Weeds You Should Let Grow in Your Garden
Weed You Should Grow in Your Garden
When I first read about letting weeds grow in your garden alongside the beans and corn and tomatoes, I thought the author was pretty weird and far-out. But I warmed up to the idea the more I read and learned about native and naturalized plants. I’ve often wondered how the native peoples were able to sustain themselves and survive and thrive without gardening or why the early settlers brought plants (which many think of as weeds today) like Dandelion, Plantain, Mullein, Wood Sorrel, Lamb’s Quarters and more. (We Came Over on the Mayflower is an interesting article telling of plants and animals that came over with the settlers and why they brought them!)
It seems that the plants that grow naturally all around us are quite possibly enough for most all of our nutritional needs or health challenges. The few plants I’ve listed here grow so profusely around us in North America. It’s as if they are saying–“Pay attention! Look at me! Try me! Get to know me!” I have come to believe that these plants called weeds are worthy of our attention!
So here I have eight of my favorite weeds you should let grow in your garden or yard.
1. Lamb’s Quarters, Chenopodium albumla
Lamb’s Quarters, also known as Wild Spinach, is easy to grow, delicious in salads or cooked, and have higher vitamins, good fats, minerals, and protein than spinach according to skipthepie.org. It’s an annual that spreads by seed, so if you don’t let go to seed, it will not spread. You may want to let it go to seed because they, also, are delicious. And you’ll want some to reseed for next years plants. If you keep trimming and harvesting the leaves throughout summer, the plant won’t get too big. If left alone, it can easily grow to six feet high. Pick the tender leaves and throw them into salads, soups, smoothies or stir-fry. The whole plant is edible including the seeds. It’s a mild and fun plant to introduce yourself to eating “weeds”!
2. Violets, Viola spp.
First, let me say that this is NOT the houseplant known as African violet! These are the wild, native plants growing in your yard or garden.
I enjoyed eating Violets in the early spring last year. I especially like the flowers which can be sprinkled in salads or infused in honey to make violet-blossom honey. If you take out the blossoms from the honey and let them dry, you will have crystalized violet flowers–fun for sprinkling on cupcakes or your morning toast. I added violet-blossom honey to an herbal tea to sooth a sore throat.
Violet leaves, harvested throughout the growing season, are delicious as a mineral-rich tea. The flowers and leaves are very high in vitamin C and the leaves are high in Vitamin A, as well. In my yard I have three types of violets that I’ve found so far, and all three have similar properties. The Canadian White Violet and the Tricolor also known as hearts-ease which looks like a miniature pansy. Notice that the leaves are quite different on all three plants.
3. Chickweed, Stellaria media
Look for Chickweed in early spring. In warmer climates, you will find it blooming in winter. It grows best in mostly to all bright shaded areas where the ground is moist. It’s a perennial that likes the cool spring weather here in mountains of Virginia and blooms throughout the spring.
I like to pick a couple stalks to add to my salad or to top tacos instead of lettuce. It has a mild “green” flavor and is full of nutrients. Infuse it in oil and make a salve which can be used for acne, boils, burns, itching, psoriasis, eczema, sores, rashes, wounds and even tumors.
Chickweed, Stellaria media
4. Wood Sorrel, Oxalis spp.
Wood Sorrel is a fun plant to have–especially if you have children or grandchildren. The leaves, flowers and seed pods have the sour taste reminiscent of rhubarb and are fun to pick right out of the yard and nibble on. Of course, you can add them to salads and goes great with other greens, but I will stick to nibbling! The sour taste is from oxalic acid which can inhibit mineral absorption if eaten in large quantities, but in the small amount, it should be fine. We sort of intrinsically know to limit the number of foods with a strong taste. A little is all that is needed! Think of eating a large pile of fresh rhubarb or green apples! Same idea.
Wood Sorrel, Oxalis Stricta.
