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.

The lovely, cheerful dandelion, just one of many weeds worth celebrating.(© All Rights Reserved)
The lovely, cheerful dandelion, just one of many weeds worth celebrating.
(© All Rights Reserved)

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!

7 Comments

  1. Where would I be without weeds? If it wasn’t for them most of my garden would be a barren claypan instead of the green-ish thing it is. 🙂

    1. Hehehe! Don’t I know it! This year in particular it’s been so dry that even New Zealand started to look brown instead of green (hard to imagine), so weeds have been the saving grace in maintaining an illusion of greenery…

      1. 😀 Our garden even has what would seem to the untrained eye to be new species of prostrate plants, ones that generally grow as shrubs.
        In reality, the shrubs have been trained to grow along the ground by the mower going over them at regular intervals since germination.
        Instead of being knee high, they grow mere centimetres off the ground and have leant to radiate outwards. 😀

  2. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… I like weeds! It’s good to learn that today is Weed Appreciation Day, complementing Wild Food Day which is in October as you say. Those of us in the British Isles can learn from Eat Weeds http://www.eatweeds.co.uk/ and also from Organic Weed Management http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicweeds/index.php I particularly like reading weeds as indicators of what’s happening in, and on, the land.

      1. Yes, you probably could do that. I’m often struck by how my fellow allotmenteers put huge amounts of effort and money into attempts to ‘get rid of’ weeds. Understanding the weed hardly gets a mention.

        I’ve changed the weed population of my allotment by raising soil pH (adding lime), improving drainage (adding muck and compost) and tricking weeds into growing closer to the surface (using plastic sheet-mulch). Some digging out of weeds is still necessary, but not much. The plot looks completely different from the way it looked when I took it on 8 years ago. As for the crops, I’m the envy of my neighbours.

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