Gardener's Grapevine 2012.06.27

Written by David Green.

I get so much information on nature from so many people and it amazes me how much you learn simply by listening. My friend Carol Sutton Zych and I were discussing my number one enemy in the gardening world (next to a snake)—poison ivy.

I have a huge problem with poison ivy at the church. She said it grows so big in South Carolina it can be on a vine as big around as your arm. Well to me, that’s like seeing an Anaconda. No thanks and never. If I get a little vine growing anywhere I just start itching and blistering. If it were that size, I’d never get rid of it.

My friend Mary Lampe and I were talking instead of sewing Saturday due to the fact that the weather had given me a sinus headache and I can’t concentrate well with a brass band in my head. We have a lot of ideas for the bazaar this Christmas and it takes some communication to get them accomplished. Plus, if she doesn’t have something, I might, so we trade back and forth. We come up with a lot of ideas because neither of us wants to throw out things that could be repurposed into something else. This keeps things out of the landfills and cuts down on the costs of the items we make.

I’ve said before that I like the birds that are at Mary’s feeders. Many of them we never get in town and many people never see. I noticed that Mary had different food in her feeder than usual and it had a lot of millet in it. Millet is a pain in the backside in that it is very small and the birds drop a lot of it. Anything that is dropped has the potential to be a plant in a short period of time.

That conversation got us discussing weeds and how I find them annoying. Mary informed me that most of what we consider weeds are actually very edible. A lot of our “weeds” were brought here by early settlers for use as food or medicine. She has a book on edible wild plants and one of them is called calf’s foot. Supposedly it is very edible and tasty, but I had no idea what calf’s foot was. So we went outside for a lesson.

It is one of the most persistent weeds in my garden. I have been pulling this stuff out by the handfuls for 30 years. I didn’t know we should have been putting it on the dinner table. Another weed that is quite edible looks like jade plant. Apparently it has been used in history as a thickener for soups when boiled. It is also OK to prepare and eat like spinach. 

Chicory root can be peeled, roasted, ground, then used for coffee. Chicory is the pretty periwinkle blue flowering plant you see alongside country roads. I knew this was done during war times past when coffee was rationed because my mother-in-law told me her mother had done it. My own great-grandparents ate dandelion greens and so did I…once. They are bitter beyond my belief. My grandmother said they did this because it was often the first green edible thing in the spring and with no green grocers they welcomed something fresh and green.

I don’t know that I will be making any calf’s foot salad in the near future, but I’m not against trying it. If it’s as bad as dandelions we will just toss it out and have another lesson learned.

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