I think of this as weeding season. Chickweed, pepperweed, yellow dock, vetch, mullein, clary sage, bindweed, shepherd’s purse, and an infinity of grasses can all be found growing with all out abandon. I didn’t mention dandelions. Nor did I mention the locally infamous, beautifully lace-leaved “burrweed”. This last one is so pretty that everyone leaves it growing – that first year. You never even notice the miniscule white flowers when they appear. Then one day you step outside and return with your socks wallpapered with burrs. They are not at all sharp and pokey like a foxtail. It’s more like a profusion of velcro pellets covering any cloth or fur surface that’s available. It takes but a few seconds to mat large sections of a dog’s coat, and they don’t brush out easily.
We call these things weeds, but Nature knows no such concept. The term weed has come to describe something undesirable, rank, lacking in value or worth. Nothing could be further from the truth, for these plants are all exuberant, prolific, and skilled healers. Some minister to humans. Some treat the soil and its many life forms. Some are a blessing to all life forms.
Take dandelions, for example, one of my personal favorites. This bitter flavored herb can keep your liver in tip-top shape while encouraging your gall bladder to produce and release bile, which is needed for fat digestion. Dandelion is also a general tonic, improving your ability to assimilate nutrients. Three dandelion leaves per day along with that one apple should do it for most of us. Dandelion heals abused soils as well. Its tap-root dives deep to fork open and aerate compacted, non-breathing soils while the leafy rosette spreads out to shade and protect within its canopy the soil surface and all that lives there. Of course, the dandelion flowers are its crown jewel, offering a sun-covered lawn to anyone who has forgotten how to look up.
The other weeds are likewise tremendous healers. Yellow dock is also a great liver tonic. Slice the root thin and saute a quarter cup with other veggies in butter. It is slightly bitter, like its dandelion cousin, but truly nourishing. Chickweed is cooling and soothing and a great addition to salads. Mullein leaves are useful for respiratory and ear troubles. The list goes on and on and on. Even plants such as bindweed and burrweed, which seem to have no direct use for humans and are hard to like, are healers of the soil. They mine for nutrients from deeper soil layers, correcting mineral imbalances and doing their utmost to move a soil toward greater fertility and well-being.
I do weed my gardens. I remove many of these prolific healing plants when they overfill my garden beds and paths. I feel no animosity or frustration in this process. I do so with appreciation and gratitude. Sometimes I leave their uprooted bodies in place to mulch the soil and add their nutrients to it. Sometimes they become extra fodder for the goats and cows or find themselves on my dinner table. Sometimes they are whisked off to a compost pile. However it happens, I know I am harvesting, using, eating, recycling a tremendous gift. What a blessing to be surrounded by weeds!
My favorite book on this whole topic is Judith Berger’s Herbal Rituals. Her friendship with the plants shines through on every page. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to have a website, but her book is worth looking for.
What are your favorite weeds? Which ones do you eat? What other creative uses do you make of them?