Bio Remediation: Sunflowers and Kale

I’ve been looking into home ownership lately and it led me to think a lot about the idea of planting close to whatever house I end up buying. I don’t imagine I am going to be able to afford a massive plot of land to call my own right now after all, so space is going to be at a premium.


This led me to think about all of the things people have done over the year that contaminated their lawns. Lead paint alone is enough to have the ground around almost any home built before the 70s contaminated. I can and probably will do testing for the potential problem toxins, but I am doing the research now on how to eliminate them from my soil. You get to reap the benefits of that research.

Even if the plant happens to be edible, don’t go eating anything off of this list until your soil tests at safe levels. Dispose of any plant used in this manner at a facility capable of handling toxic substances and make sure they are aware of what these plants have been drawing out of the soil for you.

The Plants

Let’s start off with Brassicas. That’s the family of plants that give us cabbage, collards, mustard, and kale among others. This workhorse vegetable gets to also serve as a powerful cleanup tool. They love yanking up lead into themselves, so can have a powerful effect on your yard.

Next, we have Blue Tongue and Hydrangea are both known to pull aluminum from the soil. As added bonus’, the former can be grown after cleanup for a tongue-staining sweet berry and the latter is a great indicator of PH levels in your soil.

If you are looking at the long term, Mulberry trees are known to encourage the bacteria that break down PCBs. That’s no assurance that those bacteria are there to start with, but if they are, it will help them to thrive.

From here, we start seeing a few plants known to remove multiple problems. Take for example the Willow. These trees are beautiful, but they also rip cadmium, copper, and zinc out of the soil. Not too shabby. Collect the foliage for a few years, then pull the plant out and replace it with a new one. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If you happen to be dealing with a bit of property that happens to be marshy or entirely water-covered, you have two very good options. First, Water Hyacinth can draw in cadmium, cesium, chromium, mercury, lead, strontium-90, zinc, uranium, and even many pesticides. The other is Water Hyssop, which pulls in cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. That said, be aware that the Water Hyacinth is on the invasive list in some areas.

Power of the Sun(flower)

And that brings us to the little powerhouse of the Sunflower. These are known to suck up lead like it is going out of style and devour other problems such as arsenic, chromium, copper, manganese, and zinc. They have even provably cleaned up strontium-90 and uranium contamination! That’s a pretty potent cleaning crew. Even better, they can be grown easily by almost anyone with minimal care or fuss. You can buy seeds for very little and flood your yard with thousands of colorful sunflowers for a few years, then walk away with nearly clean soil. Remember, not all sunflowers are those giant seed varieties, so don’t think you’ll have to wade through a forest for a few years either.


These are just some of the most noteworthy plants for cleaning up a contaminated lawn. If you have an older house or live downhill from one, I would suggest you take the time to get a soil test done and see what you might want to start cleaning up. If you have something on the list of potential toxins, maybe you can start cleaning it up fairly easily right away for a very small investment.

So I am curious to hear if any of my readers have ever tried this? If not, have you considered the possibility of bioremediation?

One thought on “Bio Remediation: Sunflowers and Kale

  1. mel

    hi, thanks for the info. i am looking to start an organic garden near big agro operation … i’m dealing with overspray and runoff from the neighbor … plus potential nastiness from the previous property owner’s. I like the sunflower idea … i can totally get those going this spring


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