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Rethinking Weeds
 
Much maligned, disliked, cursed and killed: what a prospect for one’s life if you should happen to be a weed growing in the wrong place.
 
Plant control boards with dictatorial rights can even take you to court if you grow prohibited plants or weeds on your farm or in your garden. They can also demand you use serious chemicals to kill off those plants.
It is estimated that weeds cost Australian farmers around $1.5 billion a year in weed control activities and a further $2.5 billion a year in lost agricultural production.
And what’s worse is that they are losing the battle.
 
The most frequently used herbicide in Australia has been glyphosate and it’s certainly losing the battle to kill weeds all around Australia’s farms. This widely used chemical has now been listed by the World Health Organisation as a potential carcinogen.
 
In the home garden where is it necessary to kill off weeds, an alternative to chemicals that we recommend is to flame them.
But read on to find out even better alternatives to killing off weeds.
 
The new breed of super weeds
 
Everything on our planet is in a constant state of evolution, and weeds are a part of that evolution. The constant and ever increasing use of glyphosate has created super weeds – which brings back the memory of those terrible plants from ‘Day of the Triffids’ where weeds were ready and able to take over the planet.
 
Professor Stephen Powles, Director of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) predicts glyphosate will ultimately fail on the major weed species in the cotton and corn belt in the US.
Australia has had the greatest problem with resistance, but the United States has overtaken Australia, due to its over reliance on glyphosate, the world’s greatest herbicide.

“The introduction of glyphosate resistant crops in the US was just so effective that there was almost universal adoption, and then the exclusive use of glyphosate for weed control. Initially the weed control was outstanding, encouraging even more over reliance on glyphosate. However, the economic savings experienced are now being eroded by the evolution of glyphosate resistant weeds,” says Professor Powles.
 
We have, so to speak, ‘lost the plot’!!!
 
‘Weed’ is a dirty word
 
What is a weed and is it really a weed?
A weed is defined as ‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants’.
Yet one culture’s ‘weed’ can be another culture’s valued crop or a sacred medicinal plant.
 
In nature almost every plant has limitations to its growth, which are defined by the unique environment it is growing in. We plant rocket and artichokes in our controlled vegetable gardens, but transplant them elsewhere without those controls, and they can potentially spread out of control and become ‘weeds’. They do lead a double life!
 
Listen to your weeds
 
The conventional view found in Western society is that weeds are bad, however, a new view is emerging that weeds just could be our friends. Weeds are often the first plants to take root in unfertile, inhospitable places, bringing life to barren earth. Many are now being recognised as sources of food and nutrients. 

The new view of a weeds function is as a communicator, a marker in the landscape to tell us what is going on within the soil, most importantly, what’s deficient in the soil. Killing off weeds without understanding why they are growing in that place and you are missing out on valuable information.
 
Mining the minerals
 
An important function of weeds is to bring minerals up to the surface from deep within the earth. This is why many weeds have strong, invasive root systems. Here are a few of our common weeds and the minerals that they mine:
 
Blackberry: Chlorine
Bracken: Potassium
Broom: Magnesium, Sulphur
Chicory: Iron, Calcium, Copper
Cleavers: Iodine, Calcium, Copper, Silica, Sodium
Comfrey: Iron, Chlorine, Potassium, Sodium
Dandelion: Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Silica
Dock: Iron
Duckweed: Copper, Boron, Zinc, Phosphorus
Fennel: Copper, Potassium, Sodium, Sulphur
Gorse: Phosphorus
Inkweed: Potassium
Nettles: Iron, Potassium, Sodium,
Sulphur: Plantain Calcium, Sulphur, Potassium
Ragwort: Copper
Shepherd's Purse: Calcium, Sodium, Sulphur
Sorrel: Calcium, Phosphorus
Thistles: Nitrogen, Copper, Silica
Willow: Calcium
 
Source: Newsleaf, Biodynamic Agriculture Australia #60
 
You can use any of these weeds to make a soil tonic to re-mediate soils, deficient in a particular mineral. Simply mix the weed with water, leave it to brew, then spread over the soil.
Alternately these weeds placed within a compost heap will add these minerals to the heap and then onto the garden.
 
A common practice amongst savvy vegetable growers is to let stinging nettles grow wild through their veggie gardens. Nettles are valuable companions, especially for tomatoes.

We recently noticed a huge difference in the height and health of 2 Pigeon Pea plants that were planted 2 metres from each other at the same time. The Pigeon Pea growing next to a comfrey plant is more than double the size of the other one. It pays to know your weeds!
 
Katrina Blair in her book “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds” shares her understanding of how weeds are in fact beneficial. She explains how there are thirteen weeds that have followed human kind wherever they live on earth and their function is to rejuvenate the earth from our often reckless actions toward our home the Earth.
 
Edible and medicinal weed plants
 
Some common ‘weeds’ that we can eat are prickly pear, blackberries, wild rocket and artichoke.
But there are many more weeds in your garden that are edible (beware of the toxic ones) – they are free, easy to grow and they are more nutritionally dense than our cultivated plants.
 
Here are just a few to get you started:
Dandelion
Use the yellow petals and fresh young leaves in salads or cooked up like spinach, roast the root for a coffee substitute. 
 
Nettles
Blanch for 20 seconds in boiling water and they will lose their sting and become a lovely wilted vegetable, super high in calcium.  Or dry the leaves and use for tea or make traditional nettle gnocchi.
Purslane
Purslane has more Omega-3 than any other leafy green.  It can be used raw (crisp tart flavour) or cooked.
Chickweed
Look for the single row of hairs along the stem as an identifying marker to distinguish it from its many look-alikes.  Harvest the youngest leaves and use in salads and sandwiches.
The average Aussie garden has an abundance of weeds with both edible and medicinal uses that are well known in traditional indigenous and European cultures, so it pays to do a little research and get to know and respect your weeds.
 
Having the knowledge and awareness to understand the role and function of weeds in nature will help you put them to a more productive use, either as a soil enhancer or as food, and thereby reduce our impulse to eradicate them with herbicides.
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