Crops Com­peti­tor in gar­dens, lawns and

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Pasture Weed Watch - Why is it a weed? Where is it found? Is it toxic? Al­ter­na­tive uses? MIL­TON MUNRO

Hen­bit is a bit of a ubiq­ui­tous weed that’s in ev­ery gar­den and doesn’t of­ten cause a lot of trou­ble. The only time it has given me grief was when we had it in the ce­real crops I used to look af­ter in South Can­ter­bury/north Otago.

This lawn, gar­den and crop­ping weed is found all over New Zealand, but it’s orig­i­nally na­tive to Europe, Asia and North Africa. Hen­bit is a mem­ber of the Lami­a­cae fam­ily of plants, oth­er­wise known as the mint fam­ily. The mint fam­ily con­tains many no­table plants such as mint (you don’t say!), basil, oregano, thyme, laven­der and rose­mary. One thing most mem­bers of the mint fam­ily share is that they are edi­ble and hen­bit is too. The stem, leaves and flow­ers are all edi­ble and ap­par­ently have a slightly sweet and pep­pery taste (once mine grows a lit­tle more I’ll give it a whirl and re­port back).

The name hen­bit did in­trigue me and with a lit­tle re­search I found out it is named such be­cause hens like to eat it. Hen­bit is some­times known as hen­bit dead­net­tle, and it’s also of­ten con­fused with an­other weed called red dead­net­tle. The ‘dead­net­tle’ ref­er­ence comes from the fact it looks sim­i­lar to a net­tle but doesn’t have the sting.

Iden­ti­fy­ing hen­bit is pretty easy. It is a late au­tumn to early win­ter-ger­mi­nat­ing an­nual. Like most mem­bers of the mint fam­ily, it has a four-sided square-ish stem which can be green to pur­ple in colour and is some­times cov­ered in fine hairs. The leaves grow along the stem in op­po­site pairs. At the base of the stem the leaves have a short stalk but this dis­ap­pears as you go up the stem, with the up­per leaves at­tached di­rectly to the stem. That’s the rea­son for its Latin name ‘am­plex­i­caule’ which means to clasp or en­cir­cle. The leaves are heart-shaped with deeply re­cessed veins, look­ing a bit like an un-ironed shirt.

Hen­bit pro­duces its pretty pur­ple flow­ers early in the spring. The flow­ers look al­most orchid-like with white faces and pink spots.

It’s a pro­lific seeder, with each plant ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing over 2000 seeds. If that wasn’t enough, it can also spread by pro­duc­ing roots from the bot­tom of the stems that touch the ground.


Con­trol­ling hen­bit can be pretty sim­ple but it re­ally de­pends on where it is. In gar­dens it’s easy enough to sim­ply pull it out. Just re­mem­ber to get to it be­fore flow­er­ing or it may have a chance to drop some seed.

In lawns it can be con­trolled through reg­u­larly mow­ing and kept out by main­tain­ing a good dense vig­or­ous turf.

In other sit­u­a­tions it can be sprayed out us­ing prod­ucts like Dicamba and 2,4D, but th­ese are only ef­fec­tive when the plant is at its small growth stages. Get to it early if you want to get rid of it.

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