Today, 28 March, is Weed Appreciation Day. Not ‘weed’ as in cannabis, but rather in the Merriam-Webster sense of the word, “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.”
Today is the day to show some appreciation to these often irritating plants that tend to overgrow everything else in our gardens. While they may be pushy, over-enthusiastic and sometimes just plain rude in the extent to which they take over with little or no regard for other plants, many weeds actually have some useful redeeming qualities.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about jam made from wild blackberries, and other great edible wild foods, but there are many more, perhaps less striking, examples of useful weeds around. Take the teeny little dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), for example. While frustrating many gardeners by popping up all over the lawn with their cheery yellow flowers, they are actually amazing plants.
Edible in their entirety, dandelions are an abundant source of Vitamins A, C and D, and chock-full of thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, sodium, potassium and lithium. Its taproot system helps bring nutrients to the surface for shallower-rooting plants, and it’s good for nitrogen enrichment. It is also a good food source for various birds, and attracts pollinating insects. Dandelion flowers can be used to make wine; the roasted roots can be ground to make a caffeine free coffee substitute, and they’re traditionally an ingredient in root beer. The leaves and flowers can also be eaten in salads and sandwiches. Medicinally, dandelion extract have been used to treat infections and liver problems, and as a diuretic.
All that from the lowly little dandelion. Now just imagine all the other equally useful weeds in your garden, and you quickly realise weeds can really be a cause for celebration.
Of course, when harvesting weeds for culinary or medicinal purposes, it’s important that you correctly identify the plant – you don’t want to end up like the American adventurer Christopher McCandless, whose amazing life and sad death is chronicled in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild”. There’s no lack of information on the topic, from websites (just make sure it’s a credible source!) to many good books, like Andrew Crowe’s “A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand”, Bradford Angier’s “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants” and James Wong’s “Grow Your Own Drugs: Easy Recipes for Natural Remedies and Beauty Treats”, to name just a few.
There’s a world of wonder out there – happy foraging!