Herbicides & Pesticides
Agriculture, Food Chain, Fertilizer, Roundup. Health Effects, Safe Natural Products, Alternatives to Poison

Safe Natural Herbicides for Weed Control

There are a number of natural pesticides available to gardeners for insect control, but relatively few natural herbicides for the eradication of weeds or other invasive plants. What natural herbicides do exist can do more harm than good if applied under the wrong conditions. However, there are plants that act as natural herbicides, such as black walnut, sunflowers, sagebrush and spotted knapweed. These plants excrete chemicals that can kill off another plant species growing nearby. The process of certain plants acting as natural herbicides is called allelopathy.

Researchers are very interested in the allelopathic qualities of plants, since the chemicals responsible for natural herbicides can often be isolated and refined for commercial use. For example, scientists were able to extract an herbicidal chemical called catechin from the roots of spotted knapweed, an invasive weed found in the western United States. This chemical can be synthesized on a larger scale and applied to a number of other invasive plants. Many natural herbicides are selective, which means that their chemicals only kill specific plants, not everything they touch.

Other natural herbicides are used primarily to control weed growth in commercial turf, such as golf courses and installed lawns. These natural herbicides are considered pre-emergent, which means that they destroy other plants at the germination stage, before the plant can establish roots. One such natural herbicide is corn gluten meal. Corn gluten meal was originally developed as a medium for growing fungus, but researchers discovered that it also inhibits the germination of other plants, especially weeds and grasses.


Danger of Pesticides for Humans and Animals

The biggest danger from pesticide exposure is not from the immediate effects, but the harm that comes long after exposure or from repeated, low-dose exposure. Of the 26 most widely used pesticides in the U.S., 12 are classified by the EPA as carcinogens. Americans use approximately 380 million pounds of pesticides per year. (U.S. EPA. 1998. Office of Pesticide Programs, list of chemicals evaluated for carcinogenic potential).

Recent data collected by the EPA reports that in the U.S. approximately 5 billion pounds of active pesticide ingredients are applied annually. These tremendous amounts of poisons entering our environment and our bodies, create great concern among many of us.

A recent University of Washington (2002) study found that 109 out of 110 urban and suburban children had pesticides in their urine samples.

Pets and wildlife are also vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides and herbicides. Since pesticides are designed to kill, it is no wonder that beneficial insects are decimated by pesticide use. It makes sense to avoid harmful pesticides in order to preserve the health of beneficial insect populations which control pests naturally.

Food grown on certified organic farms contains significantly less pesticide residue than food grown with synthetic pesticides. That seems obvious, but the evidence for this fact has only been available since 2002, according to Sandra Steingraber, PhD. Research has shown that children fed organic food have lower residues of certain pesticides in their bodies than children fed conventionally grown food.


This site has a great list of websites on pesticides, organic foods and farming, natural lawn care, soil testing etc.

Research of Natural Pesticides from Plants

Natural compounds have increasingly become the focus in the discovery of pesticides.

Tens of thousands of secondary products of plants have been identified and there are estimates that hundreds of thousands of these compounds exist.

There is growing evidence that most of these compounds are involved in the interaction of plants with other species-primarily the defense of the plant from plant pests. Thus, these secondary compounds represent a large reservoir of chemical structures with biological activity. This resource is largely untapped for use as pesticides.

This review will provide an overview of those compounds from plants that have been utilized for pest control, examples of some compounds with pesticidal potential, and a discussion of considerations in development of natural plant compounds for pesticidal use.

Stephen O. Duke



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