Part II – On The Pesky Matter of Illegal Aliens.

Its been tough getting around to the weeds this time of year. The moment I step outside, I feel the heat heavy with moisture as though anointing and wrapping me up to send me into a state of torpor. Mostly, it succeeds. Its so much easier to simply give up and find solace in a cool drink and hot book. But the gardener in me is stubborn and cannot succumb to such temptation. At least not all the time. Snatching time in the transiently shady areas I do a bit at a time. This works somewhat as by the time the sun has made its quotidian circuit, a goodly portion of the garden has been weeded. It leaves me feeling smug and accomplished. Until I make the mistake of visiting gardens tended by obsessively compulsive friends. My own efforts look distinctly shabby.

To top it all, I’ve spied an army of Japanese beetles in the front perennial beds. War has been declared. Armed with a tub of soap solution, the enemy is picked off and tossed into it. I accept that each day is a battle to be won.

Back to the weeds. The reason weeds are so much more resilient and hardy is that the seeds of many species can survive for an incredibly long time (think decades) in the soil. When conditions are favorable, the seeds sprout. In addition, each weed plant produces hundreds of seeds. You do the math.
I did promise to impart some choice nuggets of wisdom and I realize that might well be a matter of opinion. So here goes.

The tip I give out most often and one that is universally liked is the simplest method for getting rid of weeds that show up in areas with flagstones, bricks or gravel. Its hard to tackle weeds in the spaces between. All too often, the chemical control is used. Instead, on a day when rain is not forecast, pour boiling hot water on the weeds. It will do the trick. Thats it. I’ve been doing this quite effectively for years. Frequently, the water from boiling eggs or vegetables is taken outside right away and dumped on the brick walkway just to take care of any weed contemplating a visit.

This next one is a preventative measure – Within a flower or vegetable bed, once the plants have been planted, cover the soil with a good four inches of newspaper. Conceal the newsprint with a layer of dark wood bark mulch. Please refrain from the red mulch as it not only looks like the landscaping in some industrial/commercial properties but it’ll draw the eye to itself rather than the plantings.
The newspaper will suppress weeds, retain moisture and eventually breakdown and integrate into the soil. Compost can also be used for the same purpose. I use newspaper in flower beds and compost in vegetable beds, lawn and other open spaces. The idea of recycling/re-purposing something is both boon and bonus.

In hot weather, weeding is best done in the cooler hours of the morning. This practice gives me enormous satisfaction as it keeps me motivated for the rest of the day. Weeding every other day keeps one on top of the problem and as a result the time required each day is considerably shortened. This is perhaps the strongest and most effective form of weed control. I cannot emphasize it enough. Research shows that being consistent and diligent with weeding, will, over time, reduce the number of viable seeds in the soil. So, fewer weeds and more time to enjoy the hammock and stack of books.

Finally, if you can’t get rid of them, eat them! Okay, maybe not all weeds are edible but many are. Combine young, blanched dandelion leaves, the smallest and most tender sorrel leaves in equal proportion. Dress lightly with lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Add roast chicken and you have a simple yet lovely meal. To blanch dandelions – upturn a flower pot over a whole dandelion plant in the ground. Without sunlight the leaves grow paler, longer and sweeter. In a bit over a week, the whole head of the plant will bear such leaves. Pick, wash and dry thoroughly.
Another way to eat this plant is to take two blanched heads, washed and dried. Put in warm bowl. The bowl is warmed so fat does not congeal. Fry up thin strips of bacon till crisp. Add bacon and fat to dandelions. The warmth of the bowl and heat of the fat will wilt the leaves. Quickly deglaze pan with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and tip the hot liquid over the salad. Serve right away with good crusty bread.
A friend of mine used to make wine from young dandelion leaves. It was not half bad.

In Greece, a variety of early spring leaves like chard, sorrel, parsley, mallow, dandelion, nettle tops, poppy tops and rocket are thoroughly cleaned and then boiled in salted water for five minutes. All the water is drained and squeezed out from the wilted greens. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve.

A common weed like purslane adds a nice, sour green note to a salad and cuts the bitterness imparted by arugula (rocket) or dandelion.

Through the ages, in many cultures all over the world, a number of what we, today, might call weeds were commonly used for food and/or medicine. They still are. Case in point is the Plantain weed or Plantago Major. Unless you use awful chemicals, and I have faith that you don’t, you have it growing in your garden somewhere. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but introduced to North America when the settlers came. The leaves are actually edible and somewhat similar to spinach, though slightly more bitter. They can be used in salads or other culinary uses. Medicinally, the leaves can be made into a tea or tincture, and this is said to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers when taking internally. Externally, Plantain has been used for insect and snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts which we use as a natural antibiotic ointment on cuts and bruises. The natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of plantain leaf make it great for healing wounds, and for itching or pain associated with skin problems. A tea made from Plantain leaf can be sprayed on mosquito bites to ease the itch.

Thus, you see, its all in our perception. What we choose to include, what we’d rather not encourage and how we view them all is relative. So lets not sweat over the small stuff, theres a summer to be enjoyed.

Disclaimer: Please do not go on my word alone and ingest any weed I’ve mentioned. Personal immunities, allergies and tastes are subjective. Just as foraging for mushrooms in the wild assumes a certain risk, the same goes for plants not routinely cultivated. Do your research and really understand the plants and their properties before nibbling.
As I do not have photos of weeds, I thought you might instead enjoy some photos I took this past week.

This frog looked rather alert -  ready for the unsuspecting fly.

This frog looked rather alert – ready for the unsuspecting fly.


The pattern of the Echinacea 'cone' fascinates me.

The pattern of the Echinacea ‘cone’ fascinates me.


Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.

Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.


And what is July without fireworks?!

And what is July without fireworks?!


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

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5 thoughts on “Part II – On The Pesky Matter of Illegal Aliens.

  1. Thanks- NOW I know why my weeds are out of control this year. Purslane and Plantain are loaded with great nutrition and have many uses. I am so happy that more know about the benefits of “weeds”

  2. The picture of your beautiful Echinacea made me so jealous. I am yet to see any of mine as the deer find them delicious. At least, they won’t be subject to colds this summer. Small comfort.

  3. Great weedy column. Question: if one were so unspeakably lazy as to put four inches of newspaper over a light new growth of weeds followed by a thick layer of mulch, would that do that trick? Sort of the horticultural equivalent of sweeping dust under the rug, I know, but would it work?

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