I finished my walk this morning by picking a sprig of chocolate mint to flavor my coffee. I dehydrate it to use during the winter months, but fresh is just so much better.
While out walking I got to thinking about weeds, mainly because they are growing rampantly after the 2 inches of rain we got over the weekend. Rather than the label “weeds” I like to think of them as “wildings”. We call the prettier ones wildflowers: dandelions, columbine, red and white clover, among others, but the ones that are mainly foliage or are huge, and are difficult to remove are labeled disparagingly as weeds.
Of course, I name some of them weeds as well. Specifically, the ones I do not like. Poison ivy, wild parsnip, nettles and burdock come to mind quickly. I don’t think many people will wonder why poison ivy is a weed in my book. Most people react to it and I have had the rash spring up when I haven’t even noticed any of the plants where I walk. Probably some innocent rabbit hopped through a patch, then brushed against my lawn grass. Who knows?
Two years ago, I noticed the rosette of a young wild parsnip plant and decided to dig some of the roots for our supper, thus accomplishing a two-fold purpose: feed my family and keep the plant from maturing to spread even more. Wild parsnips originated in the family garden plot, having gone to seed and the seeds “escaping” into the wild. They have since become a noxious weed, sending people to the medicine cabinet for calamine and many times to the doctor for a course of steroids to knock the rash out. I have had the reaction to the mature plant, brushing against it on the way to swim in a creek. I was left with a scar that didn’t go away for over 6 months.
I set the roots to soak in my kitchen sink and within an hour the smell of them reached me in the living room and left me nauseous. My husband, with his normally very keen sense of smell couldn’t detect anything at all unusual. I decided to throw the parsnips out, which was a good thing as the next morning, my hands and wrists were covered in blisters.
My exposure was only to the roots, as I wore long sleeves and gloves while digging them. The gloves and shirt went right into the wash; I wasn’t taking any chances that I would wear them again and expose myself to the offending oils. Such a severe reaction to the roots made me realize that I am probably allergic to parsnip roots, so I am very thankful that their rank odor made me throw away the hard-won food. At least I kept that plant from spreading!
Nettles and burdock are well-known to herbalists for their medicinal qualities and both can be eaten as well. I tried nettles once – cooked to remove the “itchiness” – and ended up feeling like most of my digestive system was itchy and on fire. I have never cooked burdock root and don’t know if I ever will. The reason it is on my list of weeds is because of the burs it produces in the fall. The cats come in with knots in their hair that mostly have to be cut out. One of our outside cats had an abscess near his tail and the vet thinks that it originated with a bur that the cat was trying to get out on his own. Fortunately, burdock is rather easy to dig in its first year of growth.
The wildings are the plants that please me. Creeping Charlie for its magnificent scent when I walk on it and because the bees love its tiny orchid-like flowers. Common plantain for childhood memories of serving tea parties with the leaves as the plates and the seeds as the food. As an adult, I appreciate plantain for its ability to take the sting out of most skin rashes and bug bites. Wild roses for the beauty and scent of the flowers and the rose hips that follow. Not only pretty, but the hips are a very good source of Vitamin C. Jewelweed is lovely, especially in the morning when the leaves hold pearls of mist or raindrops and the sun shines on them. But also because it is a medicinal. I use it frequently along with plantain in salves for skin conditions.
There are many others – too many to list in one blog post – but I hope that this has inspired you to see the universe of your lawn and garden with different eyes. Take pictures so you can go online and search for the names of plants you are unfamiliar with. But most of all, enjoy!