Wild and Free

What if I told you that you have a free pharmacy at your fingertips? What if you could have fresh healthy leafy greens without going to the grocery store? What if somebody magically showed up voluntarily to amend your soil? It would seem rather magical wouldn’t it? What if I told you it’s entirely possible and all you need to do is stop doing one thing, and start doing another that is far less labor intensive.

Stop striving for a perfectly groomed lawn and start paying attention to what grows there naturally. You’ll thank me for this, I promise.

Weeds are simply plants that didn’t grow where you wanted them to. In the words of Emerson; A weed is an herb that has not yet been recognized for its virtues. What benefits are derived from a weed free yard? I personally can’t think of one. In fact, if your yard is free of weeds I see a very unhealthy environment. It says to me chemicals have been used to manipulate Nature, either for your viewing pleasure or to satisfy a homeowner’s association. There is nothing more boring to an herbalist or plant lover than a perfectly groomed lawn.

News flash: you will never win if you wage war against Nature. You are part of Nature, not separate from it so you may as well start playing nice. The fact of the matter is this, if you or your yard didn’t need that weed, it wouldn’t be there.

It’s wise to know those pretty yellow flowers that show up every year called the dandelion are tougher than you. They are more persistent and resilient than you could ever imagine and they are known by gardeners of old as soil doctors.

Natures clues

One of the roles a doctor plays is to diagnose problems. The weeds that grow in your yard can yield information as to the condition of your soil. For example, dandelion, mullein and chamomile hint that your soil is acidic. Other plants that grow heartily in acidic soil are pineapple weed, sow thistle, curly dock, and knapweeds. Many of which have earned their place on the county’s noxious weed listing.

Plants that indicate a wet poorly drained soil are foxtail barley grass, poison hemlock, nettles, goldenrod and sweet flag AKA wild iris. Although the ground may appear dry at times, these plants are indicators that at some point during the year the ground is soggy there.

Weeds that grow in sandy soils are field bindweed, thistles, goldenrods and yellow toadflax.

Weeds can also indicate a soil’s nutrient values. A useful trait in determining if the soil is unbalanced. Chickweed and Mouse Ear Chickweed indicate very low calcium and phosphorus levels, and very high potassium and sodium levels. Crabgrass indicates very low levels of calcium and phosphorus, low pH, high chlorine levels, and high levels of magnesium and potassium.


Although the only way to know the condition of your soil for certain is to perform an actual soil test, these plants can serve as indicators. The observant gardener will notice subtle changes in weed population as soil improves.

Dr. Weed

Not only can the plants be indicators, they can help to remedy the soil and environment as well. Phytotechnology is defined as the science of using plants to solve environmental problems. Phytoremediation is a sub-category of phytotechnology. Phytoremediation uses plants to remove pollutants from the environment. For example, Lamb’s quarters are capable of absorbing pollutants, toxins and heavy metals from degraded soils.

Although plants need small amounts of heavy metals in order to survive, a high accumulation of heavy metals in soil or water can be considered toxic to plants or animals. In areas that are particularly polluted by heavy metals, enter the hyperaccumulators. Hyperaccumulators can absorb more heavy metals than normal plants and tolerate a high amount of metals in their system, yet don’t exhibit symptoms of toxicity. Over 500 plant species are reported to have hyperaccumulation properties. While other methods of absorbing heavy metals from the soil and water cost millions of dollars, the plants offer their assistance for free. Something tells me we aren’t doing this right.


The hefty and hard to eradicate tap-rooted weeds, such as curly dock or dandelion are considered pioneer plants. They are the ones that go first where other plants can’t seem to get a hold. They reach deep into the subsoil to not only break up soil compaction and improve drainage, but also to mine nutrients from deeper layers and bring them up higher. Interesting to note, people are the biggest soil compactors on the planet. If you don’t want docks, dandelions or other pioneers following you around, stop compacting the soil.

Weeds in the Legume family, such as the various clovers and alfalfa, fix atmospheric nitrogen through the rhizomes on their roots.  Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plants that people spend tons of money on every year in the form of fertilizer. If you leave the nitrogen fixers where they grow, you can mow them and let the clippings fall where they may. The benefit here is three-fold, you are returning nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. In addition, soil that is fixed by legumes can benefit plants growing nearby and save you the money and trouble of purchasing store bought fertilizer.


Many plants considered weeds are chock full of nutrients. People that know me, know that I’m always trying to get people to eat weeds. I find that when people do indulge me, it unlocks a bit of their wild side and gives them a sense of well-being much like a cool drink of water quenches thirst. I attribute this to the many nutrients the plants can provide that most people’s bodies are starving for. Although not common practice today, after WWII, many knew that they could survive and even thrive by eating the plants that grew around them when food was in short supply.

Dandelion greens are one of the most nutritious leafy greens you can eat. One cup of fresh raw dandelion greens contains more of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Calcium and Iron than Broccoli. Low in calories, dandelion greens are rich in minerals. Besides calcium and iron, they are a good source of copper, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. They have more protein per serving than spinach. The greens themselves are 14% protein and contain all essential amino acids so it’s a complete protein. One cup contains 1.5 grams of protein.

They are a multi-vitamin. Besides vitamin A as beta-carotene (112% RDA) and vitamin C (32% RDA), dandelion greens are also good sources of B6 (7% RDA), vitamin E (9% RDA) and are especially abundant in vitamin K (535% RDA).

See more here: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2441/2

Lamb’s quarters and amaranth are just two more examples of super nutritious weeds that grow abundantly in Ute Country that can be ingested as a salad green or sautéed as a vegetable.

One more important fact to make note of is the nectar of the dandelion flower is super nutritious and an important first food for the bees as the emerge in spring. Many weeds can offer habitat for beneficial insects that can prey on pest insects, and certain weeds even offer natural insecticides.

Nature’s pharmacy

Yarrow, another beautiful plant considered a weed, offers antiseptic properties and can be used internally or externally to remedy many ailments. It will stop bleeding on contact when applied to an open wound at the same time applying antiseptic constituents to ward off infection. Taken as a hot tea, it facilitates digestion and will help you break a sweat if you have a fever. Taken as a cold tea, it is diuretic; helping to rid excess water weight.

Most of the plants that I use as remedies fall into the noxious weed category. Mullein, a wonderful respiratory herb is also anti-inflammatory that will not cause harmful side effects to most people. Empower yourself, get to know the plants around you and the benefits you can derive from them. Mullein is a biennial that flowers in the second year. If your neighbor would prefer a weed free yard, simply cut the stalk off the mullein before it goes to seed.

Last, but not least, there is one more reason for keeping plants around. We breathe each other’s breath. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide molecules. That same carbon dioxide we human’s breathe out. During photosynthesis those molecules are broken down. They keep the carbon atoms and breathe out oxygen that you breathe in. That, my friends is a most intimate connection that I feel deserves our attention and utmost respect.

There, see? I’ve given you a few reasons to kick back, breathe deep and relax this summer. What’s good for the soil is good for the soul. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Mari Marques is a Certified Herbalist and owner of The Thymekeeper. For questions or more information contact: Mari at mugsyspad@aol.com or 719-439-7303 or 748-3388. Mari is available for private consultation.

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