Beautiful, useful and extremely resistant. A nature’s force. They sprout on the sidewalks, grow in patios and abandoned places, they make our high-ways a bit greener and give headaches to farmers who don’t want to see anything else apart from their crops on the fields. Wild herbs are the true survivors of an ancient war dating from 11500 years ago, at the start of what we call agriculture.

But if at first they were disliked because they were perceived as competition to the farmer’s crops, today the fight against spontaneous flora has gone to the aesthetical and urban planning domains, where weeds are seen as undesirable species and something to eradicate.   

With the development of the chemical industry during the 20th century, the use of herbicides became common practice in agriculture. The control of spontaneous herbs, which was previously done manually, quickly became a chemical war against wild flora. The use of these same chemicals in any public place was normalized - from roads to schools and kindergartens. 

However, the resistance of “weeds” showed us that they won’t stop occupying the territory where they can grow naturally. Evolution makes the rules. And now, after decades of using chemicals in this fight against Nature, we find ourselves with the so-called ‘super-weeds’, herbs that have learned how to deal with herbicides.

Not only do wild herbs reproduce rather quickly, but they also have good genetic diversity, which means that when facing environmental disturbances there are strong possibilities they will generate descendants with the necessary characteristics to face new threats, like the noxious chemicals. Consequently, the agrochemical industries were forced to discover new formulas, often more toxic.

But these wild herbs won’t surrender. Not even glyphosate, the famous herbicide developed by Monsanto during the 70’s and one of the most commonly used world wide, escaped Nature’s …???… Today, more than 20 species of wild plants are resistant to this chemical. And despite being considered carcinogenic for humans and harmful for an ecosystem, glyphosate is all around us.

At the same time that this poison was killing the purslane from the sidewalks and the chenopodiums from the sides of the pathways, amongst so many other examples, the knowledge about these plants and their use started to vanish. In maybe two generations, we have lost the habit of foraging for culinary, medicinal, cosmetic and ornamental use. What was nourishment and remedy became a target of the public space "cleaning".

Wild flora is not only useful to human beings, but it also provides nourishment and shelter for many other inhabitants of our ecosystems, like pollinators and other auxiliary insects. Aside from the benefits for biodiversity, wild flora protects the soils from erosion and facilitates water infiltrations, contributing to humidity maintenance of the soils and supply water tables.

In forest areas, bushes of wild flora host insect populations, nematodes and a variety of other animals and fungi that work as a whole for the auto-regulation of the natural system. Without this auto-regulation, some organisms can easily become plages that affect so many agricultural areas and natural ecosystems.

For all these reasons, wild flora deserves our recognition, respect, and valorization. In a society that can recognize the natural systems that giver her life, it should be taught at school and used daily by families, instead of being eliminated by authorities with poisonous products. The ancient war seems to be condemned to fail. Learn to live with the spontaneous flora and recognize its nutritional, medicinal and aesthetical value can only be the only option. It is indeed the most desirable way to put an end that is not only against wild flora but which is deeply the expression of an underlying inability: living in harmony with the life that surrounds us.

Fernando Naves Sousa,

Biologist and researcher in agroecology

in "Plantas Medicinais & Comestíveis da Flora Silvestre - Agenda 2020", Fernanda Botelho


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