The Weedy Garden
“A weed is but an unloved flower.” – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
What is a weed but a plant in the wrong place? Where the tomatoes should be, there are dandelions one might say, or where the cucumbers were doing just fine, you find many a plantain. Perhaps the flower bed that you so lovingly labored for is full of chickweed or wood sorrel. Well, don’t panic – make a picnic of these unloved little flowers!
I put weeds into two categories. The Yes-I’ll-Allow-You-To-Live kind and the Kill-It-While-You-Can variety. The Kill-It-While-You-Can variety includes such things like Amur honeysuckle, lesser celandine and garlic mustard. All of which can absolutely ruin an ecosystem from their mere presence. But the topic of this article will be on the other category, the Yes-I’ll-Allow-You-To-Live kind, because I see these weeds as more of an opportunity in disguise than a real nuisance.
If you catch me out in the garden at the Highfield Discovery Garden, you’ll probably find me pulling weeds. I feel like that is 60% of what I do. (The other 40 % is probably watering, in case you were wondering.) But pulling weeds can really cause you to work up an appetite! So when I get hungry, I start eating the weeds.
Now, before you just go off and start shoving handfuls of green stuff in your mouth, let me give you a little PSA.
Do not, under any circumstances, eat anything you cannot 100% positively identify or is from a place you suspect has been sprayed with chemicals. It could lead to serious problems.
OK, now that that is done with, let’s get eating, shall we?
Ah, the dandelion. First brought to the New World by early settlers because of its manifold medicinal and culinary applications. Now it’s the plague of every lawn owner. How can we go from revering this plant to hating it so quickly? I purpose, we forgot we could eat it.
Dandelions are like a bright, cheery sore thumb to everyone who owns a lawn mower. But they are absolutely wonderful in so many ways. Firstly, they are some of the first flowers up providing early pollen and nectar to bees and other pollinators. Second, the early leaves make wonderful eating in salads and in wilted green dishes. The roots can also be ground up and dried to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. And don’t even get me started on the flowers!
You can batter and fry the flower heads like fritters, make tea out of them or ferment them into wine that tastes just like sunshine in a bottle! You can turn them into jellies and garnish salads with them. The possibilities are endless! And, of course, save a few for blowing on for wishes and creating next year’s crop.
Plantain, or as you may know it as Playground Plant, or Spaniard’s Hoof Prints, is that ubiquitous plant popping up in every available crack in the blacktop. This plant is edible, but its real usefulness lies elsewhere. It is like nature’s Band-Aid. With large leaves that contain a mild antiseptic, simply crush them up the next time you get a boo-boo while out and about, and it will save you the trip inside.
Plantain also has a narrow-leaved cousin called … well … narrow-leaved plantain. This plant produces a long seed stalk that gives it its other name Rocket Plant. This plant is a child’s toy in the making. My brother and I used to shoot the heads at one another for hours growing up. Just pull the seed head’s stem as close as you can to the bottom giving you a good 5–6 inch “tail.” Wrap this tail around itself and quickly pull up, shooting off the seed head in the process. Voilà! Instant rocket!
Wood Sorrel & Chickweed
The last two plants I have grouped together because of the same reason. They both taste really good.
I love the taste of wood sorrel. It’s actually very lemony. It is a small plant with what I like to call “three-leaved clover” leaves and these tiny yellow flowers on them. They are excellent snacking and for me, it’s always a special joy to find them in my garden for their taste alone.
Chickweed is also a tasty treat, only there is much more of it than wood sorrel. It can take over a bed if you’re not careful, as it creeps along the ground with small, daisy-like flowers. But if you get enough of it, you can make a very nice salad, all in all. Perhaps add a dandelion head or two to garnish and you’re golden.
So yes, I know it’s not the tomatoes you had hoped for, or the cucumbers long shaded out or even the flower bed you had worked so hard for, but hey, it’s something right? So give a weed a try; at least you know you can grow those!
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens