For this post, I wanted to give a different perspective on weeds compared to most other gardeners I hear from. Many of the classic ‘weeds’ that are dubbed lawn and garden pests such as dandelions, clover, and yarrow might not be as bad as some people think, though this is subject to what you are trying to do with your land. We actually let these run rampant in our yard (which I suppose we are lucky to have extra space that we are trying to make wild, less lawn like, and have wild flowers as far as the eye can see). My take is that these 3 plants are never weeds, and are considered such because someone didn’t plant them themselves. If you think about it, it is very natural for these plants to ‘invade’ a lawn, because the lawn is an unnatural part of the surroundings; you can consider plants like dandelions nature’s way of fixing what it thinks is a mistake, they are one of the first parts of nature’s succession to start getting the land ready to be a forest again.
I’ll do my best to hit on some of the points that I think are key, because a novel can truly be written on this subject (one may already exist).
Let’s start with dandelions. Dandelions are quite wonderful, every part of the plant can be used for something, and there are statements that say the plant can provide stronger health benefits than many of the greens available in today’s market. When a dandelion goes to seed, the seeds go airborne and scatter with a slight breeze; while many folks fear the strong, resilient dandelion, people like me enjoy blowing the seeds from the head and letting them land where they wish.
(Photo, Courtesy of Erlend Schei on Creative Commons)
You can eat the flowers, the stems, the greens, and the roots – the whole package! You can ferment the flowers and the greens into different types of wine (or the same wine! – https://commonsensehome.com/dandelion-wine-recipe/). Though you should note that the outcome will be more sweet or bitter depending on the part of the plant you use (flower = sweeter). I haven’t tried this myself, but it has been on my home brewing list for quite some time, along with fireweed wine. Oh, and don’t think I’m going to stop talking about dandelions before hitting on how it helps the soil! The wonderful perennial weed has a very deep tap root that can help break-up hard soil over time while bringing up nutrients such as calcium and water through the roots to share it with other plants; often times when I look closely at the base of a dandelion, there is a wet circle around it even on a dry day. Dandelions also tend to attract beneficial insects such as bees, ladybugs, lacewings, and more. Dandelions are a pioneer plant that cannot be conquered. They will continue providing nutrition and fun to those who choose to take advantage, and also continue providing grief to those who can’t see past the sight of them (weirdos, dandelions are beautiful).
Next up are clover. Clover are amazing for pollinators (yay bees!), and many variety of clover are nitrogen fixers; often times when clover show up on the lawn, that location on the lawn may need some extra nitrogen.
It can also provide many health benefits. We will be using clover as a cover crop next year in lieu of grass as it essentially works as a living mulch, so it will be constantly nitrogen fixing (assuming temperature is appropriate and we inoculate the seeds correctly), and at the end of the year the plant will die off and begin adding it’s own organic matter to the soil. We will be using clover as the first in our manual succession planting for areas where we won’t be using for a long time to start preparing the soil for something bigger.
Let’s end this post with Yarrow. Yarrow is closely related to chamomile and has historically been used for medicinal purposes to treat inflammation, minor skin wounds (Yarrow contains achilleine), and to help reduce stress and anxiety (Yarrow Tea anyone??) (https://globalresearchonline.net/journalcontents/volume9issue2/Article-022.pdf). The leaves of Yarrow were used in food dishes similar to spinach during the 17th century (it tastes similar to tarragon). Other than the inherent health benefits, yarrow tea is rumored to give some folks vivid dreams, and legend has it that Achilles used to use yarrow to treat soldiers wounds (I don’t think I believe this as much as it is pretty cool). Yarrow has a deep root system that gathers beneficial nutrients such as potassium and copper that it shares with other plants via it’s decomposed leaves. Yarrow attracts beneficial insects while repelling pest insects.
So some of these statements make me question why folks are so gung-ho about murdering these wonderful ‘weeds’ with things such as poisonous chemical fertilizers. We are literally destroying what helped many of our ancestors survive, and it is actually very difficult to destroy these pioneers that just want to find a nice home in your lawn to make more trees grow. After some reading, one might find that these plants our society has dubbed as invading weeds, are actually some of the best things to keep around for our earth, and ourselves.