Food ForestsPlant Systems

Karma in Nature

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.

(Bad) karma.

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).


  1. Weeds also have many direct benefits for humans as food, medicine and fibre for materials.

    Oyvind, I’m not so sure. I fully understand the problems with GE plants (and believe that all such technology should stop now). But once one of these plant species has naturalised, what are our ethical and karmic responsibilities? Do we hate the GE plants instead of loving them? How does that affect our relationship with the rest of nature? And if we can hate GE plants, why not other plants that we deem ‘bad’. Pines, willows, gorse, brooms, nettles are all plants where I live that would never have been here were it not for human ignorance and technology. I’m sure the time will come when permies are saying we need to work with GE escapees in the same way we work with other introduced naturalised plants i.e. look at how they work in the landscape rather than demonising them.

  2. Hi Pebble! I’m sorry I don’t have enough knowledge to give you an answer. But thank you for your thoughts about this dilemma. Hope they can inspire someone else to give us an answer?

  3. Hello Marcel

    This is a very insightful and respectful article that asks us, as stewards of this Creation, to shift our paradigm and think differently about nature, including what we label as “weeds”. As you allude to it, the reason we use the terms weeds is that these forms of vegetation are not seen as economically productive. If someone found a way to generate income from weeds, they would cease to be labeled as weeds, I am sure.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Paul. Ah, the recurring and perpetual question of how to generate an income and in this case from a piece of land. My reply is not going to be very complimentary, but you may imagine the dislike of farmers towards bankmanagers, foreclosing on the family-farm on this continent of “drought and flooding rain”.
    Yes, weeds are not seen as economically productive, however, that is mainly because of lack of understanding about the longterm processes in Nature and this mainly because “our” economy is to a large extent run by bean-counters who have never smelled the sweetness of a humus-rich soil, let alone have gotten their hands “dirty” in it.
    FIRSTLY, many weeds have or used to have a place in society as MEDICINAL HERBS and SECONDLY in the long run they enrich the soil and subsoil by increasing FIBRE content, so increasing humus content and so improving and increasing crops and thus income for the farmer.
    Unfortunately over the centuries many good practices have gone by the wayside and one of these is fallowing as prescribed in the “Good Book” which is called exactly that, “The Good Book” for good reasons. It was written in times when people had still a great connectedness to the land and the principles of Nature were still common knowledge to the common man, working the land. The deletion of fallowing from farming practice amounts to FALSE economy, to a large extent based on a denatured and “intoxicated” soil, poisoned by artificial fertilizers, etc.etc. killing any form of beneficial microbial activity that is so necessary for healthy and ABUNDANT plant-life. A FALSE economy based on SCARCITY and the principles of the stockmarket, rather than on the ABUNDANCE of Nature and HER principles; a FALSE economy of artificial manipulation of the worldmarket by a relatively small group of international bankers who for centuries have been trying to squeeze the common man and the farmer out of existence and impoverish that common man, especially spiritually, exactly by the artificial manipulation of the worldmarkets and by the perpetration of disinformation and ignorance by the massmedia and keeping him and her doped up on a steady diet of “bread and games” as already in Roman times.

    On the small scale, and especially in temperate climates, the idea is to learn to see and accept weeds as a HELPFUL and NECESSARY force in Nature. In your suburban garden, next to mulching with brought-in straw, allow weeds to grow; water them and LOVE them. (Mulch in the form of tanbark makes the soil acidic.) When the (herbaceous) weeds have fully grown and AFTER they have seeded, cut them off at groundlevel, placing the plantmatter that grew above ground in three dimensions onto the two dimensions of the soilsurface, so providing ABUNDANCE of FIBRE and MULCH, delivering its by now well-known benefits; the roots of the weeds will decay in situ, in the very place they grew and so fertilize the subsoil; once these PLANTS have done their job, by a basic process of saturation, they will not come back as frequently as when they are NOT allowed to do their job as “ordained by evolution”. This is further described in my essay, mentioned in above published summary “Karma in Nature”.

    Further, as to how to deal with weeds and land, especially with reference to broadacre farming, may I recommend you take another look at the last paragraph of the above published summary (“Karma in Nature”), as well maybe at the book: “The One Straw Revolution” by Japanese farmer and microbiologist Masanobu Fukuoka, who in his very fascinating, stimulating and inspiring text describes many of the secrets of Nature.

    May I wish you a Joyful Christmas and a Blessed and Prosperous New Year.

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