What is a Weed?

by in Herbal Medicine, Reader Questions June 20, 2008

whatisaweed.jpg“The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”

I remember as a child having a hard time understanding what the “bad things” were that grew in our garden.

What were these dreaded things called “weeds” that had my parents in such fits?

“Is this a weed, Mom?” I would constantly ask, paranoid to make a mistake and pull the wrong thing again. Once, you see, I had mistakenly pulled up all the starts my mom had freshly planted; tossed them in the bucket, leaving all the trusty weeds I would in time learn to love as a naturopath behind to proliferate in the ground.

Perhaps I am not a very good mindless laborer, or perhaps I see the beauty of nature a little differently than most. Maybe I was just meant to be a naturopathic physician and spokesperson for the herbs that naturally grow around us.

Did you know that some of the “weeds” you are pulling from your garden are actually medicinal herbs?

For instance in Washington state, “weeds” such as stinging nettles, dandelions, red clover, plantain, cleavers, devil’s club, stinky Bob, and what not all have medicinal values that can be used after the “weed” is pulled from the garden.

So why spray your garden with poisons? Chemicals we once commonly used to kill weeds such as Roundup are shown to cause leukemia and lymphoma. Surely you don’t want to increase your odds of developing cancer by pumping poisons in to your garden? Toxic chemicals that kill weeds also kill us slowly. Pesticides are not just bad for adults, but they are even worse for the pets and children that actively play in them.

Instead of spraying your weeds, sit back and see what weeds grow naturally, and learn to use them as herbal medicines when it is their time to be pulled. Any herbalist will tell you that the best herbs for you are most likely the ones that grow naturally around you. As a naturopath I always watch for this interesting phenomena when visiting friends and family, and have discovered there is a great deal of wisdom to the plants that decide to grow around us.

The St. John’s Wort grows in the depressed person’s yard. The liver cleansing Dandelions grow abundantly in the alcoholics grass. Blood building Nettles abound around those with anemia. The stressed mom has California Poppies and Lemon Balm growing around her for comfort. A family friend fighting cancer has an entire field of red clover strangely growing behind her, and so on and so forth my herbal observations go…

Chances are you don’t need some fancy plant from the rain forest to keep your health in check. Chances are the weeds fighting to grow in your garden are the best thing for you. They simply need a spokesperson like me to “sell them” to you.

So, what is a weed?

True “weeds” in my mind, are typically invasive plants not indigenous to the area they are growing in. Scotchbroom for instance, in Washington state, is an invasive plant that is slowly destroying the ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest as it takes over the terrain everywhere it goes, as is bamboo.

But is this just a game of survival of the fittest? Should we allow invasive weeds to take over?

Doing so actually runs the risk of causing extinction of some of our native species of plants. True invasive weeds are not just wreaking havoc on our marigolds and rose gardens. They are also destroying our habitats and the delicate ecosystem and animals that depend on them.

To learn more about the native ethnobotany of your area, keep your eyes peeled for some herb walks offered locally to learn a new appreciation for the plants that proliferate around you. If you subscribe to my blog and keep up with my articles over time you will also learn how to make friends with all of my favorite plants.

“Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild!”

~John Galsworthy

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table, now go make friends with some weeds!

~Dr. Nicole

Naturopathic Physician


  1. I always got taught that a weed is a flower in the wrong place

  2. What a great bit of advice! I too love my weeds. Dandelions are not ugly, and should be left alone – they’re vibrant and tasty. You truly are a great spokesperson for our earthly “friends”. Thanks..

  3. I used to live across the street from an overgrown lot. The old ladies used to spend time there in the morning harvesting the various weeds.
    Dandelion is delicious, just have to get it before it flowers, then it becomes tough.

  4. Erin Happycamper June 21, 2008 at 10:33 pm Reply

    I will never pull another “weed.” I can’t wait to use this info. Thanks again Doc!


  5. There are some so called weeds that have really beautiful flowers. I would call a weed a thistle. But they do have rather magnificent purple plumes problem is they choke other plants out

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *