The last few years have been full of news surrounding the concern of glyphosate in our food and waterways. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is not only destructive to the delicate balance of the ecosystem, but it has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans, as well as nervous system damage and hormonal imbalance.
It’s not just glyphosate, either. Other ingredients in Roundup formulations have been found to be thousands of times more toxic than glyphosate alone.
So is there a way to control weeds in our yards without the use of Roundup? Yes! In fact, there are many natural alternatives to Roundup that you probably already have on hand.
What’s So Bad About Roundup?
The active ingredient of Roundup, glyphosate, is found virtually everywhere in the food chain. As a consequence, glyphosate is regularly detected in human urine (1). And this isn’t a good thing.
Glyphosate and Roundup have been shown to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Endocrine disruption in humans is thought to contribute to some cancers, birth defects, and reproductive problems (2).
A recent study released by the University of Washington showed that you’re 40 percent more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after glyphosate exposure. They found that even small amounts of the chemical in our foods and drinks is concerning (3).
And it’s not only glyphosate that’s the problem. Two studies have determined that herbicides like Roundup are more likely to cause cell-cycle dysregulation, a hallmark of cancer, than glyphosate alone (4, 5).
Aside from humans, glyphosate and Roundup are incredibly hazardous to plants, animals, invertebrates and micro-organisms. These ‘non-target’ organisms may experience direct toxic effects from the herbicide, or be indirectly affected by changes to ecosystems or food resources (6).
Do We Need A Weed Perception Shift?
Weeds are incredibly misunderstood plants. In fact, many of them act as beneficial medicines, but we remain blind to their potential. In my opinion, we need to look at weeds differently.
When did you first come to realize that weeds were a bad thing? Personally, I grew up on Lake of the Woods, in the wild, where everything grew normally and was never destroyed. There were dandelions, thistles, and pretty much any kind of “weed” you could ever imagine. My parents never killed the weeds, because there was no need. They were living and thriving along everything else in a perfect, yet delicate balance.
I believe that weeds are only considered “bad” because of how humans interact with them, and how our society has taught us to believe that lawns must be 100% clear of all yellow flowers. But do people understand that grass is also a weed? Why is the presence of a beautiful yellow flower something to be frowned upon? If dandelions aren’t harming your garden, why not let them grow on other places of your lawn?
Nature uses “weeds” (as we call them), to protect the soil when it is bare, helping prevent erosion from wind and rain. Weeds, like comfrey and wild amaranth, have deep-tapping roots that mine minerals from far beneath the soil surface, making them available for other plants whose roots don’t reach as far. These deep-tapping roots also help break up more dense soil, which allows room for less powerful roots like those from cucumber plants and lettuces.
Weeds also encourage biodiversity. Lawns are one of the worst monocultures out there. Our constant war on weeds not only puts us at harm, but it severely messes with the ecosystem. Weeds create diverse plant life, a necessity for sustainable ecosystems. Weeds are also wonderful attractors of beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. If everyone had a lawn full of native plants, flowers and “weeds”, pollinator numbers would sky-rocket.
Many weeds are also delicious edibles! Dandelion root is a powerful cancer-killer when brewed into a tea, and the leaves and flowers of dandelion help detox the liver. Lambsquarter are delicious in salads, and grow abundantly and come back every year. Purslane is a great plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and red clover helps balance female hormones, effectively dealing with symptoms of menopause and PMS.
You see, weeds are not our enemy – they’re our friend. Learning to work with them, instead of against them, will be a key concept in the coming years as we start to fully realize that our health, and the health of the planet, can simply no longer sustain chronic chemical exposure.
But for those of you who still require a weed-free yard, here are some chemical-free alternatives you can use to make sure we put an end to our toxic addiction to chemical lawn care products.
Natural Alternatives to Roundup
You don’t have to resort to chemical herbicides to get rid of invasive weeds. Safer, more holistic options exist that work just as effectively as Roundup. Some of them might take more persistence, but the benefits of organic weed control far outweigh the negative health and environmental effects of chemical herbicide and pesticides.
1. Homemade Mixture 1
Combine all of the above ingredients in a glass spray bottle and shake well to combine. Spray on weeds that you no longer want in your yard. The sea salt and vinegar help kill the weeds, while the dish soap sticks to the plant, acting as a natural adjuvant as would be found in Roundup (in a much more harmful format of course). Be sure to spray only the plants you wish to kill, as this is not a selective organic weed killer.
