To Weed Or Feed:

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, April 25, 2013

If April showers bring May flowers, what comes next?

Every gardener knows the answer to that – weeds!

Now that the garden is up and growing, weeding is a major part of my weekend routine, and just as routinely I find myself asking – why do we have weeds anyway?

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I feel certain that Adam and Eve would have posed the very same question had they stayed in the Garden of Eden awhile longer. Yes, weeds have been an issue since biblical times. Jesus brought up the topic in his parable of the wheat and the tares. In case you hadn't guessed it, tares are weeds – the same weeds that cause today's gardeners to tear their hair in frustration.

Over the centuries volumes have been published about gardening but very little has been written about weeding. True, weeding would make for some dull reading – step, bend, pull; step, bend, pull.

The Weeder's Digest, in other words, would probably not make the bestseller list.

Over the years as a part time gardener and full time weeder, I have come to the conclusion that we are doing things backwards. It would make more sense to pull up the vegetables and eat the weeds!

When we moved to Elam, in fact, I learned that eating weeds, or “wild food” as some euphemistically call it, is not unusual. One of my first encounters with that practice came one spring day when a neighbor asked if I wanted to look for something called “creases.” Not wishing to appear standoffish, I agreed.

Over the fields we went while my neighbor filled her basket with plants that looked something like dandelions on steroids.

“There's nothing like a good mess of creasy salad,” my friend enthused as we headed back to her house. “Mess,” in fact, was a good choice of words, but I kept my comments to myself.

“Creases are full of vitamins – iron, too,” my neighbor added.

Spring tonics aside, if I need to iron out any nutritional deficiency lingering from the winter months, creases would probably not be my choice. In today's world, weeds are just not something most of us want to put on the dinner table.

During the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s, the idea of eating weeds experienced new popularity with Euell Gibbons' book Stalking the Wild Asparagus.

Basically the idea is a good one. A gardener's life would certainly be simpler with choices like dandelion salad or creamed chickweed on the dinner table.

What would one serve with chickweed anyway? It wouldn't be chicken. One year I let the chickens in the garden to eat bugs and weeds. Nobody – bugs or chicken – touched the chickweed.

Nevertheless, “wild food” continues to be a topic of interest. One web site I checked out recently suggested eating “natural plants” as a way of getting in touch with nature – a tangible way of getting back to one's roots, I suppose.

This “natural plant” web sit also offered recipes for “Dandelion Buds in Vinegar” and “Hoary Nettle Lasagna.” I'm sorry, but dandelion buds just don't appeal to my taste buds, and while I'm fairly sure I've never encountered a “hoary nettle,” I'm positive I don't want to do it in my lasagna.

To be honest, promoting weeds with strange sounding names could be a problem.

To modern diners, names like Pigweed and Horsetail don't inspire culinary confidence, not does Toadflax, which brings to mind another “wild food” – St. John's Wort. Bindweed sounds a bit harsh for modern palates (not to mention other parts of the anatomy), and Knotgrass raises some unanswered questions (if it's not grass, what is it?).

What it all boils down to (and in the case of weeds that isn't much) is a matter of taste.

So how do you get people to eat weeds?

My answer to that would be: mostly by accident.

One spring day a few years ago my spouse was making his special spaghetti sauce for Sunday dinner and decided to include fresh herbs from the garden. Walking in the kitchen with a handful of greenery, he commented, “This oregano doesn't smell like oregano.”

“Where did you get it?” I asked. He pointed to a large wooden planter beside the garage.

“There was a lot of it, and it was green,” he commented.

It was green all right, but it wasn't oregano. I tastefully suggested he try something else – like the little glass jar in the cabinet labeled “oregano.”

When all is said and done, the idea of eating “wild food” is food for thought but that's about as far as it goes in my opinion.

Call me traditional if you like, but a weed by any other name is still a weed – no ifs, ands, or rose hips!