Hey, Who You Callin’ a Weed?

Hey, Who You Callin’ a Weed?
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One of the most exciting and interesting aspects of green living is an avoidance of all those lethal chemicals we once put on our lawns to make them grow, remove weeds, or otherwise cause grass – already a perfectly green product – to behave in ways Nature never intended.

As for lawn mowers, toxic blue smoke and roaring combustion engines, I’ve often said that the only redeeming value grass has is feeding ungulates! If you don’t have a goat, you’re expending a lot of precious energy maintaining something when you could instead be fishing, golfing or climbing mountains.

Besides, as a very wise man recently observed, one man’s weed is another man’s orchid. Take dandelions, universally despised by each new generation of OCD lawn fanatics. If you want to see them self-destruct in interesting and potentially dangerous ways, let your dandelions go to seed and watch the little umbrellas come to rest on your neighbor’s lawn.

I agree with one thing: dandelions are not, as far as historians know, native to the New World. In fact, in a book on Minnesota pioneers called Old Rail Fence Corners, Irving A. Dunsmoor is quoted as saying that his mother loved dandelion greens so much that – arriving in what would later become Minneapolis, Minnesota – she saw no dandelions and so sent “back East” to Maine for a packet of seed. But please don’t tell your OCD neighbor this. It might cause a nervous breakdown.

Dandelions are not the only weeds imported by settlers. The daylily is another. Valued for the rich flavor of its roots, called tubers (a name also applied to the plain potato), the daylily is still a dietary staple in China, for example. For more plebian Americans, the spread of daylilies into any and every ecosystem, from abandoned lots to $10,000 lawns, is a nightmare worthy of Eddie Kruger.

Other botanical imports include milfoil, hollyhocks, mimosa, pigweed, snapdragon, burdock, asters and another 850 plants referred to as “weeds” at one time or another by lawn grass devotees. In fact, grass itself (Poa pratensis) is an import (again from Europe).

Botanists, who try to steer clear of the word “weed” in the interests of neutrality, refer to these imports as non-native, naturalized or invasive. A last category is “noxious weed”; to earn that designation, the plant in question has to be an opportunist, as well as having no socially redeeming value (even in botanists’ minds, ouch!) Two examples would be milfoil, which is choking out lakes and ruining sport fishing and boating, and kudzu, which is covering the American South with a thick green blanket – sort of like grass on steroids.

For those of us who see lemonade in every lemon, the value of these plants varies, from highly edible and delicious to a uniform ground cover for waste spaces. Some plants, while not particularly attractive in flower, provide forage for almost all species of bees, notably the honeybee, whose numbers have been cut by 75 percent in the United States and the European Union. Those few imported plants which are not edible and do not flower nonetheless provide critical habitat for frogs, salamanders, fish spawn, field birds like grouse and ptarmigan, and even the endangered and protected prairie chicken. Not a single one is without some value, including medicinal uses which are surprisingly effective, non-habit forming and with few or no side effects.

One of my favorites is plantain, whose rounded, shiny, almost waxy leaves make a poultice to draw out slivers of glass, wood or other foreign matter while also offering some pain-relieving effects.

If you are interested in exploring natural medicine as opposed to allopathic remedies dispensed by prescription – some of which cost an arm and a leg (sometimes literally) – visit this site’s Eco-Info page first to get an idea of the scope of information, then check out the web for some excellent herbal healing books for everyone from beginners to professional naturopaths.

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