Like most folks, I had always thought of weeds as the bad guys. Can’t have a garden without having to spend some sweat equity on your knees, ridding the garden of unwanted occupants. A college horticulture class changed the way I looked at weeds when the professor uttered a simple sentence. “Weeds are just plants out of place.” He went on to say that in the right environment, corn or tomatoes can be weeds. I had never thought of it that way but yes of course, anything that is growing in a place we didn’t intend for it to can be regarded as a weed.
With this in mind I decided to do an inventory of the ‘weeds’ in my garden and see if I could find value in them or if they were simply unwanted visitors that needed to go. As a general rule I don’t leave enough open space for weeds to be an issue. I tend to weed early in the season and sparingly after the growing season gets in full swing. I plant tightly and in clumps rather than rows for many things so weeds don’t have much of a chance. Two unwanted weeds I saw this morning were the wild strawberries that never grow any kind of berry worth eating and clover. I found others though that I wasn’t so quick to dismiss and even look forward to.
Weed #1: Saucer Nasturtium
I don’t know the exact variety name for this nasturtium as it has been in my garden spot longer than I have. I first noticed it in a neighboring plot and envied it’s beautiful leaves and flowers. It wasn’t long before I noticed a couple of seedlings emerging between a couple of rows of whatever was growing there at the time. It comes back every year and every year I look forward to its arrival. The leaves have gotten twice the size you see in the picture, the largest nasturtium leaves I’ve ever seen. The flowers are a lovely orange and fairly prolific. I love the way it drapes over the side of the border by the end of summer.
Uses for Nasturtiums
Besides the beauty of the flowers and the interesting leaves, nasturtium flowers are a great addition to salads. They add a splash of color and have a bold peppery flavor so a little goes a long way.
Weed #2: Lamb’s Quarter
Lamb’s quarters goes by a handful of names and is closely related to quinoa. Apparently early European settlers introduced this plant and it has made itself at home. I don’t see nearly as much of it in my current garden as I used to in Kentucky. In the hot summers of Kentucky it wasn’t unusual to see them get over 6′ in height if left undisturbed. This is one plant that you don’t want to let go to seed as it can easily take over an area. Not all seeds sprout the first year so once established you have it for It is hard to cultivate intentionally though as it thrives on neglect. You can find it growing in gardens, roadside ditches and pretty much everywhere a spot of bare ground exists.
Uses for Lamb’s Quarter
When my daughter was young she preferred steamed lamb’s quarter to any other green. It has been used as a food source forever and is high in a number of nutrients. It does contain oxalic acid so one wouldn’t want a steady diet of LQ. In moderation it is a great addition to a meal and makes pulling them less like weeding and more like harvesting. The tender young leaves are best and can be steamed, added to soups etc. There is a white powdery like substance on the underside of the leaves that disappears with cooking.
Weed #3: Purslane
Purslane is VERY common plant at Rock Farm. It’s ability to root from just a leaf means that if you want to get rid of it you have to get ALL of it. It is a Portulaca and is closely related to common flowering Portulaca that you can find at many garden centers. The fleshy succulent leaves and stems of this low growing plant make it an easy one to identify. Purslane isn’t very particular in its surroundings. It can be found thriving in anything from a dry undisturbed area to a well tended garden.
Uses for Purslane
Many people love the young leaves and plants in salads and in sandwiches in place of pickles. I find purslane crunchy with a slight lemony taste. It can be a bit slimy which some folks don’t like. For me purslane is a little bit goes a long way kind of edible. I haven’t tried all the purslane recipes I’ve found though so perhaps something will peak my interest. For now this is one I pull and dispose of.
Weed #4: Nigella
This pretty little flower occurs in a couple of spots in and next to my garden spot. I planted Nigella last year and didn’t get the flowers dead headed in time to prevent it reseeding itself. The leaves are reminiscent of dill so I make sure not to plant my dill anywhere near it. I don’t know if the leaves of nigella are toxic but I’m not taking any chances.
Uses for Nigella
Some sources list medicinal uses of some forms of Nigella. I haven’t done a lot of research on the subject and am not inclined to at this point. Others may feel differently. I appreciate it for the beautiful white – blue flowers both in the garden and out.
Weed #5: Arugula
This is another one I am totally responsible for. I planted half a dozen arugula plants last year and allowed the last two to flower. BIIIIIG mistake. I now have arugula growing in a 3′ diameter space. Fortunately it comes out easily and does have its uses. I’ve shared much with fellow gardeners and use the pulled plants to shade the soil between a couple of rows of garlic.
Uses for Arugula
Arugula is known for being a great addition to salads. It has a taste that borders on peppery – bitter so a little bit goes a long way. The flowers are yellow and pretty but don’t be fooled. This isn’t one you want to go to flower unless you really like arugula or have a large circle of family and friends that like it.