2. Homemade Mixture 2
To make this recipe you’ll need:
– 1 litre glass spray bottle
– 1.5 cups organic vinegar
– 2.5 tablespoons all-natural dish soap
– 3 drops wintergreen essential oil
– 3 drops clove essential oil
– 3 drops cinnamon essential oil
– 3 drops orange essential oil
Put dish soap and essential oils into the bottle and mix. Next, pour in the vinegar. Tighten the lid and shake vigorously. This weedkiller is not selective, so make sure you spray it only on the plants you want dead.
3. White Vinegar
White vinegar is a great natural alternative to Roundup. Not only is vinegar safer, but it is a cheaper alternative to these harmful chemicals, and is much better for the environment. Using vinegar concentrates that are 10-15% acetic acid are said to work better than lower-concentrate vinegars, and adding in a bit of soap to the mix has been said to help the vinegar stick better to the plant (and improve the chance that you will kill the weed).
I have personally used 5% white vinegar in the past on certain weeds with much success, so it really depends on the type of weed, and how persistent you are with the lower concentration. There are vinegars out there that have a higher acetic acid concentration, but they are often made with GMO corn, and so it isn’t really an environmentally friendly option. The best way to go about using vinegar would be to combine a lower concentration (like 5%) with a little bit of all-natural dish soap.
4. Boiling Water
Using boiling water to kill weeds in your yard is another simple and inexpensive way to get rid of unwanted greenery. After pouring boiling water onto your weeds it will only be a matter of days before you notice them shriveling up and dying. Just make sure to not drop any boiling water in or around plants that you don’t want to kill.
Covering the soil with an extra layer of organic matter will kill just about any weed. Where there is no light, nothing can live. Mulching will also prevent new seeds from germinating. This method of weed control is garden safe, and will actually improve the health of the plants you’re trying to grow (and also cut your watering in half). Mulching also prevents soil erosion, ensuring that none of the nutrients in the soil are lost. You can mulch with compost, bark, wood chips, straw, grass clippings or any other organic matter.
Manually removing weeds with your hands or a small shovel is another effective spot-treatment for just about any weed. While these weeds will likely come back at some point, and have to be dug again, it is well known in the natural gardening community that hand-weeding, over time, greatly reduces the population of weeds in ones yard. When young weeds are quickly dug out, they won’t be able to seed and reproduce. Regularly digging up weeds with tap roots like dandelions or thistles will also weaken the root and eventually kill the plant.
If you’re willing to part with your vodka, you can also use it as a natural alternative to Roundup. Fill a squirt bottle with vodka, and on an extremely warm and sunny day, start applying the vodka to whatever weeds you’re wanting to kill. For the vodka to work effectively, it must use the sun’s heat and energy to burn the plant. Once these weeds have died, pick up and pull out all the dead weeds and dispose of them. Getting them out of your yard will reduce the chance that any seeds left over will repopulate the weeds in your yard.
The oil in soap naturally breaks down the surface of waxy or hairy weed leaves, which are often unresponsive to simple sprays like vodka or vinegar alone. Adding an all-natural castile soap to your vinegar or vodka sprays will help the ingredients stick to the leaves and make the greatest impact.
Salt is a great way to maintain weeds in your lawn. Sprinkle a little bit of salt along your garden paths and edges of your lawn to make a barrier for the weeds. Salt is inexpensive and readily available. It works by dehydrating plants and disrupting the internal water balance of plant cells. You can mix salt and water in a 3:1 ratio of water to salt (so 3 cups of water to 1 cup salt). Adding a little bit of dish soap or white vinegar to the mix will also help with weed-killing effectiveness. These two ingredients will lower surface tension of the water, which allows the salt solution to be absorbed by the plant.
For salting, you want to be selective on the weeds you’re killing. Once directly applying the saltwater solution to the weeds, water any nearby plants very well. This will help mitigate damage and will allow the salt to leach below the root zone of the plants.
10. Weed Slayer Organic Herbicide
If you’re looking for an organic herbicide you can purchase online, the Weed Slayer Organic Herbicide is one of the safest, and most effective. It is made of eugenol (the active constituent of clove essential oil), water and molasses. This herbicide is certified organic, and provides safe yet effective control of hard-to-kill grasses and weeds. The molasses and water mixture act as a surfactant to help translocate the active “herbicide”, eugenol, into the cells of the plant, effectively killing it.