Friday, May 23, 2014

Why I Let Weeds Grow in My Garden

WARNING: Do your own thorough research before eating anything in your yard (or elsewhere for that matter)! I am not an expert! I may very well have mis-identified any number of these! Please use caution, common sense, and discretion! Safety first! This is just meant to be an article of awareness to start you on a foraging journey. Thanks!

Hello Fellow Gardeners!

You may have noticed that many of my garden pictures have weeds in them.

It's not that I am just being lazy and letting weeds run amok in my garden! (Though that does happen from time to time!) The weeds I leave in my garden have a purpose. But I don't leave everything to grow in my garden. Even a weed with a purpose may get pulled if it's in the wrong place at the wrong time or it crowds out my crops.

The following weeds have very interesting uses: (remember, be 100% sure of what you have before you use it!)

Lets start with yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta), often confused with clover. (It doesn't help that I have called this clover in other posts. Now that I have written this, I will be sure to use the proper nickname.)  It has 3 heart shaped leaves per stem, tiny yellow flowers, and tiny okra-shaped seed pods.Most people know what clover is, most people do not know what wood sorrel is. I have read that thriving wood sorrel is a sign of poor soil, but I have had very large plants develop in dark, rich compost beds. I had to finally pull them out of Tiny Tim's pot because they had gotten taller than him! I love eating the sour seed pods of wood sorrel! The best part about sorrel, and the main reason I keep it in my garden, is that it's a nitrogen fixer and a good cover crop. That means it puts nitrogen back into the soil as it grows. The plant itself is also rich in potassium which is also good for the soil, so it's a good plant to cultivate back into the ground as you would a cover crop. Unless, of course, your soil is heavy on potassium. 

Here is a patch of real clover. It hasn't flowered yet so that we can see if it's white clover (Trifolium repens) or red clover (Trifolium pratense). Both kinds have 3 leaves per stem, similar to yellow wood sorrel, but they are round or egg-shaped instead of being heart shaped. They also tend to be a darker green and may have a white stripe. Waiting for the flowers to bloom will tell you for sure if you have red or white. Both kinds of clover are excellent nitrogen fixers and the seed is sold as a cover crop for your garden. I plan on letting all that I can find go to seed and harvest it myself for a cover crop this fall.

I am excited to try Lamb's-quarters (Chenopodium album) this year! Here's a young one on the edge of my brassicas bed. They can be used just like spinach.

I cannot identify this weed yet (my guess is henbit), but the leaf miners seem drawn to it already. I am letting it grow for now as a trap crop. I will remove and destroy the leaf miner invested leaves and hopefully keep them off my crops.

The common plantain (Plantago major) is a facsinating plant! It has many great uses medicinally. I have not tried it yet, but it is on my list of home remedies for when the time comes. I have to admit, the thought of eating it is not very appealing due to the stringy leaves it produces. Perhaps I will keep an eye out for new plants and try the young leaves. I do plan on trying the seeds out though. It's close relative, plantago psyllium is what Metamucil is made of! I do not have any of these growing in my garden, but it's interesting to note. Also, the long leaf plantain (Plantago Lanceolata) has it's uses. 

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is the edible weed that I am most comfortable with so far. There are so many things you can do with dandelion, I don't know where to begin. I have made dandelion coffee out of the roots, tea out of the petals, jelly out of the petals, and salads and stir fry with the leaves. You can also eat the petals in a salad or cook them, prepare the roots just as you would any root vegetable, use the white milky juice that comes out of it to kill warts, and make dye out of the flowers! The list goes on and on! The leaves and roots turn really bitter when the flower buds develop, so it's best to eat them before the flowers develop. Frost will also take some of the bitterness out of it, so you can wait until after the first frost or two in the fall to use them also. Another thing you can do, when you see flower buds form, break off the top of the plant to the ground, leaving the root, then use the new leaves before the flower buds appear. My favorite time to harvest dandelion root is in the early spring when I am cultivating the ground for my garden. Something most people don't realize is that dandelions are actually a crop brought over by settlers for food and medicine. Much to the dismay to those on a quest for a perfect lawn, dandelions are a rigorous crop that will grow just about anywhere. So I can see why settlers would bring this with them to an unknown land. They have certainly helped us through meager times. (Much more than a nice lawn...just sayin'.)

Wild violets, (Viola Species) that haven't flowered yet. These take up most of the space under the kids' swing set, which is great because I don't have to mow under it that often.

Wild strawberries (Fragaria Virginiana). I have about a four square foot patch of these. I have not eaten them yet, but I think the chickens will love them!

Chickweed (Stellaria Species). I have not tried these yet, but, true to its name, my chicks love it! So it gets pulled, but not as trash or compost, but as a chicken treat until they can go outside full time to find their own.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule L.) When we were kids, we called this honeysuckle (which it is not) because if you pulled the long, skinny, teeny purple flowers off and sucked on the tips of them, you'd get a teeny sweet taste. Other than that, I have not eaten this. Don't confuse it with Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). I think this is what most people have when it has taken over your yard.

The follow are my enemies in the garden!

Crabgrass. Yes, of course the first one would be a form of grass. This guy is OK, but...

young crabgrass in my garden bed is tedious to pull up! There is lots and lots, but pulling them is still better than using poison in my garden.

Tree seedlings are the worst! I fight elm, maple, and mulberry. They seem to take root anywhere, grow quickly, and are hard to pull up. Even a little seedling a few inches tall will typically have a longer, thicker root than stem. This little guy wasn't too bad yet. Mulberry is notorious for growing along fence lines because birds poo the seeds there.

This might be English ivy, but I battle a few different types of ivy. This was a landscaping plant at one point in the past, but now it's just a burden. I have a ton of it in the front yard in an old flower bed that I have been slowly reorganizing. The nice thing with vines, if you keep pulling their leaves and as much root as you can, they will eventually starve and die. Yes die! Die! Die! Die! Sorry, I have clocked way too many hours ridding my yard of these. So much time wasted! And yet, still better than poison...

I think this is some sort of day flower. It is certainly pretty, but it's too invasive. It, like the other bad weeds, is hard to manage and has no other use than cosmetic from what I can find. Not that pretty flowers don't have a place on my homestead, but certainly not when they're invasive!

Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is a very invasive bush that produces thousands of little berries to be spread around and go to seed. This is a very pretty bush and a fairly popular landscaping plant, but it's too invasive in my book, so off with it's head!

Possible common knotweed (Polygonum arenastrum) or Prostrate Spurge (Euphorbia supina). Either way, I personally can't find a good enough use for either one of these and it seems to pop up in places I don't want it too, so it makes the bad list.

This is Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). It is popping up all over my yard and garden. Although it produces very beautiful flowers and vines, it is very invasive. Morning glory is toxic to chickens and, with this being in the same family, I am going to treat it the same way. I'll keep pulling it up until it's gone.

I haven't been able to identify the following plants well enough to label them, but I have my suspicions, so I will share what I think they are. I am letting these grow to maturity in my yard to see if I'll be able to give a more positive identification later in the season. If you are a botanist, or some other plant expert with credentials and know what these are, feel free to comment on what they are and include your credentials.

This looks most similar to some sort of Hop Clover, but still doesn't quite match up. Hop clover has much shorter stems and the leaves are more fat and round than this plant. But, this plant is growing in the shade, so it's possible that it's just a leggy hop clover.

From my research so far, this plant looks similar to Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla). I will need to wait until this flowers to get a better idea.

This beautiful plant could be Vervain Mallow/Greater Musk Mallow (Malva alcea) or a wild geranium (Geranium carolinianum). I will also need to see this one flower.

Possible Bloodwort/Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). Another one I am going to let flower to get a better idea of what it is.

Possible New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) or some sort of Goldenrod (Solidago). This weed smelled so good when I pulled it up last year. If it's safe, I think it would make a great tasting tea! Obviously I have to wait for the flowers to see if I can tell what it is. Then I will go from there!

I am curious to see what this fun looking seedling will turn into.

And last, but certainly not least, as she took the longest to find even a hint of what she was... This beautiful little ground cover is a species of Speedwell, veronica sp. If you do even a little bit of research, you will find dozens of different kinds of Veronica flowers. I'll be satisfied with just putting her in that family and calling it a day. She's pretty, has stayed in the same spot in my yard and I have not see her rear her head in my garden, so she gets to stay.

So there you have it! This has been my most researched and hard won post yet! I will certainly be writing a follow up post later in the season to share updated pictures and whether or not I can give a more positive identification to some of these.

The links I have provided are for reference and identification purposes only. I do not necessarily agree with all methods and uses in each link. Again, not to warn you to death, but I am nowhere near a botanist, so please do not take this post as gospel! This is just a starting point for you to do your own research and decide to take your own risks with the use of yard/garden weeds. With that said, I hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you some new insight on some overlooked crops that are literally right under your feet!

Happy Foraging!

Jen Hen

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