What is a weed? According to Merriam-Webster, a weed is “a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth.” Put simply, weeds are unwanted plants with too much personality.
I have a love-hate relationship with weeds, especially crabgrass. As an avid gardener, this fearless plant was once my sworn enemy. I’m sure it has singlehandedly sabotaged the careers of more than a few horticulturalists. Not many plants can lay siege to a flowerbed or a row of lettuce with such unrelenting tenacity! But careful observation of God’s world reveals that even crabgrass is designed for a purpose.
Many weeds attract helpful pollinators and provide food and habitat for wildlife. But nature doesn’t tolerate all that bare soil for long—it needs to be covered as quickly as possible. Exposed soil erodes with the slightest rain, washing away precious nutrients and minerals. Sunlight beats on unprotected ground, baking the unseen community of microorganisms that live below the surface.
Enter the ecosystem repair squad! Weeds like crabgrass are God’s pioneer plants, colonizing ground that would be uninhabitable to less hardy species. Their roots stabilize the soil and help prevent erosion. Their plant bodies shield the ground from the sun’s heat, converting sunlight into organic matter that later gets recycled into the soil when they die.
As weeds take over a piece of bare earth, a process called ecological succession begins. Succession is the movement of a living community in nature toward a mature or “climax” ecosystem, like a forest. This important natural process is how plants and animals repopulated the earth after it was destroyed by the global Flood of Noah’s day, and succession still continues all around us.
Weeds are on the front line of the biological army when it comes to healing a barren landscape. For example, what would happen to your yard if you stopped mowing and left it alone? As long as you live in an area with enough rainfall, in 30 years your yard would be well on its way to becoming a forest. Every time you mow the lawn, you’re turning back the clock on ecological succession.
Besides quietly repairing the earth, weeds have also served humanity for thousands of years as both food and medicine. Many noxious weeds on the garden club’s most-wanted list have a rich history of use in herbal medicine. Some were even imported originally as vegetables, like my all-time favorite weed: dandelion.
The humble dandelion may be America’s most notorious weed. It shows up across the country as an eye-popping yellow flower stippled over green lawns—a sight that brings muttered curses to the lips of many homeowners. Personally, I enjoy the splash of color it brings.
Although banished from most gardens, dandelion is better for you than spinach! The greens have high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C, loads of vitamin K, and a host of other important nutrients. Dandelion roots and leaves have a long history of medicinal use for treating digestive issues, reviving the liver and gallbladder, and more…The whole plant is edible from the root to leaves, stem, and flower. Of course, always exercise caution when identifying wild plants, and consult a professional before using any herb medicinally.