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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Delayed Weeding Can Yield Garden Treasures

Flowery weeds and volunteers

I’m sure most of you have heard some version of the old adage, “A weed is simply any plant growing in an unwanted place.” When combined with “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” you can sometimes have eye-opening conversations (especially with neighbors).

I doubt many would argue that the photo array above departs from beauty, at least in the state of the plants when photographed. With the exception of the bee balm (monarda fistulosa), each is a volunteer in my garden. I included the latter because it has spread mercilessly (sometimes with my help).

I found the wild geranium (geranium maculatum) in my vegetable garden during last year’s spring weeding. It seemed to be something I might want to see as it matured so I moved it to an area more to my liking. I’d almost forgotten about it until it bloomed. A quick internet search helped me identify this delicate-bloomed plant. I was thrilled that I’d kept it.

The yarrow (achillea millefolium) showed up near the house itself when we stopped mowing every square inch of lawn a few years ago. Whether it was brought in by birds or the poor thing simply sprang free of being mowed down every year will remain a mystery. Happily, it continues to spread and I will try to transplant it throughout the garden. I love the bright flowers it brings as do the bees and butterflies.

Weeds or Medicinal Herbs?

Only recently did I educate myself about the prickly lettuce (lactuca serriola). I decided to attack the weeds growing on our bank. This tallish, dandelion-like beast was prolifically volunteering all over the embankment. Thankfully, it’s a relatively painless plant to pull—the prickly part isn’t painful and the roots are quite shallow. However, my interest was piqued enough for me to identify it. Once again, Google came through and informed me that this “weed” had some fascinating medicinal qualities.

At this point in my gardening, I wasn’t surprised to find out there might be healthful uses for a former mystery plant. As a person who loves trying natural remedies whenever possible, being introduced to this one was most intriguing. I pulled the leaves off of a few younger plants for drying. I’ll experiment with them at a later date.

I’ll add a major qualifier here: I am not now, nor have I ever been a medical doctor. Any information I share here that seems like medical advice should be taken ONLY as personal anecdotal information. I highly advise everyone to seek medical attention for injury or illness as necessary.

That being said, a great many herbs and plants have qualities that can help with some injuries and illness. The next photo brings us to my own favorite volunteer in our yard. I have both narrow leaf plantain (plantago laceolata) and broad leaf plantain (plantago major). Most of you likely have one or both of these “weeds” in your grass or garden.

Before you roll your eyes too far back into your head and curse the memories of ridding your property of this pervasive plant, let me tell you a few of the reasons I cherish and celebrate it.

Broad and narrow leafed plantain

A couple of years ago I was bit by a feral cat, my fault… I pushed her further than I should have. I cleaned the wound and started watching it. The next day it looked a bit more red and puffy than I thought it should so I soaked it in epsom salts. The following day, the telltale red streak of sepsis started to creep away from the wound and up my arm. I immediately upped my treatment to include drinking an abundance of pau d’arco tea (a blood purifier) and kept freshly chopped compresses of plantain on the wound for the next 24 hours. All the while, I was monitoring my body for signs of worsening sepsis. By the next day, the red streak was gone, the red puffiness was diminished nearly to nothing, and the wound felt much better. I continued treatment for another day or so for added measure.

I want to reiterate, sepsis (or blood poisoning, as it used to be called) is nothing to mess with. I actually know someone who died of this particular complication from a cat bite. I definitely had a couple of friends urging me to go to the emergency room. Again, I know myself and my body extremely well by now and would have sought medical attention as soon as I felt it was warranted. I would urge anyone reading this to responsibly err on the safe side.

I have successfully treated two cat bites in this manner. Recently, I have treated far less serious incidents with plantain. My husband had an insect bite, and I had a teeny spot of poison ivy. Both seem to have abated symptoms with the application of plantain. Understand, I’m highly allergic to the poison ivy we have—if left untreated, it literally seems to melt my skin off. However, after four serious bouts last year (and the subsequent treatments of steroids), I’m going to try the plantain route of drawing out poisons and toxins this year. So far, so good.

A quick search about this amazing plant will give you more ideas of its benefits. Whether using it topically or consuming it through salad or tea, I think you’ll be surprised about its qualities. Just maybe, you’ll let a little patch of it grow to maturity in your own yard.

The last photo collage shows another medicinal invasive, ground ivy (glechoma hederacea). So far, I’ve left this one to the bees—at least, when it’s not in my vegetable beds. Yes, I do pull a lot of “weeds” when they wander in and threaten to steal nutrition or space from the plants I want to thrive. However, I also want my garden to be as wildlife-friendly as possible and understand that the bees need all the help they can get these days.

The other three photos in this group are grass-looking plants, though they are not actually classified as grasses. I rediscovered the rush when I was weeding my bank. I had forgotten about planting it last year so it was almost like finding a wonderful volunteer hidden amongst the prickly lettuce. The hop sedge was hiding nearby. Last year, I moved the flatsedge from a neighbor’s yard (with his permission) before he killed the rest of these weeds. While these plants aren’t necessarily medicinal, they certainly add interest and are lovely natives that will benefit the flyers around my garden.

Yes, one person’s weed can definitely be another person’s treasure. I highly recommend doing a little research on the volunteers you have growing around your garden. You just may turn some of your weeds into cherished friends.

non-grass ground covers

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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