said it best,
“A weed is a flower too, once you get to know it.”
The dandelion for instance. How many of us are completely unaware of the untamed beauty of this plant?
Providing free nourishing food, and medicine for passers by, offering soil fertility, and perfect plant companionship for tomatoes and other shallow rooted crops, and all of this in a form that is simple, ruggedly beautiful, and completely unstoppable.
Nature utilizes weeds to perform functions that are often beyond our capacity to easily grasp. In an abandoned lot for instance, our hero the dandelion will drive roots into the earth allowing minerals and nutrients from deep in the ground to be accessed by other shallow rooted plants. The channels made in the ground by dandelions roots also help drive water and air downward increasing the overall capacity for root depth and allowing water to enter the water table instead of rushing off to damage local creeks, rivers, or lakes.
Let's all yank from the root the damaging notion that some plants are evil. Instead let's see beauty, life, and nourishment wherever we can.
If you were offered a hardy perennial plant that bloomed all season, was entirely edible, could be used for medicine, helped shallow rooted crops like tomatoes grow stronger, and provided habitat for bees and butterflies would you think I was crazy for even suggesting that such a plant exists? Sure you would if you were unaware of the amazing super powers of the Dandelion.
Now the English name dandelion is a corruption of the French dent de lion meaning "lion's tooth", referring to the coarsely toothed leaves. The shape of the leaf is hardly the most notable part of this plant. I’d have to agree that taraxacum is a lion among plants, but given all this plant offers the world I think it’s time for a new name. Terrific-lion seems much better suited then dandelion ever was.
Terrific-lion grows everywhere, the leaves are yummy and full of vitamins A, C, and K. The root makes a tea that can help with liver detoxification.
Creeping Charlie, (Glechoma hederacea)
Speaking of poorly named plants…. wow, I sure don’t think I’d want to meet anyone whose nickname was creeping charlie, but then sometimes when we get to know a person we realize that our ideas about who they are don’t always match reality. Such is the case with dear charlie.
Europeans who traditionally used it as food and medicine imported creeping charlie to America. In days of old, people would eat the plant fresh and cooked and put it to use also as a flavoring and clarifying agent in beer.
Lately, while speaking with a landscaping client who happens to be one of the world’s foremost experts on herbal treatments for autism in children, I was amazed to learn about the magic, magnetic nature of plants and people.
The swing set in my clients’ back yard is the preferred hang out for her young daughter who due in part to high mercury content in her blood lives with the effects of autism. As an herbalist, my client, Lise Wolf, had been introduced to the notion that plants are attracted to those creatures that they can help heal and nurture. One day Lise noticed an interesting phenomenon. The creeping charlie in her back lawn was growing from all directions toward her daughter’s swing set. The growth pattern was so pronounced that the creeping charlie was actually climbing the supports of the swing set in lieu the rest of her yard. As soon as she noticed this pattern the herbalist in her took over and she set to researching the association between creeping charlie and heavy metals in the blood. What she found was inspiring.
Creeping charlie has been used since the introduction of lead based paints in Europe to treat what was known as “painter’s colic”, or lead poisoning, and modern herbalists swear by it’s use for treating heavy metal poisoning. Since finding this information Lise has been using dear old creeping charlie to effectively reduce mercury levels in her daughter and the other kids she helps.
Charlie should also not be discounted as an important pollinator food source. During the spring and summer, an organic lawn covered in creeping charlie and white clover is a foraging bee and butterfly buffet.
So while charlie does creep his way through the garden, his popular nickname would tend to leave a gardener feeling creeped out, and given how terrific Charlie is, I say it’s time we give this fine friend a new nickname. Good Time Charlie used to make us sing the garden blues, but now that he’s better understood I’m sure we’ll all be singing a different tune.
Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodim album)
Grows like crazy, and tastes like spinach. These are the outstanding traits of lamb’s quarters. The list of minerals and nutrients available from lamb’s quarters are almost as long as it’s list of common names. Aside from Lamb's quarters, this plant is known world wide as every thing from goosefoot, fat-hen, nickel greens, and pigweed, to the nicknames, which denote it’s preference for compost piles, dungweed, and my personal favorite, dirty dick.
While the nickname dirty dick works wonders at wiggling the giggle out of folks, it only tells half the story. This plant is nutritious, and that’s not dirty, that’s delicious! Delicious Dick is the new nickname for this strong, upright, freely seeding weed. You’ll find new dinner delights with Delicious Dick in your dish!
Terrific-lions, Good Time Charlie, and Delicious Dick are all right outside your door! A buffet of heroic plants ready to please your pallet, and these three are just the beginning. Wood Sorrel, Burdock, Chickweed, Violets, Daylillies, Garlic Mustard, Milk Thistle, Plantain, Purslain, and Nettle are a few of the other heroes of health that grow freely all around us here in Minnesota and Wisconsin.