The Real-Life Useful Plants Behind the Weeds in Animal Crossing New Horizons
by Kate McGowan, Educator
If you’re somehow not familiar with the cultural phenomenon that is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the premise is simple: your character is brought to an uninhabited island and can transform it into an island paradise of your choosing in real-time. The island itself is filled with natural resources you can utilize, including everything from cartoon versions of real-world insects, to fruit trees, to even what the game, unfortunately, labels “clumps of weeds.”
The weeds, of course, caught my attention early on. I had been instructed by Tom Nook (a talking Tanuki) to look around the island for food. While wandering around the island looking for pear trees, I noticed that many of the “weeds” were not only plants I recognized from my own yard—some of them were even edible! (Well, if not for me, then at least for some of the Animal residents on my island) While you can use the weed clumps to craft certain items, you are encouraged by the game to regularly rid your island of these wild plants to boost its rating, which in turn unlocks certain features. I resisted at first, but even I have bowed to the demands of the lawncare industrial complex, despite my ideological objection to the term “weed.”
My ACNH character in the spring weeds. (Nintendo Via Accokeek Foundation)
Fall weeds of ACNH (Nintendo)
Summertime weeds (Nintendo)
Weeds have been a feature of Animal Crossing since the original 2002 game, but this is the first time they have been so realistic, and the first time the game has featured different weeds for each season. June 1st marked the first day of summer in-game for Northern Hemisphere players, but thanks to the careful sleuthing of some redditors, and the game trailer from Nintendo, we’ve known since before release what the weeds for the rest of the year will look like. Here are a few of the in-game “weeds” you might catch around the park.
Purple Dead Nettle (Gavin Schaefer (Uxud) / CC BY-SA )
You might have also heard of this as “red deadnettle” or “purple archangel,” but even if you don’t know the name for it, you’ve probably encountered it growing in dense purple-y carpets in early spring. Although it is native to Eurasia, purple dead-nettle can be found growing all over North America, particularly in disturbed soil. The common name comes from its resemblance to stinging nettle, though it’s actually a member of the mint family. If you need a reason to not pull it up from your yard, it’s edible for humans and animals, a good early nectar source for bees, and is favored by herbalists for its antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and allergy-fighting properties.
White Clover (Flickr)
Also native to Europe, white clover was introduced to the Americas by European colonists as a forage crop for livestock, and can now be easily found in most lawns and grassy areas. If you don’t have a flock of sheep maintaining your yard, wildlife such as deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and several bird species have been known to feed on parts of the plant. The small white flowers are also popular with pollinators, and, like all members of the pea family, clover does an excellent job of fixing nitrogen into the soil.
Fish Mint (Wikimedia Commons)
Fish Mint is native to southeast Asia, Korea, and Japan, where it is commonly found growing in wet soil. Although it is less commonly found in the US than the other foreign plants on this list, where it is planted, it can quickly spread by putting off underground shoots like the more common invasive oriental bittersweet. In eastern cultures, Fish Mint is considered a delicacy, where it is commonly used as a leaf vegetable, in teas, sauces, and chutneys, and in Chinese traditional medicine.
Green Foxtail (Rasbak / CC BY-SA)
Also known as green bristlegrass and wild foxtail millet, and likely a cousin of cultivated Foxtail Millet, Green Foxtail is originally from Eurasia and is widespread in grassy areas of North America. Green foxtail does especially well in dry areas and well-drained soil. The cultivated cousin of this, Foxtail Millet, is one of the most cultivated millet varieties in the world and has been grown in parts of Asia since at least 8700 BC.
Persian Speedwell (Strobilomyces / CC BY-SA )
This plant, also known as Birdeye Speedwell or Common Field-speedwell, is native to Eurasia and grows wild as a common introduced species in Japan, China, Australia, and North America, especially in wet areas. Persian Speedwell is not itself edible for humans but is closely related to many other plants in the genus Veronica that are. Several Veronica species, including Persian Speedwell, have been shown to have medicinal benefits,