5. Self-Heal, Prunella vulgaris
I fell in love with Self-Heal last year and I love the Latin name, Prunella vulgaris. To me, it sounds like one of Cinderella’s step-sisters! Ha! It grows everywhere in the lawn and is easiest to find when it is in flower. Even in the yard you mow, the flowers will bloom beneath the blades of grass. I’m so glad that I picked a bunch and dried it. When my mother was visiting this year she had a painful sore throat. I mixed up a tea for her with Self-heal, Yarrow, Sage and Violet-blossom Honey and her sore throat cleared up in a few hours!
Self-heal is well named because it has SO MANY wonderful properties and uses including antiviral, styptic, anti-inflammatory good for a tea, gargle or poultice to heal wounds. Look this one up and explore it’s uses. I really love this plant that is so often ignored.
6. Dandelions, Taraxacum Officinale
I really want to love the Dandelion, but from my experience over the years, it was always so bitter, that I hadn’t ventured to try it much. This spring I found some large Dandelion plants and was able to pick the leaves just as they were starting to bloom and bud. I was surprised that the leaves were quite mild, so I added them to our salad. Yum! For centuries Dandelion greens have been used as a spring tonic used to rejuvenate the body after a long winter.
The whole part of the plant is both edible and medicinal. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals and also has digestive enzymes that help you absorb the vitamins and minerals that you are eating in the greens and other foods!
One year I made an infused vinegar of the blossoms and it really is quite delicious! The vinegar helps to extract the minerals out of the blossoms are especially high in lutein which is good for your eyes. This is the spring I’m going to try the leaves and roots. Both are highly nutritious. The root especially helps the liver and any symptoms of a congested liver causes (such as skin eruptions). The leaves also nutritious and are often used as a diuretic. Both the root and leaves are high in inulin which helps keep the gut flora in balance. According to herbalist Cascade Anderson Geller, the leaf and root, are a better diuretic than the medicine Lasix (Furosemide).
Dandelion look-alikes are both Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara or the False Dandelion, Hypochaeris radicata (also called Flatweed or Cat’s Ear.)
7. Plantain, Plantago spp.
Plantain–not to be confused with the large banana grown of in the tropics of the same name–is another great herb to teach to the children. Sometimes called the “band-aid plant,” plantain is good for superficial wounds as it works as antiseptic and speeds up the healing as well. Both the thin-leafed plantain called Ribwort and the broadleaf plantain function the same even though they look quite different. Some say the Ribwort is more potent, so if you have both, choose that one. When out on a walk or playing in the yard, this plant is useful for spider and bug bites, stings and scratches. Just bruise the leaf–or better yet, chew it up–and then put it on the sting or wound. It’s also great for itchy skin–especially from a bug bite. You can make an infused oil or salve from the fresh leaves to have on hand. Plantain leaf tea can be helpful for cooling scratchy throat or a cough. Plantain is the opposite of a diuretic–helping dry people retain water. While Plantain is edible, the stringy leaves are really tough to chew.
Broadleaf Plantain, Plantago Major
8. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret says that if she had to have only one medicinal herb on a deserted island, she would choose Yarrow! Wow. I have to learn more about this plant!
Yarrow is a tough growing plant. If it’s in your yard where you mow, you will likely not ever see the flowers, but you can identify it by its feathery leaves. Yarrow–the white wild kind, not the colorful hybrids–is an excellent anti-microbial and a powerful styptic. I add yarrow flower and/or leaves to tea when someone is sick. I also have dried the leaves and crushed them to make a styptic powder to stop the bleeding of shaving knicks or small scratches. To preserve it for whatever use, you can make a tincture of the whole aerial parts to be added to tea or water to gargle when you have a sore throat or sickness is coming on. I stopped a nosebleed with two applications of the tincture on a cotton swab. I prefer to use the tincture as a styptic, but the powder could be handy and light-weight to carry when hiking or to take on trips. You can also just take the leaves and crush them and place them directly on the wound in an emergency to stop bleeding.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
You may like to read my article, More Weeds to Let Grow in Your Garden, Coltsfoot Honey, and Extensive Visual Guide to Common Edible Flower Blossoms