Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our Favorite Weeds, by Lou Jonas

" A weed is a plant nobody has found a use for''. If that statement is true then there are very few weeds in the world. Many of those which the average gardener spends lots of time and money to get rid of, are regarded as favorite vegetables in other countries.

Salsify, if noticed at all by the average person, is called a dandelion with an especially strong stalk. Those hardy pioneer-type gardeners who like something new occasionally and have tried "oyster-plant" as the seed companies call salsify, realize that it is very worth-while to include this "weed" in the garden every year.

Chicory, of course, has been a favored plant in France for centuries, and the highly expensive witloof is a is a bunch of bleached chicory leaves. Chicory is mixed with coffee in Louisiana, and many people don't like coffee without it. It should be much more healthful than pure coffee.


Purslane is a favorite garden vegetable in Europe, and is used in salads and for potherbs. With its rather bland taste, it is much better mixed with something like radishes or cress.


Burdock is a much-esteemed garden vegetable in Asia, and seed can be bought from some seed companies in the U.S. The young, tender leaves, if boiled in two waters, are good spring greens. The young stems can be peeled and boiled, tasting much like asparagus. The roots of the first-year plants can also be boiled, then skin peeled, and served hot with butter. The root is claimed to have power to cure baldness, but we suspect that, even if it works in some caes, there would be many it would not help.


In soils with a hardpan, heavy clay or silt, not many plants have the power to penetrate to the lower layers, where soil nutrients are usually in better supply. The weed roots find small cracks, or push their way through by brute force, and bring up nutrients from where many crop roots can't reach. When the plant is decomposed, as in their use for green manure, the top soil becomes much more fertile. Furthermore, the channels opened up by the weed roots can be followed by crop roots, and also by earthworms. Earthworms are perhaps the most important single factor in the formation of good soil structure, and in changing raw organic matter to humus.

One author says that weeds accumulate those nutrients in which a particular soil is deficient. For example, weeds of acid soil like sheep sorrel and ribwort, are rich in calcium and magnesium. When the weeds decompose, and the nutrients become available for crops to use.

Any plant which is easy to raise, can be depended upon to raise a good crop every year, and which is tasty, can be sure of a welcome in my garden.

For instance, pokeweed, one of the tastiest plants, and one which is good to mix with more bland greens, seems to thrive as well in a garden as along a fencerow. It is one of the best for raising a good supply of succulent sprouts in the basement in the winter. It was used in pioneer days for ink, and Euell Gibbons reported having read a letter written during the Civil War with poke juice ink, which was still perfectly legible. He states that an analysis, comparing raw with cooked poke, showed that Vitamin C, and other nutrients, are not lost during the boiling for 10 minutes, and the subsequent draining; that is, not lost to a significant event.


Since it makes sense to me, to save labor and costs in whatever I do, I'm not inclined to pull those good, useful vegetables like dandelions, pokeweed, pigweed, lambs' quarters, ribwort, and purslane. I just mulch them along with the other vegetables, how around them when I hoe (which is seldom), and make good use of every one of them.


  1. This was a very interesting post, Marqueta. I have never seen 'poke weed' but have heard of it. And the chicory I have seen growing along dry roads and near farmland in other states and the dryer portions of ours, but never knew what it was!
    I have used the burdock leaves for forms for some 'cement leaves' that I make for bird baths and feeders, but have some very unpleasant memories of the painstaking removal of the burrs from my hair as a child, so generously put there by my male siblings! Who knew that after my hair was so unkindly ripped out by the burrs that I could use that same plant to cure the baldness they incured upon me?! ;~P
    Be Blessed!

  2. I love Poke Salad (what I call it)..and have has lately been very interested in learning much more of harvesting from nature...this was a wonderful post...thanks for sharing your fathers wisdom....blessings

  3. Hi mami! I love this blog!!!!!!!! :)