How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Weeds (well most of them anyways)

I won’t lie, while our front yard has finally got to a point where it is looking pretty nice, the back right now is still quite a nightmare, looking more like an overgrown jungle rather than a bountiful garden.  While perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing as it has ever been, I am not feeling too worried about it.  Building the front yard up as an attractive and functional permaculture garden was our big focus for this spring, and now that that is mostly done we can begin work on the building the backyards system.

While to the untrained eye the backyard may appear to mostly be a mess of unruly and untamed weeds at present, this is actually not as bad as it seems.  In fact, there is much I have been able to harvest from that jungle and been relatively happy to just let grow, for now, as a cover crop.

Mother Jones has a great article today about appreciating and utilizing plants that all too often are considered weeds.  One of the plants the mention several times through the piece is one of the ones making up a huge amount of the backyard at present: Lamb’s quarters.  Lamb’s quarters (which is not too distantly related to quinoa) is regarded as a nuisance weed to many folks, but we have happily let it seed throughout our yard and have made good use of it this spring as an easy greens crop.  With a flavor and quality not unlike spinach and (according to the article) lots of nutrients to boot, this is a weed I can honestly say I love. This year I’ve ate it in salads, cooked with eggs or pasta, and even, with some added oregano and mustard greens, made a pesto with it.

Lamb’s quarters are hardly alone though.  I’ve become a huge fan of wild alliums (aka wild onions/garlic), chickweek, and even things like the young shoots to smilax.  One of my favorite websites of late is the fantastic Eat the Weeds, which covers a wide diversity of edible plants that can be foraged for or found growing right in one’s own yard.  Whereas I previously would go into the woods just to forage for wild mushrooms, I have now begun to look for and work on identifying a wide variety of other edible or medicinal plants that are around.

In addition to what might be true wild weeds that I’ve come to love, I also find a lot of volunteer crops throughout the yard that have reseeded again and again from previous planted vegetables. In the yard right now I have volunteer growing mustards, arugula, turnip greens, shiso, cherry tomtatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, Chinese lanterns, nasturtiums, fennel and (my favorite) maypops (which in actuality started off as weeds, but we’ve continued to encourage to grow for so long we consider them an active crop now).

Admittedly there are a few things growing that I really wish would go away (or in the very least be more manageable).  In particular right now is a strain of artemisia (not sure the exact variety) that is conquering large swaths of ground.  The artemisia genus of plants includes many beneficial herbs and medicinals, like mugwort and wormwood, and if we could get ours to stop choking out other plants I’d be happy to keep some growing.  There are also tons of morning glories and periwinkles, which again, in controlled means, would make for nice ornamentals, but left to their own devices will quite literally strangle other things we want.  Finally, there is god-damned Bermuda grass, which is useless (if somebody can give me a use for it I’d be real happy).

All and all the point of this writing though is to say that what we think of as a weed is a pretty subjective matter.  In general it is a plant that we first deem as being where we do not want it, and secondly (and perhaps more severely) determine as being useless.  If we can adjust both of these things many “weeds” become not so.  In the process we open up opportunities to experience new food stuffs and to enjoy fascinating new plants.  To me that is a great great thing.

The flowering of a wild allium.  While the bulbs of these onion relatives may be small, they pack a delicious potency that I welcome in many of my culinary adventures.

The flowering of a wild allium. While the bulbs of these onion relatives may be small, they pack a delicious potency that I welcome in many of my culinary adventures.

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~ by Nathaniel on May 29, 2013.

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