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What’s In Your Weeds?

Beneficial Plants In Your Backyard

Even those who are especially attuned to our natural world can overlook weeds. To gardeners and many native plant enthusiasts, they can be seen as pests if they are invasive species. To homeowners, they can be seen as a headache as many can be difficult to eradicate. To the average person, they may not be seen at all - just blurs of color on the side of the highway or patches of it in your lawn.

Many weeds provide several ecosystem benefits, especially if they are native, including serving as pollinator food, water resource management, run-off reduction, air quality improvements, pollution depletion and more! But did you know that many of these plants can be beneficial to human health as well? Let’s take a look at some common “weeds” found on the East Coast of the United States. Try to recognize them in your local ecosystem as well - you may just have a medicine cabinet right beneath your feet!

BUGLEWEED / Ajuga reptans

With a cone-like structure and striking purple flowers, bugleweed is an effective treatment for hyperthyroidismm premenstrual syndrome & breast pain. It can also treat insomnia, and possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties.

DANDELION / Taraxacum officinale

Recognizable in two forms, dandelion is distinguishable by its wispy white strands which can blow with the wind, transporting seeds, or its striking yellow flowers that grow close to the ground. Dandelion has many healing powers and possesses antioxidant properties. It can stimulate appetite and aid with digestion, provide immune system support, and its root can even detoxify the liver and gallbladder while its leaves can aid kidney function. Dandelion leaves, flowers and roots alike are great for tea-making!

PURPLE DEADNETTLE / Lamium purpureum

With green leaves reminiscent of mint with a purple hue toward the top and protruding light pink flowers, purple deadnettle is easily recognizable and affords several health benefits. With astringent, purgative, diuretic and diaphoretic properties, deadnettle is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and its fresh leaves can be applied as a poultice. Its leaves are also good for making tea.

PERIWINKLE / Vinca minor

These five-pointed light purple flowers appear to have a darker purple star shape at their center. Plants in this genus have been known to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, & have been used as disinfectants. Vinca alkaloids have cytotoxic effects, which can stop the division of cells.

BUTTERCUP / Ranunculus acris 

A childhood favorite, these delicate yellow buds may make your chin appear yellow if you hold the flowers up close to your face. When dried, buttercups can be used for arthritis, nerve pain, blisters, chronic skin problems, & bronchitis!

These are just a few examples of how weeds (or wildflowers) can offer a variety of benefits to the ecosystem and to the human body, particularly if they are native. When considering how to manage your weeds, i.e. eradication, foraging and the like, it is important to be aware of whether they are native and consider the implications of removal. It is best to leave the weeds in the early Spring as they may be the only available food for pollinators at the beginning of the season.

By being mindful about the seemingly boring plants beneath your feet, you can positively influence your local ecosystem and who knows - maybe there is an abundance of herbal teas and medical remedies at your disposal and you may not even be aware. What's more, pollinators will thank you and your local ecosystem will thrive.

Stay knowledgeable about which plants are considered invasive to your local ecosystem and best practices for combating them.

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