In the Weeds with the HOA (Edible Weeds links)
Have I mentioned lately that I "mow" our back yard with a weed whacker? As you may know from a previous post...one of the first posts ever on this blog, in fact, we can't run the sprinklers in the back because the combination of gentle decline and clay soil resulted in our unintentionally and continually flooding our neighbors garden, killing the plants that line the shared fence border. Not the best scenario for good neighborliness. It's unpleasant when the only time you ever speak to the people who live adjacent to you is when you explain how sorry you are you flooded their garden. Again. This cloud's silver lining was a beauty of a bright side, though, because it was directly responsible for us finally creating the beloved raised beds. We called our solution "project No Grass", and we get great gardening, a whole lot of ever-growing knowledge, and fun out of it.
Of course, pessimistic as it may sound, it's fair enough to flip the cliche and state that every silver lining has a cloud, too, and for Project No Grass, it's weeds. Because those cursed, noxious, menacing-looking plant-beings flourish with or without water. It's ridiculous to get the lawnmower out for them, but I have to do something, or the busybody with too much time on her hands and too few thoughts in her head will come around squinting, clipboard in hand, to scrutinize whether our grass blades are all even, and to evaluate the state of THOSE WEEDS! She will inch slowly along the street from the safety of her air-conditioned car. She doesn't get out. We don't know her, and we don't know where she lives, and it's probably better that way. I know, tough talk...I'd NEVER act on even a threat to talk back, so I don't know why I bother suggesting as much. She, on the other hand, will not be intimidated, even if she does administer her wrist slaps via a generic form letter and completes her evaluations behind tinted windows. She is not above calling you out on keeping your Christmas wreath hanging a day past what some amorphous authority considers the acceptable date (apparently, it's January 8th), or for having an oil spill on your driveway where your car just created it 30 minutes prior. But oh well. It takes all types.
Which brings me back to my point. It does take all types, and even weeds deserve a place along the ladder of life. If only we could make them less plaguing, and more palatable. Literally. And actually...
We can. Last year, I deplored our summer weed wars on Facebook, joking that if only I could eat them, I'd really be a model of sustainability. I could feed the world, at least figuratively, with our weeds. Free food! Behind our house! All hours! Unsurprisingly, I had immediate comments that yes, I actually can eat the weeds...as long as I'm careful to make sure they're not the poisonous ones. So, this year, once again faced with the weed monsters, I'm trying to learn more about which those are, and identify their edible counterparts.
Eating weeds isn't really all that shocking (or at all), when we stop to think about it. Dandelions, violets, alfalfa and red clover...these are all acceptably considered food, though we may not put them on the weekly menu plan. Other, weedier weeds are never on the radar, however, at least not for me, but maybe they should be. Apparently, many of these "wild greens" are high in vitamins and minerals, and contain healthful elements you won't find in a conventional grocery store. Plus, they're fresh as can be.
Colorado Public Radio did a segment featuring Marie Moore, a botanist in Paradox who has been eating weeds, or "wild greens", since she was a young girl of four or five. I thought it was a funny coincidence when I came across it, because one of the people who attested that we can eat our weeds is Dan, whose blog about worms somehow added an extra punch of validity to the statement for me, and who happens to share the same last name. Moore expounds on some of her favorites, including purslane, which she describes as "very calming". A succulent (a bonus for its appeal right there), purslane is the only known plant as of the broadcast that is high in omega-3s. Moore says that not only are the leaves excellent in salads, tasting like a mix of lettuce and spinach, you can pickle the stems.
Other weeds mentioned in the segment include salsify, which supposedly can taste a little "like oysters", lambsquarters, superb steamed, and malva neglecta, a mallow (which makes it sound like it should be candy), and very common. The entire plant is edible, and the young pods taste somewhat like okra. In fact, it's related to okra.
As luck would have it, I don't think our back yard actually hosts anything but the nasty, best-to-be avoided weeds, perhaps with the exception of prickly lettuce ( Lactuca serriola), which has spiny, unappealing stems with progressively smaller leaves. It is closely related to lettuce, however, so much so they can cross-pollinate. It may be worth a little research.
Speaking of research, of course that's what's needed before we go sit in our back yard with a fork. Here are a couple of resources to start with: Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide; The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants; Nature's Garden; Wild in the Kitchen: Recipes for Wild Fruits, Weeds, and Seeds.
I'm not sure how much I'll honestly explore the potential of weeds this year, but I must say, I am starting to feel a little more at peace with them. What determines whether a plant is a weed and not just a plant, anyway? Seriously, I'm sure there is a very sensible scientific explanation as to the classifying, I am just ignorant of it. At least I can admit that sometimes weeds are not sooo terrible. They can even be pretty. And there have got to be a whole lot of life lessons for us to take from something that thrives in all circumstances, no matter what.