“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I learn more about God
From weeds than from roses;
Through the smallest chink of hope
In the absolute of concrete….”
~Phillip Pulfrey, “Weeds,”
“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows”. ~Doug Larson
When I feel blue, disconnected or lost I like going on short trips. Sometimes I don’t need to go farther than the sidewalk outside my townhouse or the parking lot outside my workplace to see the immense will of life sprouting through cracks and unsuspected places…weeds!
Botanically speaking, weeds don’t exist: they are just plants. For many gardeners, horticulturists and farmers, weeds are unwanted plants that grow (sometimes invasively) in all kind of places…weeds are the reason why herbicides exist, and they can drive many growers crazy.
But weeds are also colonizers and helpers: they are the first to come (and many times also the last to go) when soils have been misused, abused and disturbed. They break the soil with their roots, helping with nutrient intake and aeration; they spread their roots helping to prevent soil erosion; they change the Ph and nutrient balance of the soil both while living and when they die and become green manure and they act as soil protective layers as cover crops when soil is abandoned.
But many weeds, as it turns out, are also edible and have plenty of medicinal uses…their stubbornness and love for life teach us about true resilience and strength, patience and humility: they may not be showy; they may grow in corners and sometimes may look lonely. But if I had to choose to be another species, I would choose being a weed.
Some time ago, when I was looking for land and support to start a community garden, a co-worker asked me how growing a bunch of lettuces in a city plot could fight food insecurity…we started talking and I shared how she was half right: growing lettuces (or any other annual plant) may not be enough to feed people when things go really wrong, such as losing a job, a downturn in the economy, food prices go up, a huge natural disaster or when the climate changes so badly than all we know doesn’t follow a pattern anymore…
But growing your own food does much more than that: it builds resilience and creates food sovereignty…the lessons we learn from the many trial and errors, experiments and mistakes teach us things that will come handy whenever (or if) those bad times do come. In the meantime, we not only learn, but enjoy healthy, local, nutritious, organic and sustainable food we chose to it, prepare and preserve.
And the lessons we learn, survive beyond us: they stay with our children and our friends’ children, and for those like me (who like to share and “teach”), they may survive in other people’s experimentations and joys.
But annuals and biennials are not all we have and they can be all but “sustainable”: unless we become serious about saving seeds, annuals and biennials are weak plants that require constant care and a somewhat controlled environment.
Some time ago, when I started my second PDC with Delvin Solkinson from Gaia Craft, he showed us some plants from his neighbourhood and mentioned how real food security came not from cultivated plants (such as annuals and biennials) but from perennial, local plants that indigenous peoples have always used as food…
Every year, I set to explore new “experiments” and horizons and this year, I want to see what’s under my feet, right in front of my eyes and on the top of my head: three weeks ago I started an awesome course of plant identification and every week we go on long trips looking for trees, shrubs, perennial plants and weeds with long and interesting Latin names (we are also learning taxonomy). The course has a final project that involves collecting, pressing and presenting 12 plants under a “theme”…
And these are the wonders I selected, I call them the “Incredible Edibles”:
- Dandelion (Taraxacum offininale)
- Red (Trifolium pretense) and white (Trifolium repens) clover
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
- Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)
- Knotweeds: (Fallopia japonica (Polygonum cuspidatum)(Japanese knotweek) and (Fallopia sachalinensis (Polygonum sachalinense) (Giant knotweed))
- Dock (curled) (Rumex crispus)
- Mallow (Malva neglecta)
- Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata (Montia perfoliata))
- Plantain (Plantago major(Broad-leaved plantain) and Plantago laceolata (Narrow-leaved plantain)
- Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Thistles: (Cirsum arvense(Canada thistle)) and (Cirsium vulgare (Bull thistle))
To supplement my experiments, I’m armed with three incredible books every permaculturist must have:
- The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair (a true jewel!)
- Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar
- Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples by Nancy Turner
- Plants of the pacific Northwest Coast by Andy McKInnon
- Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Andy McKinnon
- The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (can I marry him?)
I hope to have the time to post my experiments (and their results) here this year…for now, my first steps include foraging for three purposes: collecting and pressing for taxonomy/display; collecting for planting (when possible, still need o see the face and reaction of my townhouse landscapers when they see my “weeds”) and collecting for food experimentation…
Many times we look for things we think we need (food, friendship, purpose, love) in the wrong places: we may travel long distances, pay high prices or long for the greener pastures at the other side of the fence…but most of the things we truly need are to be found (sometimes early, sometime late in life) right under our feet or over our heads: they have always been there as humble but stubborn samples of true resilience and love: the love and strength only weeds display…
May your journey home be full of wonderful “weeds”
Katrina Blair website: http://www.turtlelakerefuge.org/wildfoodhunt
Sandor Katz website: http://www.wildfermentation.com/
Chickweed pesto: https://tomilkandhoney.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/pesto-in-december/
Fermented Docks: http://wildfoodplants.com/2007/03/fermented-curly-dock-greens/
Mallow and thistle salads: http://joanhall.hubpages.com/hub/malva
Stinging Nettle Pesto: http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/recipes/detail/stinging-nettle-pesto
Stinging Nettle Soup: http://localfoods.about.com/od/spring/r/NettleSoup.htm
Sweet Chili Thistles: http://www.countrylovers.co.uk/wildfoodjj/hothistl.htm