HobbyFarms.com


Your E-mail:
Hobby Farms - Current Issue

Urban Farm Magazine

Printer Friendly

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil

Think twice before pulling these weeds—they could actually be doing your soil a favor.

By Dawn Combs


Weeds! Who gets to determine what is a weed and what is a useful plant filled with nutrition and medicinal purpose? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is just "a plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” I have a hard time "weeding” on our farm because half of them I keep around for food, and the other half I leave because of what they are doing to heal the soil.

How Do Weeds Heal the Soil?
From a biodynamic perspective, all weeds are beneficial to the soil in some way. They have different ways of fixing nutrients into the soil. They give us information about our soil, and when we learn their language, we can easily look over a property to understand its deficiencies and problems without breaking ground.

If left alone, there’s a progression of weeds in Mother Nature’s arsenal that restores soil health and balance. She can afford to be more patient than we can. If you can strike a balance with your garden that allows some of the work to be done by these experts while ensuring light, air and nutrition for your fragile annuals, you will be a truly successful gardener!

Here are five so-called weeds commonly found in our garden that are actually doing beneficial work.

1. Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Tom Brandt/Flickr

That’s right! Canada thistle, aka creeping thistle, is actually very important to the health of your garden. The thistle family is high in potassium and can therefore benefit the soil when tilled back in or added to the compost pile.

You’ll also likely find ladybugs hiding in the leaves. Beware pulling all your thistles as, in our experience these beneficial bugs prefer hanging out here.

The best characteristic of thistle is its ability to break up hardpan soil in areas of heavy clay. If you cut the top half of the thistle off after it has bloomed and been pollinated, it will wither and die, preventing the spread of seeds and readying it to be turned back into the soil.

If you choose to let Canada thistle grow on your property, take advantage of its health properties, as well. Harvest the leaves and add to tea as a natural diuretic.

2. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy madlyinlovewithlife/Flickr

As a member of the bean and pea (Fabaceae) family, red clover is a welcome weed on any newly disturbed soil, where there’s a need for improved nitrogen content. In fact, some farmers grow it as a cover crop. Red clover has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil by way of its roots. Allow it to grow in your flower beds as cheap fertilizer. You can also harvest its medicinal blooms for yourself and cut it down several times throughout the season to feed to your animals or to turn back into the soil for an added bonus.

3. Burdock (Arctium lappa)

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy rockcreek/Flickr

Burdock is very beneficial to the body because of its high mineral content, and  the way it retrieves those minerals makes it important for soil conditioning. One of the best ways to quickly heal a new garden patch is to grow a crop of burdock root, aka gobo root.

Burdock has a long taproot capable of busting up hardpan on its way to accessing minerals that have washed down into the subsoil. Dig up your burdock root in the spring of the second year before you get into a problem with seed dispersal.

4. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStock/Thinkstock

This weed is either loved or hated. For those who can’t see past its sting, there’s much to be missed. In the herbal health realm, we know nettle as a nutritional superstar, with benefits ito the urinary tract, as well as the reproductive, digestive and circulatory systems, but it has major benefits to the soil, as well. Nettle is especially good at stimulating humus formation, but it can also increase the keeping power of vegetables and increase the volatile oil content of herbs growing near it. It’s been found to help plants growing in rows nearby to be more resistant to fungus and disease.

Although you might find nettles in unwanted areas all around your farm, they’re actually difficult to "cultivate.” I’ve tried starting plants from seed and have also transplanted from a neighbor’s farm with very little success. If you have some growing on your property, it’s worth growing a garden nearby.

5. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Blonde Bomb/Flickr

On our farm, we let dandelion grow in the garden until it begins to bloom. Like nettles, this weed is adept at stimulating humus formation, and you’ll find that earthworms congregate underneath them. With their deep taproots, they help to move minerals, especially calcium, from far below the surface up to the topsoil level. When it blooms it can stunt the growth of plants in its vicinity, so be sure to harvest it by that point.

Get more help building your soil from HobbyFarms.com:

About the Author: Dawn Combs has more than 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a bachelor’s degree in botany and humanities/classics from Ohio Wesleyan University. She is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows, a medicinal herb and honey farm near Columbus, Ohio, where she consults with women and their partners on issues of hormonal imbalance, oversees the United Plant Savers Botanical Sanctuary and operates the Ohio Eclectic Herbal Institute.

 

 Give us your opinion on
5 Weeds Actually Helping Your Soil

Submit a Comment
Reader Comments
People actually traverse the pasture or garden and play and weed in the areas of thistle and nettle. In these cases it seems to me to be more of a nuisance.
Lee, International
Posted: 8/17/2014 2:38:30 AM
May I suggest a little research before posting these articles. I can remember back to my earliest Vo-Ag classes in the late 70's, when our Ag teacher told us Canadian thistle was considered a 'noxious weed' and required us to kill it. Seems like there's a lot more DIS-advantages, based on the Extension Offices' article..

LINK
Mike, Overland Park, KS
Posted: 8/10/2014 4:01:18 AM
They may help the soil but they also choke out the vegetable plants. And dandelions use chemical to kill nearby plants.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 8/8/2014 11:47:03 PM
We get lots of clover all over where I live. I try to leave it alone until I get my chickens in so either eay it ends up fixing the soil.
Jennifer, Berkeley, CA
Posted: 8/8/2014 7:26:04 AM
View Current Comments

Name:
Address:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email:

Product Spotlight
Hobby Farm Rewards 
Member Login »

facebook


Information on over 200 horse breeds