In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


2 Comments

Knot So Fast, Week Ending 4/7/2019

I am excited and dismayed to announce I finally found a patch of Japanese knotweed near me. Luckily not “near” enough I have to fear imminent invasion. On the other hand, the more I learn about how knotweed spreads, the less safe I think we all are.

Best of all (if there can be an upside to finding a highly invasive plant), I found it just in time to foraging the spring shoots, which are the edible parts of this ferocious weed. The location isn’t perfect for foraging, a little too close to a busy country road for my tastes. But I will take what I can get since this is reported to be a tasty wild edible … and do my part to help control its spread!

A Local Knotweed Infestation

A Local Knotweed Infestation

(Not really – based on the size of the infestation, there’s no way I could physically eat enough knotweed shoots to make a dent in its inexorable march into the countryside.)

The scientific name for this plant is either Reynoutria japonica, Fallopia japonica, Pleuropterus zuccarinii, or Polygonum cuspidatum – I have to admit this situation baffles me. Whichever name you give it, Japanese knotweed is one of the most invasive weeds on the entire planet.

The previous year’s dead stalks mark this plant’s location in the winter. The stalks are segmented like bamboo, hollow, and reddish in color.

Dead Knotweed Stalks

Dead Knotweed Stalks

Japanese knotweed was originally introduced into Europe and the United States as an ornamental for landscaping. In the United Kingdom in particular, this weed has caused enormous amounts of damage. Its roots find their way into small cracks in asphalt, rocks, waterworks, and foundations; then they expand, causing the cracks to worsen.  Almost impossible to kill, even a small discarded chunk of the root can grow into a whole new infestation. Which means digging up the plant in an effort to kill it can actually contribute to its spread!

Once the shoots breach the soil in the spring – the first week of April for this patch – they grow very quickly. Some sources say they can grow as fast as four inches a day during the peak of its growing season in the summer!

A Newly Emerged Knotweed Shoot

A Newly Emerged Knotweed Shoot

The spring shoots are best harvested when still short – a foot high or less – tender, and unbranched. Discard the leafy tips and any leaves that may be forming. My plan is to leave these parts on the site, rather than bring home any part of this plant that won’t get eaten. You know, just to be on the safe side!

The older and larger shoots may need to be peeled before use. The shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. The flavor of knotweed is similar to rhubarb, although it is variously described as more sour, “earthier”, “greener”, or even “gamier” than rhubarb.  Many sources recommend using any rhubarb recipe for knotweed but some foragers prefer recipes with more imagination and finesse. I am still debating what to do with my upcoming harvest. Because Japanese knotweed grows so fast, the foraging window is usually only a few weeks; time is of the essence.

As a bonus (I do always try to look for the positive side of things), Japanese knotweed shoots are apparently high in resveratrol, the antioxidant that allegedly makes wine healthy. The roots store the highest concentration – in fact, Japanese knotweed is even cultivated commercially for use in manufacturing resveratrol supplements.  But I am not messing with the roots, thank you very much. I’ll stick to the shoots.


Leave a comment

Weekly Weed Roundup, April 29

Just kidding! I would never use Roundup on my weeds. As I learn more about “weeds”, I am increasingly amazed that anyone would rather have a pretty green grass lawn instead of the natural bounty that surrounds us when the land is left to its own devices.

This week, broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) has become very prominent in my yard. For some reason, this is the only plantain variety around my house. The narrow leaf or ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is very common in the mid-Atlantic… just not at my house.

Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf Plantain

While plantain leaves are edible, I find them unpleasant and stringy when they get much larger than shown in this picture. (Hopefully the grass leaves give you some idea of scale – the whole plant is only about five inches across right now.) The leaves can also be made into tea, and are rumored to help with seasonal allergies. If my allergies act up this spring, I’ll try it and share the results with you. (All three of you!)

I recently identified a burdock (Arctium minus) in a overgrown area of my yard. Normally, I struggle to distinguish between burdock and various other large-leaved plants such curly dock (Rumex crispus). But the pale green woolly undersides of the leaves help indicate this is, indeed, burdock.

Greater Burdock

Burdock

Greater Burdock - Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock – Pale Woolly Underside of Leaf

Burdock leaves, roots, and young flower stalks are edible. You can even buy burdock seeds in some boutique garden catalogs. I decided to let this one hang around so I could photograph the flower stalk if this is a second-year plant. (Like many plants which are productive this early in spring, burdock is a biennial; it flowers in its second year of life.)

Speaking of wild things you can also grow in your garden… It was challenging to photograph this little guy among last year’s dead grass, but there is no doubt that this is a wild carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota). If they are growing now, in the wild, then conditions are ripe to plant the D. carota sativa in your garden as well.

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne's Lace

Wild Carrot, aka Queen Anne’s Lace

This carrot is still too small to bother eating, of course, but the roots are edible as long as you harvest before the plants form the white flowery umbrellas most people think of when they hear “Queen Anne’s Lace.” (Carrots are also biennials, like burdock.) The hairy leaves and stem provide one way to know this is “just” a carrot and not its toxic relative, poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).

I have been working in the garden, as well as foraging. Any day the weather is warm and sunny, you’ll find me outside! I was weeding one bed, when I realized – as I was pulling teensy seedlings up, roots and all – that the “weeds” were in fact the choicest possible species: lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album).

 

Lamb's Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s Quarter Seedling

Lamb’s quarter features sparkly – almost fairy-like – leaves at this early stage. Based on the reading I have done to date, they appear to be one of the healthiest greens a person can eat, and they have a long edible season as well. (Unlike dandelions or wild lettuce, for instance, which get more bitter as the summer sun and heat intensifies.) Needless to say, I left the rest of the seedlings be! They are welcome to grow here … until I get hungry later!