Embracing Invasive Plants in a Modern World

| 11/4/2010 5:20:34 PM

11-4-2010-invasive plant medicine coverExcerpted from Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives, by Timothy Lee Scott, with permission from Inner Traditions Bear & Company (c) 2010. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 1 to 6. 

There was a time, now long forgotten, around the advent of agricultural civilizations some ten thousand years ago, that humans began to look at plants differently. Before this, all was a wild garden with diverse flora and fauna, and each of these living beings had a place. But with the invention of the crop, people began to discriminate between the different plants and chose to keep some and remove others. A plant that did not serve human needs or that interfered with the crops was deemed a weed. This marked a shift in the paradigm of paradise, and humans began severing themselves from nature in a paramount way. The desire and attempt to keep the wild at bay was passed down through the generations, and such thinking is pre-dominant to this day.

The nature of a weed is opportunistic, and we, as humans, have created enormous holes of opportunity for these plants to fill. They have adapted to be at our side, waiting for those favorable times to cover the exposed soils that we continually create. With ever-changing genetics of form, function, and transmutation, weeds have evolved to withstand the punishments that humans unleash upon them.

Kudzu growing in the wild.
Photo by Jon Person/Courtesy Flickr


Weeds are especially adapted to adapt. 

For tens of thousands of years, people have transported and intentionally introduced plants all over the world for food, fiber, medicine, ornamentation, and scientific curiosity, and because this practice has continued to the present day, we humans have been complicit in and have encouraged the spread of plants. Nowadays, the common plants we see throughout our meadows, countryside, and city streets—such as plantain, mullein, St. John’s-wort, burdock, chicory, coltsfoot, fennel, and daylily—are alien species that did not grow here until the first Europeans arrived. Both a Native American and Chinese name for common plantain translate as “white man’s footsteps,” referring to the fact that this plant followed along the colonizing trail of Europeans. One plantain species has sword-shaped leaves (lanceolata) with wound-healing abilities, but instead of complaining about this plant, the indigenous herbalists made good use of it as medicine—for it was needed. I do not know if the first such plant arrivals would have been considered invasive some five hundred years ago, but they certainly were foreign, just like the knotweeds and loosestrifes of today. Over time, though, these plants have found an ecological niche in a dynamic equilibrium among the different species within the landscape.