Expert Advice from Granville Goff, Nursery Department Head, Fang! Pet & Garden Supply

Weeds are great when they’re planted in the right place. When we typically talk about weeds we talk about “invasive plants” and we thought we should flip the coin and look at the many weeds with benefits instead! Everything you read talks about how to prevent weeds from spreading by mowing or trampling before the seeds form. But did you know they actually help the soil? This post is a Q&A with one of our experts and nursery department head regarding weeds with benefits. if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to stop in and ask our staff about the weeds you can eat!

A Q&A with Granville Goff

Q 1. How do weeds repair the soil – generally speaking? What do weeds do that’s good?

A 1.  “Weeds” add biomass to the soil and as they die they help create topsoil and available nutrients for other plants not to mention feeding the microorganisms present in the soil. Additionally, they help with moisture retention which keeps the soil alive and provides habitat for beneficial and nonbeneficial insects that encourages birds. Plant-like Comfrey drives down deep taproots that mine minerals and other nutrients thus reinvigorating the nutrient cycle.

Q2. Which of these have culinary potential and can be used in everyday meals? Like Dandelions?

A 2.  Dandelion (root, leaves, flowers), Burdock (roots, stems), Lemon Balm (all aerial growth), Miners Lettuce (shoots, flowers), Chickweed (all aerial growth) can all be used in daily cuisine.

Q3. Do they really fix nutritional balances on the lawn?

A 3.  Refer to the answer to number one! Additionally, Poly-culture, as opposed to monoculture (i.e. lawn), has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be more ecologically sound and beneficial for soil health and pest management than any other “method” of cultivation. Let nature lead the way.

Q 4. When removing these weeds – is there a “best practice” or method that should be used?

A 4.  If you are removing non-native, invasive imports from your landscape, garden, or natural area a couple of things to keep in mind: “Weeds” as we term them are very advantageous plants that are more than adept at adapting to changes and capitalizing on beneficial conditions including your removal of them.

If a weed has gone to seed, be sure, it will be back. Bend stalks into a paper bag before lopping off, to minimize spread, you can burn them later. When digging up a weed, remember that many have deep taproots and if you don’t get the whole thing it will grow back, also bear in mind that when you disturb the soil, other seeds that have been dormant will gain a foothold in the “limelight” and you may see new visitors that were previously unknown to you.

BEST PRACTICE: suppression = sod flip, sheet mulch with cardboard or other biodegradable light blockers, cover with bark mulch and straw, in this way you rob the unwanted plants of light and begin building a healthy topsoil layer for yourself.

Q 5. Why do dogs seek out Cleavers? And what’s the benefit of the sticky/velcro leaves?

A 5. Cleavers are one of my all-time favorites. They are very advantageous, have medicinal uses, and are actually very easy to remove once you get unstuck from them, of course. They are a close relative of our native Sweet Woodruff also.

The hairs on Cleavers allow them to climb to light they require to spread, also since their structure is very fragile it allows them to hitch a ride on passersby and take root some distance away thus spreading its territory.

Dogs are likely eating it for the same reasons humans tincture it. As one of the many weeds with benefits, it is noted as a blood builder/cleanser, lymph mover, diuretic, coagulant, and anti-inflammatory, basically, a great spring tonic to help clean you out and detox your system. Spring is its prime season and this is a good time to flush the system and our canine friends are innately aware of this.

13 Weeds with Benefits

CLEAVERS:

Weeds with Benefits: Cleaver
The Cleavers (Galium aparine) have been used in the traditional medicine for treatment of disorders of the diuretic, lymph systems and as a detoxifier.

The info above in number 5. Can be found in tincture and tea blends.

PLANTAIN:

Weeds with Benefits: Plantains

Found growing just about everywhere. Broad and Spear leaf varieties abound in lawns, city parks, forest roads, etc. This is not the banana cousin that goes by the same name. Plantain is an antiseptic, astringent, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, nutritive, making it one of the best wound healing herbs out there. Effective when used on insect stings, bites, cuts, scrapes, and even eczema. The fresh leaf is best.

DANDELION:

Weeds with Benefits: Dandelion

Leaves, flowers, root used. One of the more popular weeds with benefits that people will eat and uses as an herbal remedy. Great for detoxing and supporting the liver, however, has some contraindications when used in conjunction with blood-thinners due to its anticoagulant properties. Also useful in helping treat kidney and urinary ailments including infections, due to the magnesium and zinc content it is good for promoting clear skin, can help maintain proper blood sugar. The roasted root is a great coffee substitute.

