Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Soil Myths #4: Weeds aren't that bad!

Weeds get a bad name for no good reason. When we think of weeds we think unsightly, prickly, poisonous, noxious plants that ruin our garden. Sure, some weeds are those things, but many weeds get a bad name. There are actually alot more uses to weeds then we give them credit for...

Food and Medicine
I stumbled across a blog awhile ago called First Ways. The FW authors discuss "An Urban Forager's Guide to Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and More in Portland, Oregon", including weeds! In fact, they have a whole section on eating weeds including wild sorrel and dandelions. And don't forget, wild blackberries! *nom nom nom* 

They also talk about weeds use in herbalism and traditional Chinese medicine, including mugwort and clover. Did you know that dandelions can be used as a diuretic? Or that Ground Ivy is good for kidneys?

Weeds tell you about your soil
Weeds can be great indicator for what is wrong/right with your soil. In Australia, thistles can be a good indicator of high nitrogen levels. Whilst other weeds, such as serrated tussock, can often be found in soil that is low in nutrients and soil carbon.

Green mulching and carbon
Weeds, like all plants, are important for nutrient cycling. They work with soil organisms to make healthy soil and store carbon. If weeds aren't actually harming your plants when they are young it is worth leaving them alone for awhile to help make your soil extra healthy! Before they flower or form seeds, pull them out and leave them on top of your garden as a mulch, mix into the soil or throw into the compost! Green mulching (using green plants as mulch) is a great way to stimulate soil bugs, nutrient cycling and get more soil carbon!

They may be protecting your garden! 
Who would have thought of a weed as a protector? Permaculture principles through companion planting talks about planting things together that look out for each other. For example, planting marigolds as a natural pesticide for many nasty bugs that like to eat vegetables; borage can help tomatoes; and clover helps to improve soil nitrogen for flowering plants and vegetables.

Next time you are gardening and thinking about pulling out all your weeds, ask yourself if that weed is helpful? What is it telling you about your soil? Can you eat it? Is it a helpful medicinal plant?

You can find more information on weeds as food and medicine on First Way Resources and Edible Weeds in Australia on Detox. Information on beneficial weeds in the garden can be found on Wikipedia and Useful Weeds at our Doorstep. And check out this list of companion plants.

There are noxious weeds in Australia too! You can find out more about the bad weeds through Weeds Australia.

Love to hear if readers know any other useful things that weeds can do!


  1. Kemi's Garden http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/video/video_index_January2011.htm

  2. Thanks for the post. It's great to hear someone in soil science speaking like this?

    Have you come across Alfred Crosby's "Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900 - 1900"? A great read.