Saturday, February 13, 2016

Useful "weeds" - List of Ten

There are a lot of plants in urban/suburban areas, and throughout North America and the world for that matter, that are common weeds. However, many of these plants have good uses. Since they are hardy enough to be labeled as weeds, you know that they would require little work on your part to get them established. And when they are in the right place, they can be quite beneficial. In fact, a weed is really, as David Holmgren puts it, just "a plant out of place" ( Weeds are pioneer species doing what pioneers do: move into open areas and naturalize, or become native to that place.
  1. Plantago spp. (Plantain)
    Common plantain - Source
    • Nutrient accumulator
    • Medicinal - I have found it to be especially good for insect stings and spider bites.
    • Edible - Samuel Thayer says it is not much as a food, but Elias & Dykeman recommend it with emphasis on collecting and grinding the seeds into a flour that is used to make pancakes.
  2. Portulaca oleracea (Purslane)
    Purslane - Source
    • Medicinal - this plant has traditionally been used by many different cultures throughout
    the world for many different symptoms, having been especially used in traditional Chinese medicine. Scientific studies have been performed on the effectiveness of purslane in dealing with a variety of medical concerns.
    • Edible - during the warm summer months this grows throughout my yard/garden and to keep it in check I make sure to eat plenty of it in my salad. In addition to being a tasty green, it is also extremely healthy, being best known as the having the most omega-3 of any leafy vegetable, as well as having good amounts of many vitamins and minerals. Check out the wikipedia link to see the whole nutritional listing.
    • Companion - this plant makes a pretty good ground cover and helps maintain moist soil. Some plants, including corn, will "follow" purslane roots through harder soil that they could not penetrate on their own.
    • Nutrient accumulator - its impressive list of beneficial minerals helps indicate just how well this plant does at finding and collecting nutrients.
    • Decorative - many nurseries actually sell purslane as a decorative ground cover.
    • Self-reseeding - it can even finish ripening the seeds after the plant is pulled up.
    • Chicken and rabbit feed - both of these animals can gain great nutritional benefits from purslane.
  3. Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion)
    Specimen Spotlight: Dandelion
    Dandelion flower
    Dandelion flower - Source
    • Insectary - as a very early starting plant (I've seen green plants of this species in February), it is often one of the first sources of food for bees. In addition, it continues flowering from early spring throughout the summer, providing for a hungry host of helpful insects.
    • Nutrient accumulator
    • Thrives on neglect
    • Shade to full sun
    • Edible - it is becoming a very popular salad green. Be sure to pick the leaves before the plant flowers, otherwise they tend to turn bitter. The flowers add some nice color to a salad. You can also eat the large taproot. Cook it like you would other root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, or potatoes.
    • Perennial and self-reseeding
    • Medicinal - as is the case with most, if not all, nutrient accumulators. It has been theorized that the ability of these plants to gather hard-to-reach nutrients might have something to do with their medicinality.
    • Flowers! - okay, so dandelion flowers may not seem like much to look at, but little children love them!
  4. Chenopodium album (Lamb's quarters)
    • Edible - I add the leaves in moderate quantities to my spring and summer salads. The
    Lamb's quarters - Source
    seeds can be used to create a flour or are cooked like rice - just be certain to rinse well to remove the bitter saponins. A sibling of quinoa and a cousin of spinach. The early shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus. Excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium.
    • Companion - very friendly towards corn; also benefits cucurbits, such as cucumber, pumpkin, and watermelon. Louise Riotte also says that it invigorates zinnias, marigolds, peonies, and pansies.
    • Nutrient accumulator - The Rodale Herb Book indicates that the long tap root does a good job of pulling up nutrients from the soil.
    • Self-reseeding - the seeds are pretty tiny, and there are lots of them just on one plant, so it doesn't take much for one plant to become a lot of plants.
    • Wildlife - speaking of seeds, this plants seeds are used by a variety of small mammals and birds as a significant food source.
  5. Amaranthus retroflexus (Redroot pigweed)
    Redroot pigweed - Source
