By Wendy Cashmore, member of local permaculture and seedsavers groups
Many people dislike weeds and find them to be a nuisance. These ‘undesirable’ plants are regularly pulled out and sprayed with toxic chemicals. To look at things from a different perspective, weeds are hardy, clever plants with strong genetics. They can grow just about anywhere and in harsh conditions. So, we pull out our dandelion (taraxacum officinale), plantain (plantago spp), and stinging nettle (urtica dioica) from the garden and put in our flowers or vegies. Flowers and vegies generally require water, fertiliser and a bit of effort on our part. Weeds are everywhere and require little care from us.
Did you know that many weeds have amazing healing properties? These plants are everywhere for a reason, they are there to nourish and heal us. Most of the nutrients, minerals and medicine that we need can be found right in our backyard. So instead of going to the chemist to buy a digestive aid, try eating some dandelion leaves (a naturally bitter plant), before eating. When we eat and taste bitter plants our stomach secretes juices to aid digestion. Insect bites and minor cuts can be a common occurrence whilst gardening. There is no need to go inside to get relief however, just grab a leaf of the very common weed, plantain or the ‘band-aid plant’. Pull a clean leaf of plantain from your lawn, chew it in the mouth and then spit it unto the site as an amazingly cooling poultice. Plantain can also be made into an oil or salve. Nettle can cause a sting when handled without gloves, but is safe to eat once cooked or dried. It is a plant very high in vitamins and minerals. Often used as a substitute for spinach, nettle contains nearly three-times as much iron. This makes it a good choice for anyone who is run-down or overstressed.
So next time you are weeding the garden or about to spray with toxic chemicals, you might want to reconsider. Perhaps you could identify the plant and find out if is edible or medicinal. Maybe it can heal you too.
Of course with all plants correct identification is crucial; use at least four sources to indentify a plant and preferably a local expert. Never collect weeds from roadsides, under powerlines, public or neighbour’s gardens, which could have been sprayed with chemicals.