Learning more about so-called weeds

While trying to come up with a topic for this week’s column, I realized that all I had to do was look into my own yard.

Growing profusely among the lawn are the field weeds that used to live here before my house was built more than 40 years ago. As a child, I used to ride my bicycle up and down this road where I’ve lived since the day I was married and remember the fields that grew along the entire street.

When we began planting things in this yard, fighting those weeds became a way of life. So much so that I began to research them only to discover that many of them weren’t weeds at all. What we pull out of our lawn and flower beds were at one time useful herbs that people depended on to cure illnesses and to toss in the soup pot.

I began to see weeds differently. Maybe they weren’t the enemy I once thought. After all, any plant can be a weed if it’s growing where it isn’t wanted.

One of my favorite lawn and garden weeds, commonly called creeping Charlie, is a good example. Glechoma hederacea is a persistent weed in my yard and gardens but I can’t help like it anyway.

According to historical accounts of this plant, which also has many other nicknames including creeping Jenny, gill-on-the-ground and ground ivy, it was first introduced into North America by early settlers who thought it would make a good groundcover for shade. But that wasn’t the only reason they brought it from Europe and Asia where it originated. Creeping Charlie also was a healing herb, used to treat indigestion, kidney ailments and as an anti-inflammatory. It also was used as a food source, raw in salads or cooked into soups and stews. It even was an early flavor source for beer before brewers began using hops.

I don’t recommend eating creeping Charlie or using it as an herbal medicine. Modern research has discovered compounds in the plant that can cause liver damage and gastrointestinal issues.

Although I pull it out of my flower gardens, the plant doesn’t make me cringe like stinging nettle or my vegetable garden nemesis, Hairy Galinsoga.

Creeping Charlie has cute little fan-shaped leaves and tiny blue-violet flowers that pop up in spring. It stays low to the ground, lower than most mower blades, and it grows along the ground at breakneck speed, or at least it seems to for those who are relentless in pulling it up.

As a member of the mint family, creeping Charlie has square stems, which explains its persistence to survive. It also explains the plant’s camphor-like scent that isn’t all that unpleasant.

Since it likes to grow in moist, shady locations, often where grass and other plants can’t seem to take hold, leaving creeping Charlie to live in those areas isn’t such a bad thing. But it likes rich soil, too, and will find its way into the flower and vegetable gardens almost overnight.

In addition to growing from seeds, creeping Charlie also grows by underground stolons. When pulling it out, if one tiny section is left behind, it will regrow into a new plant. Like I said, persistent.

To make matters worse, it is resistant to a lot of herbicides and the ones that do work generally kill everything else too, including grass.