In Praise Of Weeds

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Snakebite? The antidote was viper’s bugloss, with its seed shaped like a reptile’s head. Insomnia? The best cure was skullcap, shaped like a human skull. Sore eyes? Use eyebright, its little purplish-white flower with the yellow center suggesting the human eye. A bad cough? Pick lungwort, with its spotted leaves that resemble the lung.

The cures were legend and legion. So too were the uses in the kitchen. Even a thistle could be prized. John Evelyn, in 1699, offered this recipe for milk thistle: The young stalks about May being peeled and soaked in water to extract the bitterness, boiled or raw is a very wholesome sallet eaten with oyl, salt and pepper. Boil them in water with a little salt till they are very soft and so let them dry to drain. They are eaten with fresh butter melted not too thin and this a delicate and wholesome dish.

Perhaps, in these days of soaring food prices, we shall witness a return to nature’s green bounty. And there are already a few wise men who prefer wild greens and wild vegetables and wild fruits to the prepackaged and ofttimes bland produce of today’s sterile supermarkets. Certainly the supply is unlimited.

Meanwhile, a weed is a weed only in the state of one’s mind. As in the case of the Iowa legislators who, in a moment of parochial fun, declared the official state flower of neighboring Kansas—the native sunflower—a noxious weed, to be eradicated at all costs.