Weed Lover: Unintentional Medicine from Evolution’s Winners
Back in the late ’90s and early aughts, a small but information-dense ’zine circulated in the Eugene area called “weed lover.” The premise was that weeds offend gardeners by growing where they’re not wanted, but that they nevertheless offer great value by way of food, medicine and pulling nutrients up from the subsoil to feed neighboring plants. They also may be physically useful: one gardener tied her tomatoes to their cages using bindweed.
One of the very best things about using weeds for medicine is that you rarely have to entertain the usual worries about overharvesting. It’s an interesting exercise for an ethical wildcrafter to try: Find a field full of an unkillable weed and keep picking it for a while after you feel like you’ve done too much. (Don’t worry, you can always find an herbalist who can use some, or mulch your garden with the extra.)
I’ve tried this exactly twice. The first time was picking blooming yarrow on a friend’s land in the Columbia Gorge. The second was picking St. John’s Wort on an Okanogan land trust. In that case, the plant wasn’t even native, but rather a European invasive. It technically wasn’t even overharvesting, but arguably just a feeble attempt at restoration.
Weeds are survivors in the game of evolution for many reasons. Here let’s consider a few that help humans be survivors, too. (more…)