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!

Everything is coming up roses

Today, 7 February, is Rose Day, apparently conceived to mark the start of Valentine week*.

Valentine week!? As if Valentine’s Day isn’t already more than enough! It seems some clever marketer has decided there’s yet more money to be squeezed out of the poor consumer, who is scarcely back on his feet after the Christmas marketing onslaught.

'First Love' hybrid tea rose. (© All Rights Reserved)
The ‘First Love’ hybrid tea rose from New Zealand – a rose of classic beauty.
(© All Rights Reserved)

While Rose Day may have seen the light as part of an extended Valentine’s sales pitch, that does not mean we shouldn’t use the occasion to celebrate roses for what they are – really interesting, and rather lovely, flowers.

Roses are nothing if not diverse. In total there’s more than 100 species of roses, including bush roses, climbers, erect schrubs and miniature roses. While most are used as ornamental plants or as a favourite among cut flowers, roses are also used in the making of perfume, as well as in cooking and medicine. Rose hip (the berry-like ‘fruit’ at the base of the flowers of certain rose species), which is a rich source of Vitamin C, can be made into jams and jellies, while rose syrup can be made from an extract of rose flowers. Rose water (obtained as a by-product from distilling rose petals) is used in cooking and natural medicines. The Rosa chinensis species is used in traditional Chinese medicine for stomach problems and, linking back to World Cancer Day, this species is also being investigated as a substance for the control of cancer growth.

Not bad for a flower often taken for little more than a rather cheesy ‘symbol of love’.

The 'Chinensis Mutabilis' Chinese heirloom rose (© All Rights Reserved)
The ‘Chinensis Mutabilis’ Chinese heirloom rose – a picture of elegance and simplicity.
(© All Rights Reserved)

On a rather unrelated note, I’ve discovered that ROSE also happens to be an acronym for the Relevance of Science Education project. According to the site, “ROSE, The Relevance of Science Education, is an international comparative project meant to shed light on affective factors of importance to the learning of science and technology. Key international research institutions and individuals work jointly on the development of theoretical perspectives, research instruments, data collection and analysis.”

Now surely science education is something worthy of celebration, so there’s another angle to ROSE Day allowing you to celebrate the day while steering clear of the Valentine’s Day connection.

So, whether you’re a lover, a cook, a poet, an artist or a scientist, surely there’s more than enough reason to join me in celebrating Rose Day.

* If you really need to know, Valentine Week’ consists of the following days:

  • 7th Rose Day
  • 8th Propose Day
  • 9th Chocolate Day
  • 10th Teddy Day
  • 11th Promise Day
  • 12th Kiss Day
  • 13th Hug Day
  • 14th Valentine’s Day

Finding that elusive variety on Seed Swap Day

Today, the last Saturday of January, is Seed Swap Day. Since the day originated in the US, it makes sense that it takes place this time of year – the ideal time for our Northern Hemisphere neighbours to get the range of seeds, bulbs etc you need for that vege patch you’re planning, or to ensure your spring garden is a feast of colour.

Here in the Southern Hemisphere the time is not quite ideal – its approaching winter, and heading away from the growing season for most veges, flowers etc. Still, the concept is so good that it’s worth mentioning, even if we end up doing a ‘Southern Seed Swap’ later in the year, around August perhaps. Or perhaps now is the time for a winter swap (brassicas, asian greens, celery and other winter crops).

Harvest quality seeds from your vege patch this year - it's all the currency you need to source great seeds from your next seed swap.(© All Rights Reserved)
Harvest quality seeds from your vege patch this year – it’s all the currency you need to source great seeds from your next seed swap.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The whole principle behind Seed Swap Day is that people get together regionally to swap seeds from their previous year’s crop. Why buy expensive seed from commercial seed companies every year if you can source fresh seeds & bulbs from neighbours in exchange for seeds from your prize veges? Not only do you effectively get seeds for free, but its often the only way to get your hands on some rare and unusual varieties not easily available commercially. And best of all – by swapping locally, you can find seeds and bulbs from plants that are well acclimated to your climate.

Can’t find a seed swap near you? Well, maybe that’s the universe telling you this is your time to take action – pick a date, arrange a venue (perhaps a local school or church hall, or even your garden for that matter), and start getting the message out to neighbours and the wider community. Most community papers also provide space to advertise local events.

If you want to seriously get into seed saving and swapping, it’d be worth your while to learn more about best ways to store and keep seeds and bulbs. There’s some good information sources available online – check out the online Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook, for example. It’s a good idea sharing this with other interested people in your area too, to increase the knowledge base in the region over time, and to ensure everyone can bring good products to your local swap.

OK, yes, it means a bit of effort from your side, but the rewards will be so worth it. And you will have that great feeling of knowing you did something really good, promoting environmental sustainability and local economic development.

So let this year’s Seed Swap Day be your call to action. And best wishes for an abundant vegetable patch and a luscious garden!

Showing some appreciation to your house plants

Knowing the readership of this blog, I am sure I don’t need to carry on about the general value and virtues of plants, and indeed, there’s no shortage of special days celebrating plants of all sorts – trees, wetlands, you name it. Today, however, we celebrate those special plants that have been taken out of their natural environments to provide company to man in his domesticated context – today, 10 January, is House Plant Appreciation Day.

“Babies Tears”, also known as “Peace in the Home” – a popular house plant for small, confined spaces.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Just about any plant can qualify as a house plant, as long as it can handle some level of shade, is reasonably neat and is small enough to fit into your house. Ferns are a good choice for peace and tranquility; flowering plants can add spectacular colour; small trees can create structure; certain carnivorous plants can even help rid the home of flies and other irritating bugs. At a more basic level, plants in the home help filter and clean the air, and they act as an important oxygen source.

So, on House Plant Appreciation Day, give some attention to the plants around your house. Do they look healthy and vigorous, or are they perhaps in a bit of a sorry state? If the latter, why not put in extra effort today – feed them, water them, and treat them to some personal attention. And if you happen to not have any plants in your house, perhaps today is just the time to go and buy a leafy friend from your local nursery. Of all possible pets, they are the least demanding, they react with surprising vigour to a bit of personal attention, and they can be highly therapeutic.

Go on, get a house plant, and add some life to your home.