My View from the Weeds: To Weed, or Not to Weed, That is the Question
Updated: Aug 24
This post was originally published in HWBCO's monthly column, My View from the Weeds, for the Columbus Free Press, April 2019 Issue
Spring is finally here, the time of year when most people go outside and treat their lawn for noxious weeds. This is so commonplace, that many overlook potent medicine right in their own backyard. There is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that summarizes this well, “A weed is a plant, whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Take for instance, the bright and resilient dandelion plant, seen as one of these villainous weeds. This fascinating plant has a longstanding history of being a nutritious food and medicine. The earliest documentation of medicinal usage dates all the way back to 659 B.C.E. The potency of the plant is known across cultures on nearly every continent. It was loved so much that in the 17th century, early colonists chose to bring the plant with them to North America to plant in their new homeland. Dandelion is still well-known among the herbal community as an aid in digestion, detoxification, gastrointestinal discomfort, and as a nutrient-rich tonic. Virtually every part of the plant can be harvested and used as medicine. However, for some reason, dandelion has the reputation of being an invasive species. Harsh chemicals are used over and over to prevent them from growing. Sadly these sprays often have detrimental side-effects for both the ecosystem and human health. Once a yard is treated with these chemicals, what grows in it is no longer safe for consumption.
An herbalist uses careful discretion when choosing to extinguish life. One beautiful thing about weeds is their incredible resilience and ability to grow in a prolific manner. A plant that can crowd out all of the others and grow super efficiently is admirable in its own right. This holistic way of viewing plants opens up more doorways for healing and connecting with nature. Sometimes it is the strong, hardy plants that hold the most potent medicine. For this reason, many herbalists choose to integrate weeds into their formulas. Traditional Chinese medicine has been doing this with dandelion for thousands of years.
In the true spirit of healthcare justice, herbalism is the people’s medicine. Harvesting the bounty of the land and using herbs for their healing properties is pre-capitalism. With the rising costs of healthcare, finding alternative solutions to support wellness is vital. A carefully curated garden with medicinal herbs, pollinators and beneficial weeds can provide a family with valuable resources lasting the whole year. Local farmers and community gardens often donate medicinal plants to herbalists to further the cause. This symbiotic relationship allows for a deeper understanding of what is needed and how the community can come together and support each other, in their own unique ways.
Those in need of herbal support have untapped power right at their fingertips. True democratization of healthcare is possible when people choose to grow and harvest plants that support wellness in their lives. Often most people have no idea where their medicines are coming from or how they work in their own bodies. Working with herbs directly removes these barriers in big ways. Having this connection to the soil, land and finished product adds a layer of humanity to the process that sterile environments fail to provide.
There is no better time to start exploring herbalism than when fresh life is sprouting out of the ground. Paying attention to what is growing where, how it grows and what it grows near can be clues to what medicine might be inside. Discovering what a plant is and how it can be used is an extremely empowering experience. Word of the wise, however, not all plants are medicinal or edible.
Herbalists Without Borders, the Central Ohio Chapter (https://www.hwbco.org/) is a great resource to get acquainted with these powerful plant allies. The mission of serving communities in need, who lack access to these vital health services, is always at the forefront. This month, April 28th from 4:30-6:30 p.m. there will be another People’s Clinic event. Local herbalists and holistic practitioners will be available, as well as a full apothecary of herbal remedies, vitamins and supplements. This event is on a sliding scale and no one will be turned away for lack of funds. After all, these tools have belonged to the people far longer than dollar bills.
April People’s Clinic: Sunday, April 28th - 4:30-6:30pm Studio Creative, 757 Garden Rd, Columbus
Please RSVP here: https://www.hwbco.org/events/peoples-clinic-event-2
Whitney Joy Dunlap is a budding herbalist, plant enthusiast, green activist, urban gardener and freelance artist, living in Columbus, Ohio. Her latest passion is plant identification and exploring edible and medicinal weeds. She will be launching her botanical blog theplanetarygypsy.com (which focuses on these topics) in the coming month. For more information you can follow her on Instagram @planetarygypsy or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Appears in Issue: