Benefits? Of weeds? Yes, thinking that something that mankind seems to have an inbred hatred for being beneficial and good for us might seem like a paradox. However, weeds have amazing and varied benefits for gardens and health!
Weeds can help gardens to thrive in a few ways. Firstly, they attract beneficial insects (helping them to survive and proliferate, which means weeds are good for the environment too) which in turn can help to keep garden pests under control. Think of ladybirds chomping away at those annoying aphids. Having plenty of nectar rich flowers (weeds definitely provide these) will also attract pollinators into the garden which is particularly helpful for those growing fruit and vegetables and prefer not to be running around the garden pollinating flowers with a paint brush.
Another way weeds can be of use to the gardener is as fertiliser. However, this requires that the weeds be no longer living (a win-win in some people’s minds). One easy way to use weeds to feed your plants is to just throw weeds onto the compost heap. One should be careful that no weeds that have gone to seed and roots of perennial weeds are put onto the heap. One can also make ‘weed tea’ which will be like giving your garden a protein shake! All one needs to do is remove weeds from the garden and place them in a large drum/bucket of some sort and add water. Put a lid on to the drum as this ‘concoction’ will smell rather unpleasant! After a few weeks, it will be ready to use. Dilute the tea with water 1:10. Use more water if you are worried about damaging your plants. One tip is to put the weeds in a permeable sack or a pillowcase so that they are easy to remove when the ‘tea’ is ready to be used. Kind of like a giant tea bag!
Some weeds fix nitrogen in the soil making it useful for other plants. It is possible to grow weeds as a ‘green manure’ between planting crops. One just digs them into the soil a few weeks before sowing seed or planting.
Many might be familiar with the health benefits of some weeds. Consider just a few below:
Taraxacum officinale – Dandelion
The leaves can be eaten in salads and made into a tea. The roots can be roasted and ground up for a delicious ‘dandelion coffee.’ Even the flowers can be used to make your very own dandelion wine!
One of the main uses for dandelion leaves in Herbalism is for its diuretic action. It is a wonderful purifier and toxin cleanser. The leaves are also jam-packed full of nutrients and minerals. The roots improve liver function and it is considered as a liver tonic. Both roots and leaves improve digestion.
Plantago lanceolata – Plantain/Buckhorn
Has been used for symptoms associated with menopause. It can also be used for lung-related problems. Traditionally, bruised leaves are applied to cuts, bites, stings and burns to prevent infection and help stop the bleeding of smaller wounds. There is actually an old saying that goes ‘If the toad is bitten by the spider, it hurries to the plantain to get help!’
Silybum marianum – Milk Thistle
A popularly used plant with a wide range of benefits, it is most commonly associated with the liver. However it can also be used to treat problems of the gallbladder, kidneys and skin.
Even from a brief examination of the health benefits of three weeds and from a short discussion of why they are useful to the garden, it is obvious that they don’t really deserve to be treated the way that they are. Yes, they can be damaging and rather ‘pesky,’ but instead of exerting yourself too much trying to eradicate weeds completely from your garden, leave a few to grow and put them to use. They will repay you in some amazing ways if you just let them ‘lodge’ in your garden for a while.