Written by Dominique Nicholas and Sean Boysen, second year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Selkirk College.
“Are weeds friendlier than you thought?”
“To weed, or not to weed?”
“Got some weeds? I got some solutions.”
“Justice for weeds?”
“Have no fear, weeds are here!”
“No herbicide? No problem!”
“Herbicide? Not on my lawn!”
If you’re like everyone else, you have a few weeds in your yard… or maybe a whole bunch of them. And like most of us your first instinct is probably to pick up a bottle of herbicide. Herbicides can be a quick and easy way to get rid of those pesky weeds with minimal labour. But before you go spraying herbicides all over our yards, let’s take a second look at weeds.
A weed is a plant that is growing in a location that we don’t want. Some consider grass a weed if it’s growing in your flower bed. Are weeds really that undesirable or have we yet to unlock their real benefit? If you read any medicinal plant book, a good portion of those plants are considered weeds, including stinging nettle, plantain, yarrow, and mullein. But the most common and most interesting of them all is the common dandelion.
If you haven’t tried it yet, fresh dandelion leaves are a great addition to spring salads or can be fried with salt and pepper, but it doesn’t stop there. The leaves, roots and flowers can be dried to make a detoxifying tea that is naturally rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, calcium, and potassium.
Another common weed that packs a punch (literally) is Stinging Nettle. Nettles are pretty innocent looking but if you have ever brushed up against them, you get a painful sting from the tiny hairs that cover the plant. The hairs act like needles and inject you with several painful chemicals – Ouch! But once the plant is blanched to neutralize the sting and then cooked or dried, this uninviting stinging plant transforms into a helpful plant packed full of nutrients. Stinging Nettle in tea, dried leaf, or tincture form are often used to treat internal bleeding, eczema, and bronchitis. Much like the dandelion, stinging nettle can also be used in the kitchen. The nettle can be fried up as a vegetable, used in pasta or can be turned into a delicious pesto sauce.
If you’re not going to eat them then you’re likely going to try to get rid of them the old fashion way. So let’s talk about commercially available herbicides. These herbicides can actually be very harmful to a number of things like your children or pets if one of them gets their little paws on it. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have any children or animals, so herbicides are ok, right?” Wrong again.
Herbicides can also make their way into the ecosystems by attaching to soil particles, leeching, or by being broken down by fungi or bacteria. The runoff from your lawn that contains herbicides can also make its way into streams and rivers and can have damaging effects on aquatic ecosystems. Herbicides in our waters have been shown to negatively affect freshwater crustaceans, and in turn can accumulate in the fish that eat the crustaceans, and maybe even make their way up the food chain back to you. So weeds are annoying and herbicides can harm the environment, so what the heck do you do if you’re not hungry?
There are actually several alternatives to commercial herbicides, such as sheet mulching, vinegar, corn meal, corn gluten meal, or everyone’s favourite – manually pulling of weeds. Although manually pulling weeds is the most effective treatment, this may not be a viable option in all cases.
Knapweed is an especially aggressive weed. The current best method to control it is to manually pull the plant, getting the whole root out of the ground, but it’s very labour intensive. Relief may be in the form of a very successful case of biocontrol using root weevils. The weevil lay eggs at the top of the root crown and the larva feeds on the roots, killing the plant.
Whether you decide to use safe alternatives for herbicides or let your weeds grow and add a few delicious and nutritious plants to your diet, there is no more need for those harmful herbicides. Horray!