Author's Note: I am not a medical professional, and this opinion should not be used as a replacement for medical advice. Medicine, when used incorrectly, in the wrong context, or with the wrong dosage acts as a poison. Seek the advice of an herbalist or traditional healer for more information on the health risks and benefits of plant-based medicine.
Earlier this year, I received a letter from the City of Albuquerque informing me that the property I share with three other units was in violation of the "Weed, Litter, and Snow Removal Ordinance." It stated that if we didn’t remove our weeds, we would be fined by the city.
Personally, I’ve always found it difficult to distinguish between "weeds" and plants. The delineation between the two appears to stem from a plant’s perceived friendliness to humans and our ability to control its growth — this line is blurry.
The city’s website indicates that violators of the plant-killing ordinance are subject to fines, court appearances and, apparently, even jail time. According to KRQE, earlier this year an arrest warrant was issued for a woman who didn’t abide by the ordinance. The article reported fines can reach as high as $500.
The website also posts a list of the plants deemed to be the nefarious "weeds," including pigweed, silverleaf nightshade, purslane and lambsquarter.
Several varieties of pigweed — known more kindly as amarantus — have seeds that are rich in protein and easily digestible after boiling or toasting. Many cultures, such as the Aztecs and the Romans, have used amarantus in rituals and as a staple of their diets.
Silverleaf nightshade has a multitude of medicinal uses, from treating nose and throat problems to acting as a pain reliever. It is also used to soothe digestive problems and has been found to treat herpes. The plant has been used by traditional and native healers across the region for hundreds of years, if not longer.
The dense, succulent leaves of purslane are great dietary sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane contains high amounts of fiber and vitamins with few calories and is also used as a natural treatment for insomnia.
Lambsquarter has many benefits, not the least of which is nutrition. Raw lambsquarter leaves can contain large amounts of A, B and C vitamins — however, its nutritional content is largely dependent upon the plant’s soil and growing conditions. These seeds are edible, mineral-rich and more readily eaten after heating or sprouting them.
Lambsquarter also promotes healthy circulation of the bloodstream and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent. The leaves can be chewed and applied to the skin to treat bites, scrapes and reduce arthritic joint pain.
The City of Albuquerque does not need to be fining and arresting people for refusing to kill these plants. I understand that "weeds" have the potential to grow off of a person’s property, but a blanket ban on the presence of these plants over four inches tall is absurd.
If fate has it for one of these plants to find a home in the planter by my window, it should be up to me whether I welcome it or not. I find these plants to be beautiful biological powerhouses, not simply "weeds" to wage war against.
Perhaps these plants crop up so frequently to signal to humans the range and breadth of their potential uses. Next time an insidious "weed" crops up in your garden, consider why it may have crossed your path. The internet is your friend, and a little research into your new visitor may yield some surprising results.
Alex Hiett is a beat news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nmal1123