September has begun. The rains are back. Here on the coast, temperatures are still soaring and the humidity is absolutely spirit-crushing. All that said, fall gardening is upon us. My husband and I have planned our fall garden, and have begun work on clearing out the garden beds and building back up the soil. Plant nerd that I am, I love growing things. I love getting dirty. I love the smell of freshly turned soil. I do not, however, love weeding.
Weeding here means sitting in full sun, completely coated in mosquito repellant (which the vampiric pterodactyls largely ignore), in wet clothes, while sweat pours down your body. If this isn’t pleasant enough, we seem to be quite gifted at growing weeds and I do believe some of ours are rooted all the way down to China. I sometimes get visions of myself on one end and a lady in a conical hat (I want one of those!) on the other end having a grand tug of war. My mind tends to wander while weeding.
While earning my Masters in horticulture, I took various classes on weed science. What I learned is that I have the distinction of being able to say that I happen to be harboring an international celebrity in my garden: Cyperus rotundus, otherwise known as purple nutsedge. This lovely individual is affectionately known as “the world’s worst weed”. On lists of noxious weeds worldwide, it comes in at number 1. Go me! This plant is known as an invasive from more countries than any other plant in the world and is known to infest at least 52 different crops around the world. My crops are among those 52. Hey, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it big! At the time I learned all this, I asked my professor what my odds are of uninviting this international celebrity. He asked how I was treating it. I responded that we hand-pulled our weeds. He cheerfully informed me that in another 15 years, barring new infestations via wind, animals, etc., we should be free. Well, at least it wasn’t hopeless, right?
Cyperus rotundus “Purple nutsedge”
Another of our friends is Oxalis articulate, also known as pink sorrel. Here in Galveston County, we go from spring floods to summer drought to fall rains. After the rains, the pink sorrel appears as if by magic overnight. We have a rock garden in one corner of the front yard in which I grow desert plants such as aloe, dragonfruit and yucca. After a rain, the entire rock garden is full of pink sorrel. We pull out hundreds of them, but the next storm brings thousands more.
The third on my list is Plantago major, commonly called broadleaf plantain. This beauty grows rampant in our vegetable garden. It is well-established and every year the colony grows larger. This past spring, my husband came inside the house and got a drink. He had a peculiar expression on his face. When I asked what was wrong, he told me our spinach mustard tasted terrible. I told him we had already harvested all of that. He begged to differ, claiming that he had just eaten a big leaf of it. I asked him to show me, and sure enough, he had eaten a leaf of plantain (important lesson to be learned: be sure of the identity of any plant before consuming it). Apparently, the taste leaves something to be desired.
So, I hate weeding. I have tons of weeds. We have super-weeds. It doesn’t get cold enough to kill them off. Landscape fabrics are highly not recommended for use here as they just provide our weeds something to anchor themselves onto. We don’t like to use herbicides on our property. I had to get creative when dealing with weeds.
My passion is ethnobotany. When I curl up with a titillating book, it’s generally something along the lines of Medieval English Gardens. I decided to figure out how to deal with my weeds. Well, plantain is highly medicinal. It has expectorant qualities, tones the mucous membranes, is good to treat catarrh (mucous buildup in the throat and nose), antispasmodic, is topically healing, and is good for use on insect bites and stings. Okay. I can work with that. I now have an herbal salve that I make that incorporates plantain. I let it grow in one corner of my vegetable garden undisturbed and harvest it each spring for medical applications.
Next, I looked into the sorrel. Well, how awesome! It’s edible. It has a tangy citrus flavor. It is high in oxalic acid, but taken in moderation can be enjoyed in salads. It can also be cooked, which is said to neutralize the oxalic acid. Okay. It can stay. It does have pretty pink flowers, so it’s not an eyesore or anything. It can keep my aloe and agave company.
Last, I looked into my resident celebrity: the purple nutsedge. I discovered that humans and purple nutsedge go way back … to the cave people, actually. The tuber is used in ayurvedic medicine for digestive issues, and the essential oil of the tuber is used heavily in the perfume industry and is a painkiller. The tuber is also used to treat depression (Oh, the irony! Having to pull it every day was depressing me!). I’ll use the tubers I yank out of the ground to treat the depression caused by having to pull thousands of them.
So, I’ve learned to look at those plants that pop up all over my yard and gardens in a different light. Instead of asking “Just how hard is it going to be to pull you up?”, I now ask “So, just what can I do with you?”