Celebrating beneficial weeds on Weed Appreciation Day

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!

International Day for Biological Diversity

Marine Biodiversity is the theme for this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB).

Counting Life in the Sea

Between 2000 and 2010, scientists worldwide took part in a groundbreaking collaborative venture known as the “Census of Marine Life”, to quantify marine biodiversity.

More than 2500 scientists from 80 nations participated in activities ranging from surface seawater studies to deepwater probes, from the arctic waters to the tropics.  Around 1200 species were added to the known roster of sea life, and more species are still being investigated.

The estimate of the total number of known marine species has now reached about a quarter of a million.  However, in its final report the Census team suggested the actual number could in fact exceed a million, so there’s still a lot of discovery awaiting anyone venturing into the field of marine biology!

It’s not only marine biologists who are inspired by marine biodiversity. This marine-themed graffiti mural graces a wall in Rotorua.
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