The Gardener’s Dilemma

I suffer the same crisis every spring. For years now, since learning how many “weeds” are edible – even downright tasty! – I’ve struggled to prep my little square-foot-bed-based-garden for spring planting.

Last fall, I even tried planting winter cover crops to block access to the interlopers. But without noticeable improvement for beds which did, vs. beds which did not, have the cover crops in place. And of course, I didn’t plant cover crops in the paths, where the most luscious “weeds” grow despite the compacted dirt and lack of soil amendments.

Why would I plant lettuce or spinach for salads, or kale for cooked greens, when chickweed and dandelions grow in my garden without any extra work on my part?

Chickweed and dandelions
Chickweed and dandelions

Better yet, lambsquarter – one of the most nutritious cooked greens available – has already started making its appearance for eating enjoyment later this summer.

Lambsquarter Seedlings
Lambsquarter Seedlings

This year, I face an even greater struggle to weed my garden beds and paths as I’ve learned more about the medicinal value of plants that I might not have cared to eat. Purple dead nettle was always a marginal edible in my opinion – not that bad, but not that great either. But as a strong tea, it has been helping me through the throws of early spring allergies. Unsurprisingly, the ones in my garden beds are healthier and bigger than the rogue yard specimens, so how can I bring myself to pull those up?

Deadnettle - both edible and medicinal
Deadnettle – both edible and medicinal

I have tried to enjoy eating wild lettuce, I really have. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes too bitter for my palate, especially when there is abundant chickweed close by. And my attempt two years ago to process it for medicine never amounted to much. But armed with my copy of Herbal Medic and this video, I’m ready to try again even though my local wild lettuce is Lactuca serriola (prickly lettuce) rather than the medically more potent L. virosa. But do I leave it in my garden, tending it and caring for it until its ready, rather than planting “real” crops?

Wild Lettuce
Wild Lettuce

And then there’s the mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a very new plant to my blog. This healthy specimen is growing in the smack dab middle of one of my 4′ x 4′ raised beds.

Mullein
Mullein

Different parts of the plant offer various medicinal uses, such as treating respiratory ailments, ear infections, and even urinary tract challenges. I assume this biennial plant is starting its second year, given its size, and I somehow missed its first-year self, growing among the heritage corn my kids planted in that bed last year. I can harvest its leaves, or let it go to flower and harvest the flowers, or dig it up and use the root. And then plant “real” crops in this bed instead!

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