Hidden Treasure in Wild Unwanted Plants

Wild, unwanted plants are commonly called weeds, but in recent years the term invasive species has also become popular. While many non-native plants do tend to get out of control and choke out the wanted plants, many of the wild unwanted plants that homeowners and gardeners try so hard to get rid of are actually native species. And ironically, many North American lawns are composed at least in part of grasses that have been imported from other parts of the world!

One of the biggest misconceptions is that weeds aren’t useful. But as lawns were originally grown to feed livestock and most of the population no longer raises such animals, it’s actually the grass itself that it useless except as a groundcover. It’s also interesting to note that many of the wild, unwanted plants that pop up in amongst the grass could be eaten, used as medicine, or even used for domestic or commercial purposes!

Wild Unwanted Plants Can Actually Be Useful

A few years ago I inherited a lawn and garden from a woman who had been welcoming the wild unwanted plants that most gardeners dug up or sprayed with herbicides. The grass was full of dandelion, clover, wood violets, and plantain. And there were deliberate patches of milkweed, nettle, motherwort, goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace all over the property.

Unlike the grasses that made up the rest of the lawn, all of these wild unwanted plants were actually useful. We ate the dandelion greens and the nettles. We put violet and clover flowers into our salads. We even got adventurous, and learned how to cook with young milkweed pods. And yes, we even dug up and ate the wild carrots once or twice!

The plantain helped with bug bites and was very welcome if I ended up getting stung in the nettle patch. The motherwort could have easily been tinctured for medicinal purposes. And even the goldenrod is a survival food and a source of latex for rubber making.

Did you know that Thomas Edison harvested enough rubber from his goldenrod plants to make a complete set of tires? Henry Ford had them put on a Model T that he then gave to Edison!

So maybe weeds are wild, unwanted plants that crowd our gardens and grow in the grass where we don’t want them. But maybe they’re just plants whose value is underestimated? The next time you spot a weed in your lawn, think about what you can do with it. Maybe instead of grabbing your weed killing spray, you’ll find yourself eating the weeds!


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