Today, something completely different from my typical blogs this past year, I hope you find it interesting.
I read an article in the news about a man who was gardening and pulling weeds, nothing special, something many people do. But he then took the weeds and instead of throwing them into the trash, he chopped them up, laid them out to dry, and then mixed them into his compost bin. Joila! Compost loaded with natural nutrients that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
I don't have a garden and don't do gardening/weeding, but this article reminded me of something I read somewhere many years ago—"Indigenous people believe there is no such thing as weeds, instead they are plants we have forgotten how to use." So, I did some research to find out if that is actually true, and this is what I discovered:
Yes, that statement is true and is true for indigenous people from many different cultures all around the world. Traditionally, indigenous people have a much deeper understanding of the natural world than the rest of us non-indigenous people. They know how to use plants of all kinds for everything from food to medicine to clothing and shelter.
Let's look at an example: Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Most people have a great disdain for this plant, and rightly so. But, it is native to North America and some indigenous people knew how to make good use of it, such as medicine for skin conditions. Poison Ivy also provides a food source for birds—the berries are eaten by some birds. The plants also provide a safe place to live or hide for many small animals. Many people consider it a weed, but it doesn't deserve to be called a weed, it's a useful plant.
How about something very common to North American and European yards—the common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)? All my life I heard my mother complain about those weeds in the lawn and how I or one of my brothers would have to go out and dig them up before they went to seed. But, are they weeds? No. The leaves are edible, throw some on your next salad. In fact, here where I live (in Colombia) you can buy them in the supermarket (with the yellow flowers still attached). Dandelions are native to Europe and Asia, not North America, by the way, and they also have uses in medicine and provide food for many insects. Are Dandelions weeds? No.
Here's another example, ready? Ragweed (after all, it has weed in its name), Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Common Ragweed is native to North America and has medicinal uses by some indigenous people.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is an herb and has medicinal uses. Wild Violet (Viola odorata), Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album), and Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) are often found in gardens and considered weeds but both are edible and nutritious. Even Nettles (Urtica spp.) can be eaten and also have medicinal uses.
There are multiple others that are called wrongfully called weeds, sometimes because they are invasive, outside of their natural environment, so they take over the native plants and can be hard to control. But that doesn't make them weeds. If they can be controlled they do have uses, if people are willing to take the time to learn their uses.
So, next time you're outside 'weeding' your garden, consider if that plant you're about to throw into the garbage or compost bin is really a weed or if it has some value. Maybe instead of ridding the garden of all why not simply thin them out and let them coexist with the other plants?