Photo by Dawn Combs
It’s no secret—I love weeds. I’m a weed advocate. As soon as the first chickweed leaves are ready in the spring, I’m out searching for as many as I can greedily stuff into my mouth.
My community consists heavily of farmers who get on their tractor and drive for hours to plant well-known crops, like corn, soybeans and wheat. They regularly slow their farm equipment as they drive by to get a glimpse of all the “crazy” going on here at our farm. Not a one of them would understand at all that I actually plant weeds. That’s right, we don’t just allow weeds to live in the margins of our garden. Nope, we go to specialty greenhouses and seed suppliers to buy things like dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), burdock (Arctium lappa) and plantain (Plantago major).
Foraging for Weeds
Think of it this way, the exotic plants we choose to grow in pots are often weeds in another part of the world. Gotu kola (Centenella asiatica) is a rambling groundcover in parts of Asia. I grow it in a pot for teas and the occasional salad to improve my memory and contribute to brain health.
The first time I walked into Companion Plants, an internationally recognized nursery in Athens, Ohio, that carries more than 600 varieties of common and exoctic herbs, I saw a small pot of burdock and was shocked. The owner ships all over the country, and it turns out that some of the weeds I take for granted don’t grow well elsewhere. Of course, you would have to plant it yourself if dandelion didn’t grow where you lived and you wanted a constant, fresh supply.
Where I live, there are many “weeds” that are available right here on my farm and in surrounding wild areas. I forage for a number of things. I usually find enough nettles (Urtica dioica) for my needs in wild areas around my community, but I typically need to plant extra plantain because I use so much of it that I can’t seem to find enough growing wild.
Photo by Dawn Combs
Where Do You Find “Weed” Seeds?
’Tis the season for the garden catalog. Several of my favorites stock quite a few weed seeds. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Horizon Herbs and Companion Plants seem to have some of the best selection. In some cases, you will find them mixed in with the vegetables. For example, you will find amaranth (amaranthus spp.) mixed in with the “microgreens” section in most catalogs. In others you will find most of the weeds in the “herb” section. As with all plants, be sure of your Latin name. Don’t go by common name or you may find that your “dandelion” seed isn’t true dandelion but another vegetable altogether.
Above all, don’t be ashamed to buy seeds and plants in varieties that you think would make your friends and neighbors frown. And if you happen to be traveling down a back road in the middle of Ohio and find me bent over a row weeding the dandelions, don’t worry that I’ve escaped from some mental facility nearby. I’m just cultivating my weed beds.