Most of us will be familiar with the Hindu and Buddhist concept of Karma as a factor in our personal lives. In nature, as a general rule, we can experience Karma, as a direct reaction by, for example, animals – as a response to our behaviour and attitude towards them.
Action and reaction. Cause and effect. It is my contention that this concept is also operative in the plant world, as a response to our treatment of them.
If we accept the basic law of Isaac Newton about action and reaction, then surely our dealings with the plant world have their consequences.
I believe therefore that the existence of ‘weeds’ is nothing but a reaction by nature as a consequence of our maltreatment of nature in general and of plants in particular. Only when we accept this and so take responsibility for our behaviour will we be able to do something about this unpleasant phenomenon.
It was while studying for my science degree and while doing some much-needed weeding, that I came to the realisation that weeds can in fact serve a purpose; this realisation came about while reflecting on the teaching of Jesus to "Love your enemy", for initially I saw these weeds as enemies. When I saw them in a different, more encompassing light, I realised that these plants, usually seen as a nuisance, were in fact just as much plants like all other plants. Though they are usually not seen as actual crop-plants, producing a marketable commodity, I realised that these plants (‘weeds’) did actually produce something that most soils, often depleted, sorely lacked, namely: fibre. Weeds are prodigious producers of fibre.
This fibre can be made to serve as nutrition for soil-microbes which enrich the soil, hence the ancient practice of fallowing – nowadays hardly, if at all, practiced in high-tech agriculture.
The curse of weeds can be turned to good use and profit when we let these plants do the job that they do so well, namely, producing fibre. As in many other instances in nature, medicine or life in general, the condition, in this case the occurrence of weeds, gives a clue as to how to go about correcting it. The fibre that weeds produce forms part of the cure to the problem of depleted soils, which often only and spontaneously give rise to weeds.
Most folk-legends and also the old testament relate the story that "Once upon a time" mankind lived in Paradise. Somehow this became spoilt and weeds (and thorns) arose.
In order to bring about change, we need to emulate aboriginal traditions of respect for the land and so respect for weeds, rather than trying to wipe them off the face of the earth – because such a battle can simply not be won.
It is remarkable that many of those who accept the theory of evolution do not accept weeds as part of that same evolution. The 21st century challenge is to find a rightful place for these plants, in harmonious and dynamic management of the land.
Ancient aboriginal, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian philosophy give a good guideline as to how to approach this troublesome aspect of Nature.
With respect to the practical aspects of dealing with these plants please refer to the very effective work of Australian farmer Peter Andrews as described in his book : “Back From The Brink – How Australia’s landscape can be saved” ( Sydney, ABC Books, 2006) and as referred to in my essay: "Making Weeds Work" (Easter 2008).