    • Edible - as a wild variety of amaranth, the seeds are quite tasty albeit very small. They can be ground into flour or cooked as they are. They make a great thickener for a soup to give it more substance. You can also eat the young greens just as you would spinach. Very rich in iron and a good source of vitamins A and C.
    • Dye - can be used to make red, green or yellow dyes
    • Drought resistant - and handles hot weather just fine, too. At least, I never noticed that it was wilting in the sweltering heat of Kansas (or Utah) in late July.
  6. Lactuca serriola (Prickly lettuce)
    Prickly lettuce - Source
    • Edible - raw leaves which are best eaten while still very young, before there are much if
    any spines. They go great in a green weed salad! Considered the wild progenitor of domestic lettuce, which means it has not been selectively bred over time to be extra tasty. And that might explain why some use it as the bitter herb in their Passover meal. It is possible to use the young shoots as an asparagus substitute. And the seeds produce an edible oil that, when refined, is considered to have a pleasant flavor.
    • Medicinal - this pioneer is very widespread, so the medicinal uses vary. The Navajo used it as an emetic (vomit inducer) and the Ancient Greeks as a treatment for eye ulcers. The sap, or "milk", is, according to PFAF, "used for its anodyne, antispasmodic, digestive, diuretic, hypnotic, narcotic and sedative properties."
    • Insectary - the flowerheads provide nectar and pollen which are used as sources of food by bees.
    • Self-reseeding
  7. Veronica spp. (Speedwell)
    The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History
    • Insectary
    Speedwell - Source
    • Thrives on neglect
    • Groundcover - it can outcompete grass. This may or may not be a plus, depending on if and where you want grass. But you can use this as a mix with other "trample-friendly" plants, such as clover, to create a less resource-hungry yard.
    • Edible - although just barely. Ken Fern considers it a famine food - only good when you have nothing else.
    • Self-fertilizing, self-reseeding and some species put out runners
    • Medicinal - the benefits of each species vary somewhat
    • Flowers! - these are often quite small and easy to miss, but they are beautiful when they are noticed
  8. Erodium cicutarium (Redstem Filaree or Stork's Bill)
    • Insectary
    Stork's Bill - Source
    • Thrives on neglect
    • Drought and heat resistant - tends to be found more in hot and dry regions, so naturally it doesn't tend to stress out when the weather is hot and dry.
    • Dye - makes a green dye and does not need a mordant to set the color.
    • Groundcover - it tends to stay low to the ground, which makes it survive mowing. Being a hardy plant, it also can handle a decent amount of foot traffic.
    • Edible - the entire plant is fine either raw or cooked and is best when young, which is also when it tends to taste similar to parsley.
    • Self-reseeding and some species put out runners
    • Medicinal - a leaf tea is used to induce sweating and as a diuretic.
    • Flowers! - quite pretty in their simplicity
  9. Lamium amplexicaule (Henbit or Henbit Deadnettle)
    Edible Wild Plants by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, pg. 116
    • Insectary - important early source of pollen and nectar to honey bees.
    Henbit - Source
    • Common name given because many chickens especially like to eat this plant
    • Hummingbirds also like this plant for the nectar in its flowers
    • Edible - the whole plant can be eaten or used to make a tea. Although it is in the Mint family, it does not have a mint flavor. Some say that it tastes similar to kale, which is why I recommend it mostly as a salad add-in. Also, you can pick the flowers and suck the nectar out of them, which kids seem to love doing.
    • Self-reseeding and can put down roots from stems that are pressed against the ground (layering).
    • Mildly medicinal
    • Flowers! - if you look close, you can see that these are quite exquisite flowers: they remind me of orchids.
  10. Rumex crispus (Narrow-leaved Dock)
    • Wildlife - Many birds and some small mammals use dock seeds as a wintertime food source.
    Narrow-leaved Dock - Source
    • Drought resistant
    • Dye - the root is used to make a dye varying between mustard and brown
    • Edible - but often bitter. However, sometimes bitter is good/desired. 
    • Self-reseeding and can put down roots from stems that are pressed against the ground (layering). The seeds can remain viable for more than fifty years!
    • Medicinal - used to increase red blood cell count and as a treatment to external wounds, among many other things.

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