Laura Dean Bennett\r\nStaff Writer \r\n\r\nI think Ralph Waldo Emerson\u2019s definition of a weed makes a lot of sense.\r\n\r\nIn 1878, he wrote: \u201cWhat is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.\u201d\u00a0\r\n\r\nAnd, I\u2019ve also heard that a weed is just \u201ca plant in the wrong place,\u201d in which case, any\u00a0plant growing where you don\u2019t want it, could be called a weed.\r\n\r\nBotanists tell us that the ancestors of every common garden plant were once considered weeds.\r\n\r\nThey may aggravate us at times, but some of the best gardeners know that\u00a0not all weeds are bad.\r\n\r\nWeeds can be helpful partners in a flower or vegetable garden.\u00a0\r\n\r\nMost plants that are native to a certain locale are almost always beneficial to that particular ecosystem.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the non-native plants that are usually the problem.\r\n\r\nIf weeds are doing better than your lawn or garden plants, it\u2019s usually a sign that something\u2019s wrong \u2013 they\u2019re tattletales about unhealthy conditions or nutritional imbalances in the soil.\r\n\r\nAnd they don\u2019t just tell you about a problem with your soil \u2013 many weeds can improve poor soil.\r\n\r\nThey enrich soil through their continuous life cycles of growth and death, which adds organic content and basically, fertilizes the ground for free.\r\n\r\nWeeds can help keep topsoil in place and they draw up water and nutrients from deep in the ground, which can benefit other nearby plants.\r\n\r\nAfter pulling weeds, turn the soil from underneath to help distribute valuable nutrients and minerals to surrounding plants.\r\n\r\nAnd then, you can add the nutrient-rich weeds to your compost pile when you dispose of them.\r\n\r\nMany weeds are natural pest control agents. They can keep harmful bugs away and attract beneficial bugs at the same time.\r\nWildflowers are particularly good for this.\r\n\r\nQueen Anne\u2019s Lace is considered a weed by many gardeners, but it can make a wonderful addition to many gardens. It forms nice borders in a flower garden and makes for pretty, hand-picked bouquets.\r\n\r\nThe bouquets will drop tiny pieces around the vase, so don\u2019t try to keep them more than a day or so.\r\n\r\nQueen Anne\u2019s Lace isn\u2019t just beautiful to look at, it also attracts helpful insects that prey on harmful insects.\r\n\r\nIn year\u2019s past, weeds like purslane, dandelion and lamb\u2019s quarters were called \u201cgreens,\u201d and they were commonly consumed as an important, and free, source of vitamins.\r\n\r\nThese days, these greens have made it onto the menus of fancy restaurants as health food.\r\n\r\nSpring is the perfect time to get a little extra vitamin C in our diets with some greens in our salads.\r\n\r\nPurslane has a lemony flavor similar to watercress. It adds a nice crunch to salads and sandwiches, and it\u2019s packed with Omega-3 fatty acids.\r\n\r\nDandelion is chock full of vitamin C and medicinal properties. It\u2019s said to help stimulate the liver and \u201cclean\u201d the bloodstream.\r\n\r\nYou can eat the leaves \u2013 although they are a little bitter \u2013 and I\u2019ve enjoyed eating the yellow flowers. They are delicious when fried.\r\n\r\nMy yard is full of dandelions. When they are in bloom, I enjoy seeing the goldfinches feasting on them. I understand that honeybees like them, too, and that lots of other birds such as grouse and turkey enjoy their seeds.\r\n\r\nLamb\u2019s quarters is good for keeping away harmful insects.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s good to eat and as nutritious as spinach. We ate it raw in salads when I was growing up, but it is even better, I think, when saut\u00e9ed with a sweet marinade.\r\n\r\nGoldenrod\u00a0lures away harmful insects from your garden and the leaves and blossoms can be applied to broken skin to speed up the healing process.\r\n\r\nOne of my favorite weeds is clover. It has pretty leaves and flowers, and it\u2019s soft to walk on.\r\n\r\nHoney bees are drawn to clover. It makes, to my mind, the tastiest honey.\r\n\r\nOf course, if you have a lot of clover in your lawn, you\u2019ll want to keep shoes on when the clover is blooming or you\u2019re liable to get stung.\r\n\r\nClover attracts earthworms, and it\u2019s good for putting nitrogen back into depleted soil because of the nitrogen rich bacteria in its roots. It also retains moisture around its roots and the roots of its neighbors.\r\n\r\nClover in your yard may keep the rabbits away from your garden, as it is one of rabbits\u2019 favorite foods.\r\n\r\nClover is high in protein and although humans don\u2019t usually eat it, we could.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn the garden, it\u2019s a good companion to\u00a0plant alongside cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, corn, cucumber, squash, melons and gourds.\u00a0\r\n\r\nBut don\u2019t grow clover near tomatoes, eggplant or peppers.\r\n\r\nMugwort\u00a0can grow quite tall \u2013 four-to-six feet in height \u2013 and it can be invasive if you don\u2019t control it, but it absorbs heavy metals from the ground and is great at stopping erosion.\r\n\r\nI\u2019ve heard that weed tea makes the best compost material and liquid fertilizer.\r\n\r\nWeeds, especially perennial ones like dock and thistle, are an excellent source of nutrients because they have deep tap roots which draw up lots of nutrients into the plants.\r\n\r\nYou can put these nutrients to work for you in your compost pile.\r\n\r\nIn the spring, your compost probably has lots of \u201cbrowns\u201d in it from all that dead winter debris. Fresh green weeds and warm spring weather will jump start your compost pile.\r\n\r\nBut if you want to really get all those nutrients out of your weeds, make some weed tea.\r\n\r\nWeed Tea\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll need a big container like a plastic garbage can or make a smaller batch in a five-gallon bucket.\r\n\r\nWear gloves and gather up all the weeds you can.\r\n\r\nYou can use whole plants, leaves, roots and all.\r\n\r\nThis is a good use for all of the crabgrass you can pull up out of the yard. You can even leave the clumps of dirt attached to it.\r\n\r\nYou\u2019ll want to store the container somewhere where you can\u2019t smell it because the smell of rotting vegetation will not be pleasant.\r\n\r\nFill your container with water, to a level at least 12 inches over the plant material.\r\n\r\nStir weekly and let this concoction stand until it is a fermented stew of stinking, rotted material.\r\n\r\nIt will take between 10 days or as long as four weeks to be ready to use.\r\n\r\nYou will have made the best fertilizer ever. It will smell horrible, but the smell will soon abate after you put it in your garden.\r\n\r\nTo use, dilute the liquid (about one-part weed tea to four-parts water) and pour the \u201ctea\u201d directly into your flower or vegetable garden.\r\n\r\nYou can use it at any stage of growth \u2013 on and around flowers or vegetables.\r\n\r\nWeed tea is especially good for\u00a0tomato plants.\r\n\r\nStrain some and put it in a sprayer for leaf feeding and watch the plants green up overnight.\r\n\r\nWhen the weed tea is gone, throw the stinking residue of weed material on your compost pile and make another batch.\r\n\r\nYou can also see why the benefits of weeds makes them good to keep around.\r\n\r\nThe more we learn about many a so-called weed, the more we may come to see them as more friend than foe.