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Weeds


Amaranth
- Amaranthus retroflexus, A. hybridus

Burdock - Actium lappa

Black Nightshade - Solanum americanum, S. nigrum, or S. ptychanthum

Lady's Thumb - Smartweed, Redshank  Polygonum pensylvanicum NEUTRAL
  Acrid and biting, this isn't a plant you'd want to eat.  Smartweed has short, sprawling jointed stems, long, pointed leaves, and clusters of pinkish flowers that look something like a head of wheat.  Each leaf has a dark purplish to reddish marking that people thought looked like a smudged thumbprint.  There is also a very similar invasive European species which can be distinguished from the native kind by the sheaf surrounding the stem nodes - the invader's has tiny hairs, the native does not.
  High in silica, lady's thumb is a good composting material.  A cluster tends to take up a lot of room, and it attracts Japanese beetles which like to consume the leaves, so you might not want to permit it to grow in your plot.

Purslane
- Portulaca oleracea GOOD (edible leaves and seeds, highly nutritious)
    Purslane looks something like a small jade plant, only its branches sprawls across the ground instead of forming a woody bush.  Reddish stems carry clusters of soft, green leaves shaped like elongated teardrops or paddles; these leaves have pale undersides with a sparkly chambered appearance.  Its small, yellow flowers are inconspicuous and last only a short time, although new flowers continue to form while conditions are favorable; small conical chambers hold the seeds until they develop, then the top breaks off to release them.
  Favoring dry, compacted soils that receive a great deal of sunlight, this succulent plant has a deep taproot and can survive extended drought.  If pulled from the soil, it has enough water stored in its tissues to continue maturing its seeds, and even carrying the plants away tends to break open its seedpods, so it can be difficult to remove once established if conditions favor it.  However, it tends not to sprout on ground that is shaded, moist, or where other plants have first taken root.  Purslane is a native of India, but was raised as a garden vegetable for centuries, and the plants you see by the side of the road or growing wild on otherwise bare patches of soil are descendants of Colonial-era garden patches.  It's now spread across much of the world, favoring dry, hot climates.
  The entire plant is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha-Linolenic acid, and it's the highest-known vegetable source of those nutrients; this quality, and the texture of the succulent leaves, gave the plant its Latin name.  The seeds are also edible and extremely rich in nutrients.
  Purslane tends to show itself only on exposed, underutilized sections of our garden plants, where sunlight strikes bare soil, so it's not a direct competitor with our crops.  Its deep taproot system with only minor secondary roots won't crowd the plants around it.  Plus it's highly nutritious, with a tangy lemony taste.  There's no reason to weed this plant out - unless you want to eat it!  Cultivated varieties, with different colors and a more erect habit, are available for sale from various seed houses, but why not take advantage of the plants that grow for free in your plots?

Velvetleaf - Albutilon theophrasti  BAD (nutrient thief, edible seeds)
    Easily identified by its flat, heart-shaped leaves with a shallow indentation.  When older, the leaves are soft and fuzzy, giving the plant its name.  Its flowers are small and the same yellow-orange color of squash blossoms, and its seedpods are distinctively shaped like a cup sealed with many projecting rays or wings.
    This is a very competitive plant that steals water and nutrients - especially soil nitrogen - from other plants, and is a major weed of cornfields.  It's known for stunting the growth of plants around it.  Even though its seedpods are very decorative and ornamental, and its seeds are edible, this is not a plant we want growing in the garden.  Pulling it out will encourage the growth of the rest of your plants.  Please do not let this weed go to seed - it can remain viable in the ground for decades.

White Goosefoot - Lamb's Quarters, Goosefoot  Chenopodium album

Yellow Wood Sorrel - Sour Grass, Hearts, Toads' Sorrel, Wood Sour  Oxalis stricta  GOOD (all parts edible with complications, good ground cover)
  Wood sorrel can be recognized by its distinctive leaves:  three in a cluster, each of which looks like a stylized heart.  Together, they look more like the traditional idea of a shamrock than the plants usually identified as such!  Their greenish-yellow coloration and small, five-petaled bright yellow flowers further aid identification, and their seedpods look like straightened, five-sided bananas.  When ripe, these pods burst open, scattering seeds far and wide.
  All parts of the plant are edible, although the roots aren't particularly palatable and the ripe seeds are rarely consumed.  Rather like the other plants called 'sorrels', they're tasty in salads and cream-based soups.  Their tangy flavor comes from high levels of oxalic acid, which was named after this family of weeds.  Oxalic acid binds to calcium and renders it unavailable to the body, and can actually strip calcium out of the systems of people who don't consume enough of it.  This is a major reason why it's traditional to serve it cooked with creams - heat causes some of the acid to break down, and the calcium in dairy products renders any remainder harmless.  It's also associated with the worsening of kidney problems in people who already have difficulties.  Oxalic acid isn't grossly dangerous - it occurs in high levels in many common, nutritious vegetables, including spinach - but neither should it be consumed thoughtlessly.
  Crushed and added to water, it makes a drink like lemonade, and children traditionally enjoy crunching the juicy seedpods.
  Wood sorrel makes a dense ground cover, but doesn't compete intensively with other plants.  Its root system is shallow and weak, and yields easily to pulling.  Consider leaving it in your garden to shade the soil and provide a nectar source for native bees - if you change your mind, getting rid of the plant is simple.  And potentially delicious.