Garden Pests or Special Guests?? Discover fun facts about “weeds” commonly found in yards around the Pacific NW!
Weeds get a bad wrap. There, I said it. I know, you’re probably saying,
“What for all this here crazy talkie-talk!! Horsetail and Morning Glory just ate my house!!”.
But, as it turns out, what each among the more regular cast of characters, appearing in your garden, have in common is, when confronted with poor soil conditions, 1.) they put most of their energy toward seed production, as a survival strategy, and 2.) this, in turn, brings new & abundant sources of organic matter back into soil, which then replenishes & amends it to levels, more suitable for encouraging & sustaining other kinds of plants, trees, etc.
So, ya see, they’re just here to help with (and hopefully, survive) your crappy soil. If you don’t want so many weeds in your garden, MULCH more regularly. Spreading 3-4″ of MULCH throughout your garden, once a year, takes a whole lot less time, than fighting it out with the “encroaching battalions” of weeds, all the rest of the year. That said….
As was discussed in a previous article (“Organic vs. Chemical Lawn Care”), weeds can serve as “indicator plants“, meaning, by knowing a bit about various common weeds and the kind of conditions they prefer, the presence of certain weeds in your lawn or garden can help give you clues as to the general health, structure, nutrient content, fertility, pH level, etc. of your soil.
But the ancient and rich history of human beings and “weeds” extends far beyond that to commonly available food sources, medicinal uses, in companion planting, as livestock feed, as cover crops, as materials for the production of various kinds of textiles, as pigments in paints and dyes, to all manner of amendment, extraction, repellent, attractant, glue, tea, tincture, and much more!!
Here are some common weeds found in Pacific NW and a brief summary profile of their various properties and known traditional uses!
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: Acidic soil, low fertility, poor drainage, diminished airflow, shaded areas
- TRADITIONAL USES: used as extra absorbent wound dressing, sanitary dressing, diapers, etc. thought to have healing and anti-bacterial properties.
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: although some are edible, most are mildly toxic.
- OTHER USES: water filtration, insulation, anti-bacterial
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: high potassium, low calcium, acidic soil,
- TRADITIONAL USES: anti-inflammatory, cysts, abscesses, diuretic, detoxifier for liver and kidneys, helps regulate blood sugar, sap from the flower stem is a folk remedy for warts, corns and calluses, flowers infused in oil, salves used for sore muscles and joints.
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: all parts of the plant are edible. high in vitamin C, A, K, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese, protein. roots can be roasted for a coffee-like drink.
- OTHER USES: dye, pigment,
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: low calcium content, poor soil fertility
- TRADITIONAL USES: tea used to treat gonorrhea, folk remedy for an number of eye ailments
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: high in protein. staple crop, high grain yield, seeds used to make flour, beer, etc. Cattle forage plant.
- OTHER USES: used to make paper
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: nutrient rich soil
- TRADITIONAL USES: used to treat scurvy, diuretic, laxative, anti-parasitic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue. known to be toxic, not safe for pregnant women.
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: toxic to both humans and some animals. can cause liver damage in large amounts.
- OTHER USES: old-fashioned cure for dry, cracked hands and feet.
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: high nitrogen, nutrient rich soil
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: Edible. excellent source of Iron, Vitamins A, B and C.
- TRADITIONAL USES: bronchitis, anemia, anti-inflammatory pain reliever, arthritis, rheumatism, menstrual cramping, eczema, psoriasis, acne, minor cuts, burns and insect bites.
- OTHER USES: chicken feed
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: low nitrogen, acidic soil, low fertility
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: high in proteins, the whole plant, but particularly the flowers are edible. flowers used to make lightly sweet tea. Use only new, fresh blooms. less than fresh blooms can cause bloating. edible in small, infrequent amounts (contains oxalic acid, can inhibit the human body’s ability to absorb calcium and other nutrients).
