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Eat Your Weedies

 Edible or not, weeds have a complex relationship with humans.


Edible or not, weeds have a complex relationship with humans.

Written By Teresa Howell |

I’ve been spending the summer in Montana, riding the grubline with various relatives. The cooking is always good at my sister Connie’s, and I’ve been staying there most of the time. I like to help out if it isn’t too much trouble, so one afternoon, I volunteered to make a salad.

We were out of lettuce, and I mentioned a trip to the grocery store.

“Let’s weed the flowerbed first,” Connie said.

I was both puzzled and hungry, but I figured if it would get us any closer to supper, I’d do some weeding. To my surprise, Connie put some of the weeds in a colander. We washed them up, and served them with a garlic vinaigrette.

Connie says you can eat anything with enough garlic; she’s right.

The “weeds” turned out to be lamb’s quarter and purslane. Both are found throughout the West, although lamb’s quarter is quite a bit more common.

Lamb’s quarter can grow to two feet tall, and has triangular, somewhat toothed leaves. You will know it by the dusting of white, sometimes pinkish, frost on the topmost leaves. If you’ve done much hand-weeding, you’ve pulled lots of it. If the weeds were in your vegetable garden, you probably threw some of the best nutrition on the compost pile. Lamb’s quarter is high in vitamins A and C, and contains traces of many other nutrients, including omega 3.

Lamb’s quarter has a somewhat wild taste, which can be masked with some of that garlic vinaigrette. Like most greens, the younger, the better tasting.

Purslane grows low, with long tendrils meeting at a central root. The dark green oval leaves are succulent. It is a member of the portulacacaea family, related to the moss rose. The taste is slightly salty and sour. It’s used quite widely in the Mideast and many other countries. The crunch is welcome in salads, but the structure holds up in stir-fries and soups as well. It is another nutrition powerhouse.

Edible or not, weeds have a complex relationship with humans. They thrive despite our best efforts to eradicate them. Wherever humans are, there are weeds. It’s a fairly safe bet that wherever humans are not, weeds are not either.

Weeds don’t easily gain a foothold in a healthy, undisturbed habitat. Established native plants can usually out-compete them. But once native plants are removed and the soil is disturbed, opportunistic weeds grow far more aggressively than the plants we humans tend.

Maybe we can use some sort of judo on weeds, and use their own strength against them. Perhaps instead of pulling them, we should cultivate them. We could grow creeping Jenny on trellises, instead of morning glories. We could plant purple thistles everywhere, and create a market for floral arrangements that include them.

At the very least, we could be more relaxed about edible weed, and if not encouraging them exactly, be less adamant about discouraging them. I’ve heard it said that vinegar is an excellent organic herbicide. I am sure it would be most effective combined with a good grade of olive oil, some garlic, and a few of your favorite herbs.

When Teresa Howell is not thinking of ways to get out of actual work, she teaches English at Great Basin College.