COMFREY:

Weeds with Benefits: Comfrey

Leaves and roots used. Demulcent, expectorant, mucilaginous: lung support, wound healing, intestinal support

LEMON BALM: 

Weeds with Benefits: Lemon Balm

Attracts bees in the garden. Leaves, flowers, and stems used. Carminative, diaphoretic and febrifuge, antibacterial (internal and external), antiviral. Good for heart and liver, mood improvement.

CHICKWEED:

Weeds with Benefits: Chickweed

Postpartum depurative, emmenagogue, galactagogue, and circulatory tonic. It helps regulate blood flow generally and specifically in relation to menstruation, increases breast milk production, also helps with itchy skin.

MINER’S LETTUCE:

Weeds with Benefits: Miner's Lettuce

Use as a salad green. Miner’s lettuce is pleasingly crunchy, mild-tasting has large leaves, remains tender even when in flower, and is so loaded with vitamins it will cure scurvy. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100 grams of miner’s lettuce — about the size of a decent salad — contains a third of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, 22 percent of the Vitamin A, and 10 percent of the iron.

BURDOCK:

Weeds with Benefits: Burdock

Roots and stalks, young growth is tender and easier to eat and prepare. Keep moist if cooking. Aids in digestion, detoxifying the liver and balancing hormones. It is also good for improving skin quality, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure. This weed with benefits is similar to Dandelion Root. It can be found fresh in some health food grocery stores, as a tincture, and dried herb. I bet you didn’t know this about weeds! Perhaps you’re a chef or you simply didn’t know what to do with your dandelions – but consider serving them up in a meal instead of weeding and throwing them into the compost pile this weekend.

These ideas are from Natural Living Ideas.

CHICORY:

Weeds with Benefits: Chicory
Blooming succory bush on blue sky background

This light blue flower lives as a wild roadside plant. Despite its somewhat bitter taste, chicory leaves are commonly consumed in certain parts of Europe, including Italy and Greece.

Try boiling the leaves first before sautéing or adding to dishes as that will remove some of the bitterness. Roots can be baked, ground, and added to coffee or even used on their own as a coffee substitute.

DAISIES:

Weeds with Benefits: Daisies
Beautiful landscape with daisy flowers on the foreground and mountain

Not just for making daisy chains, the greens and petals of this common garden flower can be eaten either raw or cooked, although some find the flavor a little bitter.

Daisies have been brewed into a tea and used in traditional Austrian medicine for gastrointestinal and respiratory tract disorders. They also have anti-inflammatory properties.

GARLIC MUSTARD:

Weeds with Benefits: Garlic Mustard
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) with white flowers under the warm spring sun

Part of the mustard family, this particular plant is considered an invasive species in North America. However, it brings with it a lot of great health benefits – aside from being a good source of vitamins A and C, Garlic Mustard is popular as a diuretic, helps with weight maintenance, improves heart health, lowers cholesterol and strengthens the immune system.

ELDERFLOWERS:

Weeds with Benefits: Elderflowers
Danish landscapes in the summer in the Jutland

The truly versatile Elder is not exactly a weed but is quite a common wild tree, especially around rivers and lakes. The flowers can be collected in spring to make elderflower cordial, soda or champagne. With a refreshing, mild taste, they’re great when paired with apple or pear. Dry the flowers in bunches to make a tea.

Once the flowers on the tree die-off, the green berries can be picked (before they ripen) and pickled to make elderberry capers. Make sure to leave some, as the ripened berries make a delicious balsamic vinegar.

STINGING NETTLES:

Weeds with Benefits: Stinging Nettles
Nettles in the afternoon park close up

Another popular medicinal weed with benefit, you’ll require gloves or thick skin when picking this! It’s used for urination problems and kidney stones, joint ailments and as a diuretic. The leaves are also said to help fight allergies and hay fever.

Nettles are rich in vitamins A, B2, C, D, and K and have important nutrients like antioxidants, amino acids, and chlorophyll. They’re also a good source of calcium, potassium, iodine, manganese, and especially iron.

Want to know more? Check out our gardening posts here.

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