Gardening columnist on weeds: “They may actually be valuable”

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Stephanie Hudak

Stephanie Hudak

By Stephanie Hudak

Have you been a good gardener and already put out your pre-emergent to keep those winter weeds at bay? Well, you may have missed an opportunity to make some money. “What?” you say. Well, here is the whole story. I attended a wonderful program at the State Botanical Garden in Athens recently. BTW, if you aren’t a member (“Friend” as they call us) you are missing a great opportunity to spend time with nature, attend a wealth of great classes and much, much more. Membership is so reasonable – the cost of three Starbucks lattes gets you in. Check it out at

But back to the weed story– the theme of the symposium was “medicinal plants.” While the majority of the plants talked about were herbs and common plant material occasionally a picture of a plant would come up that I was very familiar with. I have lovely patches of it in my yard but I just call them “those darn weeds.” Who knew that weeds were medicinal – well, probably our grandparents, but they took all that information with them when they went to a better place.

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite weed dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Among other things it was used as a laxative, digestive bitter and anti-inflammatory. If I’m not mistaken it is also used to make wine. Talk about a valuable weed! Then there is burdock (Arctium lappa) which was used as a diuretic and a laxative. It is also cooked in stews. Hmmm, how does that work if it is a laxative? Anyway, if you have already killed all your weeds, you can actually pay and get some at the Farmer’s Market. That should have you checking your sanity.

My favorite – stinging nettles. Everything about that plant makes me want to run for the Roundup. It’s ugly, invasive and has thorns! But supposedly it is a blood tonic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine. Fortunately, it can be purchased in capsule form if you want to try it in the spring for those allergies. How about red clover (Trifolium pretense) as an expectorant and anti-fungal. Motherwart (Leonorus cardiac) works as a nervine relaxant and cardio-tonic. Chickweed (Stellaria media), that prolific, dainty little thing is good as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-rheumatic. While some may consider the Mimosa tree (Albizzia julibrissin) a very pretty tree, those who have them in their yard would call them weeds because those lovely flower seeds take root everywhere. Its claim to fame is as a sedative, anti-depressant and cardio-tonic. The list of medicinal “weeds” could go on and on, but I think you get the idea here.

There are probably plants in your garden that you intentionally put there that also are considered medicinal. My favorite night time tea is chamomile (Matricaria chamomile) and the plant itself is worthy of being part of a “wildflower” bed. But the benefits include relaxant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), or sometimes called Joe Pye Weed, makes a statement in the garden with its very tall stalks and beautiful pink inflorescences. Its uses are expectorant, analgesic and laxative. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be in the weed category but it often appears as a cultivar in the garden. Medicinal uses are astringent, diuretic and anti-spasmodic. And darn, now that I have cut down my huge, overgrown butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) I learn that it is used as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial medicine. I might have been able to take a vacation with the proceeds from that monster.

Note of caution: By no means am I suggesting or advising you to collect these plants and try home remedies. There are trained herbalists and herbologists who understand the complexity and potential danger involved with using these plants. I’m just encouraging you to look at these weeds and plants differently. Maybe that field of dandelions won’t cause you to pull your hair out when they pop up overnight in your lawn. Personally, I’m still going for the Roundup.

If you want more information about medicinal plants, there is a wonderful book entitled Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians by Patricia Howell. There is another book that gives tons of information about herbal remedies – the plants, what they are used for and even recipes. Check out Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar. Again, it is always good to check with your personal doctor before trying any of these, but the books make for great reading. And you could regale your garden club friends with all this new found knowledge.

The holidays will soon be upon us and I thought I’d mention some things in upcoming columns that might make good gifts. I have already told you about the Tipke 2100 Marine Fold-it Utility Cart, but I need to bring it up again. It is absolutely a girl’s best friend. Folds flat when not in use, but opens easily to create a long bed capable of carrying up to 350 pounds. It pushes as easily as it pulls and made my task of hauling bags of mulch around my yard a breeze. Check it out at Amazon. In the book category, Ken Druse has a great series that are must-haves for gardeners. Besides the beautiful pictures, each book is filled with wonderful information. You can start with The Passion For Gardening and keep giving after that. Until next week… keep those hugs circulating.

“What is a weed? A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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