- TRADITIONAL USES: folk remedy for intestinal worms, coughs, colds, fevers, menopause symptoms. is an anti-rheumatic, detoxifier, antiscrophulatic, tincture/ointment used to treat gout, anti-inflammatory, cancer
- OTHER USES: detergent, mixed with grass seed for more drought and high traffic tolerant, “self-fertilizing” lawn (fixes nitrogen into soil). Druids used it to ward off evil.
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: low fertility, compacted soil, dense clay, acidic soil, high calcium, phosphorus, potassium
- TRADITIONAL USES: “medicine plant”. anti-inflammatory, detoxifier, deobstruent, astringent, expectorant, demulcent, helps control internal/external bleeding, ulcers, cuts, burns, insect bites, bronchitis, asthma, gastritis, stomach and bowel ailments, hemorrhoids, sinusitis, hay fever, roots used to treat rattlesnake bites (poison/venom antidote), seeds used to treat parasitic worms, laxative
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: edible, nutrient rich. high in calcium, vitamins A, B1, C, K, riboflavin
- OTHER USES: strong, pliable fibers have been used for sutures, various cords/rope, fishing line, etc.
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: water-logged soil, poor drainage, acidic soil
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: toxic/poisonous to both humans and other animals. sap can cause skin irritation.
- TRADITIONAL USES: none.
- OTHER USES: none. creeping buttercup is just a jerk.
OXALIS (WOOD SORREL):
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: low calcium, low nitrogen, low phosphorus, high, potassium
- TRADITIONAL USES: was used to treat hookworm, fever, influenza, scurvy, sprains and inflammation, insect and snake bites, burns, acne, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, depurative, astringent
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: high in vitamin C. not recommended for regular and/or abundant consumption, as wood sorrel can inhibit the human body’s ability to absorb calcium.
- OTHER USES: used to make dyes, pigments
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: high potassium, low nitrogen, phosphorus
- TRADITIONAL USES: anti-inflammatory, demulcent, astringent, mild laxative. used to treat cough/sore throat, hemorrhoids, acne, asthma, stomach ailments, burns, bruises, boils, sprains, sores, insect bites, headaches (contains salicylic acid, which aspirin is derived from). immune system booster.
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: all parts are edible. high in vitamin A, B-complex, C, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium. herbal tea. roots are used to make a vegan egg-less meringue. leaves used as a soup thickener
- OTHER USES: used to make dye, pigment. roots used as a toothbrush.
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: acidic soil, low fertility,
- TRADITIONAL USES: used to treat (smoked and/or as tea) respiratory ailments, consumption, tracheitis, bronchitis, astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, pain reliever, wart remover, diarrhea. roots used to treat headaches, toothaches, cramps, convulsions. flowers used for earache drops, piles, soothes mucus membranes
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: not a terribly appealing edible. bitter, hairs on leaves can be an irritant.
- OTHER USES: used to make dye/pigment, torches, candle wicks, insecticide and repellent, hair dye, shoe insulation, mild narcotic, evil spirit/curse repellent.
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: poor fertility, low calcium, low nitrogen, dry soil, acidic soil
- TRADITIONAL USES: folk remedy for cancer. used to treat gastro-intestinal tract, urinary and kidney diseases, scurvy, inflammation, fever, tumors, cysts. detox herb, astringent.
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: edible in small, infrequent amounts (contains oxalic acid, can inhibit the human body’s ability to absorb calcium and other nutrients). not a high nutrient content. has tart, lemony flavor. used as tea.
- OTHER USES: used to make dye/pigment
- AS INDICATOR PLANT: low, calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus, poor airflow, low moisture, compact soil
- TRADITIONAL USES: anti-bacterial, immune system booster, heart health, cough, burns, skin disease, insect bites, scurvy, indigestion
- EDIBLE or TOXIC: edible annual succulent. super nutrient rich, high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and E, antioxidant
- OTHER USES: companion plant (especially for dry, compacted soils). soup thickener.
*All above botanical illustrations were found in the public domain.