The Naturalist: Why you should love your lawn weeds
WILTON — Every year people spend lots of time removing the weeds they find in their yard to create a beautiful lawn. Many of these plants that we call weeds have benefits for us beyond just the aesthetics of a front yard. “Weed” is a word we use for a plant that is unwelcome and unwanted and perhaps grows a bit out of control. But if we can learn a little more about why they are so successful at growing and how they might benefit us, we can perhaps change our perspectives and respect these beautiful plants a little more.
One of these pesky “weeds” is called plantain. Although it shares a name with a popular fruit, it is a different plant. Plantain is a plant that was introduced to New England by the original European settlers. It earned its nickname, “white man’s footprint,” because the plant seemed to grow wherever the settlers went. Plantain, like many weeds, survives well in areas with a lot of foot traffic, which is why we see them a lot in our lawns. Our delicate blades of grass ironically can’t handle being trampled on all the time even though that is what we use a lawn for. When blades of grass die from being stepped on, plantain moves in to fill the gaps.
Although you may find plantain to be just an unpleasant blemish in your yard, this plant has some nutritional and medicinal benefits. These nutritional benefits include vitamins C, K, and E, as well as iron, potassium, and calcium. When the leaves are young in the spring, they can be used in a salad. Once they grow more, they harden and become unpleasant to snack on. Medicinally, the leaves also have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits to help disinfect wounds and reduce swelling for cuts, burns, and insects bites.
When it comes to foraging for plants, make sure that if you decide to eat plants from your yard, you do not use any pesticides or fertilizers. Plants absorb all that and if you eat the plants, you also eat the poisonous chemicals. Also avoid eating plants from along roadsides. But otherwise, munch away! These plants are very healthy. I pick them from my backyard all the time!
Sam Nunes is an educator at Woodcock Nature Center.