What is a Weed?

One thing that I have learned running the school garden is that people love to weed. I guess that everyone knows how to pull plants out of the ground and its kind of fun and alot of people have spent alot of time battling weeds in their garden.

However, quite often what we think of as weeds are beneficial to the garden and to other plants in the garden. Many species that grow appear in the garden because the soil is too compacted or lacking in a nutrient. “Weeds” like dandelions grow with a long tap root and these long, strong roots act to break up and add air to soil that have become compacted. Often these plants also mine nutrients from the soil and make them available for other plants. Once the soil has been repaired, other plants will out grow the weeds because the condition that caused the weeds to grow has been fixed.

An example of this in our school garden is a plant called “Cape Daisy”

Cape Daisy in Bloom

This plant is in the Daisy family (Asteraceae) and kids used to pick it to make daisy chains when I went to school. It grows all over Canberra and its yellow flowers are attractive and it attracts pollinators like bees which then pollinate our fruit trees. In addition its leaves concentrate nitrates and other trace minerals so it is a great plant to compost. However, it can be good to remove if you want to make space for strawberries etc.

However, if we are going to remove Cape Daisy it is important to leave the roots in the ground. The plant is an annual so it is unlikly to grow back. Also, leaving the cut roots in the ground captures the carbon in the soil and allows other plants and soil microbes to utilise the resource. Lastly, the roots of these plants have acted to bind the soil that we moved with the bobcat to build the swale so if we pull out the roots we are undoing this valuable work the plants have done for us. If we don’t bind the swale it is possible it will wash away rather than acting as a sponge.

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Plantain in flower

Plantain is a miracle plant that has gotten a bad rap. Its common name used to be Bandage plant and it has a long tradition of use in European herbalism. This plant makes natural asprin and also a chemical which increases rates of cell healing. One leaf can be chopped up and made as a tea and sweetened with honey. I have used this to beat colds, headaches and fevers. There’s plenty of info on the web if you don’t take my word for it.

The ability of this plant to increase cell healing make it useful for dressing cuts. I have heard a few stories of this plant being used on cuts when one was out in the field or without first aid and it acts to stop the bleeding quicker and heal the cut faster. Wash leaves first to avoid infection.

Shepard’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

This plant pops up all over the school garden and has big umbrels of white flowers. This style of flower is similar to that of carrots and is great in the garden for attracting pollinators for the fruit trees and beans. It also has edible leaves which are used in Japan for making stir-frys. Its oil is used in the cosmetics industry for skin care.

Well, thats all I have time for now. Happy Gardening. Let all plants help you out and put your effort into a productive activity.



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