cause unpleasant side effects, including death. 
It’s also wise to sample small amounts when trying a wild food for the first time as different people can react differently.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. This is an absolutely fantastic article, packed with amazing useful and beneficial information. I have used plantain on my little girls cuts when she was small and it was almost instant relief, also made a dandelion syrup which i totally agree is a wonderful taste, as well as being medicinal in its own right, well done Liza, a thoroughly great read!

    1. Thank you Kathryn. So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, Plantain really is amazingly effective isn’t it?

  2. Very informative Liza, thanks! You have inspired me to get creative and try a few of these, especially herb Robert. We made stingy nettle pasta recently, which was lots of fun and tasty. I’m looking forward to your next blog post 💕

    1. Hi Louise, That’s wonderful to hear that I have inspired you! Yum, nettle pasta sounds delicious! I’m definitely going to try that soon!

  3. Brilliant read Liza, definitely inspiring. I’m going to try the foot soak you mentioned, could do with a detox. I almost made the dandelion syrup. I left it in the fridge (for weeks) after steeping overnight and didn’t get round to doing anymore to it. What a waste 😢. I will get round to it one day 🙄. I used to have a tortoise, my brother has her now. Dandelion and plantain are two of the safe plants a horsefield tortoise can eat. Another one she loves is clover especially the flower’s, both the white and red. Is clover safe for us also?

    1. Hi Stacey,
      Thanks for your message. I want to try the foot soak too. I’ve also wasted my Dandelion syrup by leaving it too long, sadly. If you want to keep it for a longer time, you have to be a bit more specific with the method and ingredients but I’m lazy and prefer to just make a quick batch when I want it.
      Yes, all clover is completely edible! There are lot’s of recipes for using the flowers.

  4. Amazing! It’s almost unbelievable that we seem to have lost connection with these plants and their benefits even though we are so close to them at all times. I grew up in the countryside and still knew not of the goodness that lurks on every patch of lawn and most flowerbeds! Thank you ever so much for bringing this to light and bringing me (and other readers!) a new thirst for knowledge of these beautiful and helpful plants!
    😀

Leave a Reply

Meadow Sweet Flower

Meadow Sweet

Meadow-Sweet (Filipendula ulmaria), is a lesser known source of salicylic acid, the compound present in Willow and used to make Aspirin.

Read More »
Close Menu

This website contains affiliate links.
Please see full affiliate disclosure for more details or close to continue.