I say it all the time. There is no such thing as a weed.
All plants have a purpose. But what happens quite often is that particular type of plant will take over an area. This is because the conditions are favouring it. The “weeds” or undesirable plants are a symptom of an underlying problem. Address the symptom and you will have to keep addressing the symptom every year. Solve the problem and the symptom goes away.
For example, the symptom is that you have “weeds” taking over a pasture, to address the symptom most producers are encouraged to spray or cultivate to control weeds. But the problem is overgrazing. To address the problem, you would need to set up a rotational grazing system to manage the grazing concepts and stop the overgrazing. We need to favour the conditions to allow the desirable species to outcompete the weeds. It’s pretty simple actually.
That being said there are plants that have been considered weeds for many years that are actually quite beneficial.
Urtica Dioica (a.k.a. — stinging nettle) is a good example. It’s been considered an undesirable species for many years in agriculture. Yet stinging nettle is a large, rhizomatous perennial that is edible. It originally came from Europe and Asia and has sharp hairs that break easily and can irritate or sting when the plant is touched. It’s one of the reasons you definitely don’t go fencing in short pants in my part of the world. Only the top side of the leaf causes the skin irritation, and it grows well in rich peat soils and can take over an area.
Is it really a weed? Not at Greener Pastures Ranching! We harvest it and bag it. We are now registered with the Government of Canada to sell stinging nettle tea. By drying the leaves, we are able to store the stinging nettle, which when steeped, makes a very flavourful green tea. Add a little bit of honey and you have a really great tea with loads of health benefits. You can also let it cool in the refrigerator to make a healthy sweet ice tea. We call it “a multivitamin in a cup.” The kids don’t even know they are getting their multivitamin. Have you ever looked at the ingredients of a kid’s multivitamin?
We also use stinging nettle as a spice. The dried leaves break up into small pieces and can be sprinkled into almost any meal. Add some to your mashed potatoes, eggs, sauces, or just about any other meals you can think of. An extra vegetable loaded with minerals and vitamins added to almost any meal.
Here is a list of some of the benefits that stinging nettle can provide:
- Relieves arthritis symptoms.
- Helps to support the adrenals.
- Helps with diabetes mellitus.
- Destroys intestinal worms or parasites.
- Strengthens the fetus in pregnant women.
- Promotes milk production in lactating women.
- Relieves menopausal symptoms.
- Helps with menstrual cramps and bloating.
- Helps asthma sufferers.
- Stops bleeding.
- Reduces acne.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Stimulates the lymph system to boost immunity.
- Promotes a release from uric acid from joints.
- Reduces incident of prostate cancer.
- Helps reduce skin problems.
- Eliminates allergic rhinitis.
- Lessens nausea.
- Helps with the common cold.
- Helps with osteoarthritis.
- Helps break down kidney stones.
- Reduces hypertension.
- Helps with respiratory tract disease.
- Supports the kidneys.
- Helps with diarrhea.
- Helps with gastrointestinal disease, IBS, and constipation.
- Reduces gingivitis and prevents plaque (when used as a mouthwash).
- Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Helps with neurological disorders like MS, ALS and sciatica.
- Supports the endocrine health by helping the thyroid, spleen and pancreas.
It has so many minerals and vitamins that the benefits are almost endless. There is a bit of a warning to check with your doctor as occasionally stinging nettle can interfere with certain pharmaceuticals.
Stinging nettle is very easy to harvest and dry, as long as you wear long sleeves and gloves. Once the plant is dry, it no longer stings as the itch is caused by the liquid in the leaves. The dry product is quite safe to handle. It is easy to store and light to transport. Maybe this could be a solution to some nutritional problems in Third World countries?
There are many other “weeds” out there that can be quite beneficial and nutritious for livestock or humans. Maybe it’s a soil amendment; a pioneer species that shows up when conditions are harsh to heal the land.
The first question you ask when a so-called weed appears is, why is it there? Then ask yourself, how do we solve the problem, not just the symptoms? Always look for the good in every plant. Maybe the cure to an ailment is right in front of you. Urtica Dioica — for Medicinal Purposes.