Margaret Lauterbach

Tired of dealing with weeds? Eat them

Purslane is easy to identify by its thick succulent stems and leaves. Some people think they have a tangy and faintly critusy taste.
Purslane is easy to identify by its thick succulent stems and leaves. Some people think they have a tangy and faintly critusy taste. MCT

Weeds hit my garden last month, and they’ll be worse this month. August has been the month the weeds celebrate in past summers.

One thing we could do is eat most of our weeds, although I have two that I doubt are edible: quackgrass and field bindweed. A now defunct lawn maintenance company “gifted” our front yard with field bindweed about 20 years ago, but this year bindweed is popping up in my backyard, entering from the east, not the north (front yard). I’ll attempt to discourage it like the Simplot farms used to do, with an application of gypsum. Gypsum contains a small amount of sulfur, just enough to lower the pH a little, discouraging field bindweed.

Most of my raised bed weeds, though, are choked with dandelion, sowthistle, mallow, pigweed and purslane. Purslane is that ground-hugging succulent weed that will restart itself if a branch is broken or is left upright on your soil after being pulled. You can even buy seeds for purslane, which has oval leaves. Wild purslane leaves are smaller than what you are likely to get through purchased seeds, but both varieties are equally edible if you so choose. Some folks do like it. I taste it occasionally to see if my taste preferences have changed.

I recently learned that the mallow is edible. The botanic term for our weedy mallow is Malva neglecta, popularly known as buttonweed or cheeseweed for the shape of the seedheads. My gardening grandmothers in Colorado called it buttonweed. Seedlings come up, with primary leaves shaped like back-to-back hearts. Young tender shoots and leaves may be steamed or boiled like spinach and added to soups. Tender “fruits” (that is, seedheads) may be eaten raw in salads or pickled, boiled, fried or added to soups, especially tomato or chicken soup. Mallow has a taproot, so is not curtailed by applications of corn gluten meal (CGM) that stall and kill newly germinated weeds. I don’t see this exception on the Internet, but it’s been my experience that corn gluten meal does not inhibit taprooted plants. That was fortunate for me the year I forgot I’d spread CGM where I later planted carrots. They appreciated its fertilizing capacity. CGM’s effectiveness on other weeds seems to be that it destroys the support roots of other plants such as crabgrass, and gains effectiveness with repeated applications (year after year).

Mallow roots formerly were used to make marshmallows according to Kathryn Marsh, Ireland, and Cornucopia, a source book of edible plants, reports an extract of the roots may be used in place of egg whites in meringues. Apparently the leaves may be eaten raw, but Marsh says she prefers them cooked.

Pigweed is an amaranth, and when young and tender, edible raw or cooked. I don’t care for the coarse mouth feel of amaranth foliage, although it is nutritious.

About blackberries

We’ve been busy picking thumb-sized blackberries as they ripen, from our thornless blackberry vines. I don’t recall the original sources, but I apparently bought two different varieties, since one ripens about a week earlier than the other. Picking is time-consuming because only one of a cluster ripens at once. If we wait until more of the cluster are ripe, squirrels get to them or else they fall to the ground.

This is an easy crop to grow in an arbor. We once built a large strong arbor to take the weight of kiwi vines, said to grow vigorously and heavy. They briefly survived, but the arbor was left, so it’s now home to the thornless blackberry vines, acai berries and a buffalo gourd vine. The blackberry vines are rather brittle, so if you grow this vine, regularly position the new vine growth where you want it. I tried to turn a large fresh vine end, and it just snapped free back at its trunk.

Vendors don’t recommend you prune this vine, but you will see some ends that appear dead, and it’s OK to nip those off. We put one quarter cup of Dr. Earth All Purpose fertilizer (4-4-4) per rooted cane this spring, and watered regularly.

If you buy and plant thornless blackberry vines, I’d urge you to get a food mill that will screen out the large hard seeds. Last year we made blackberry jam (seedless). Freezing the milled juice and pulp takes up far less space than freezing whole berries, giving you time to decide how to use these delicious berries.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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