If you’ll forgive that this picture doesn’t begin to do right by the beauty of this mountain morning, and try to imagine the sun putting a glow just above that grain silo . . . maybe you can understand why when I was taking the photo this morning I failed to notice the patch of 4 foot high lambsquarters directly visible in the foreground.
When I looked at the photo after work, I laughed at how apparent the wild edible is. (If the image was better you may be able to see that there’s parsley hiding in there somewhere.) How did I miss that? The first notion to crawl into my cranium was that I was so overtaken by the beauty of the moment, that all the little annoyances of daily life withered away. Then I thought. Shit. That means I’m an optimist. I can’t let that get out.
So I came up with option 2: 4 foot weeds? Child’s play. And this is a true alternative. Some of the weeds I harvested next to today were well over my head, 5 feet and 7 inches above the ground. Try as we may with mulches, mechanical cultivation and good old-fashioned hand-weeding, somehow the weeds always win. They own the place.
I had a friend in Texas who hosted an all-day music event every year in her backyard. The annual trampling coupled with the dry Texas soil made it hard to have much of a lawn. I remember one year she got it in her head that she wanted to try to grow a lawn of lambsquarters back there, said someone had told her that it would grow anywhere and that you could eat it, too. This was before I started farming. Now I can fully appreciate the surprise of the local farmer we visited to ask if he had any extra lambsquarters we could have. He said, “I’ve got plenty of it! Take it all!” I don’t know if the backyard plan ever played out. We didn’t take any that day, and she’s since moved up North.
The bane of the farmer and home gardener is lunch for a growing population of people I’ve come into contact with. A housemate of mine in Oregon wouldn’t let me weed the garden, especially of the ground-cover chickweed. He put it in his salad. Another friend stopped her bike to pick some stinging nettle from the side of the road. If you carefully roll it in your fingers just right, the sharp stinging parts are dulled, so you can eat it raw. You can also cook it for the same effect. In Massachusetts we cooked young Japanese Knotweed stalks.
Most of the plants we walk by everyday are one and the same with those ingested by our ancestors. The plants themselves are the ancestry of our food today. Two-fold, agriculture has allowed these plants to prosper. We have selected through the years and molded them into crops, but we have also created an environment where they can expand on their own, unencumbered by competition from larger sun-stealing shrubs and trees. It’s quite the agreement we have.
So perhaps my mind didn’t see the patch of weeds, because some primal part of my brain registered it as food and friend, as something that’s supposed to be there, among the crops. In solidarity with the past. A kind of deal. We can do what we want to combine and filter out to our tastes, but the wild cousins will always stay in the family. And if we want to keep the peace, we might want to start inviting them to dinner more often.