Eating The Weed That Grows Around Me
A weed is, by definition, unwanted and difficult to get rid of. However, I can think of much more pernicious things than a vigorously growing plant.
I find plastic wrappers that blow in on the wind to be much more invasive than the tenacious plants that attempt to take over the garden beds around my house. I am troubled more by the noise, pollution, obstruction and life threatening speed of the automotive traffic that goes down the streets in my neighborhood than I am by the freely seeding vegetative life around me.
Salad greens are good for my health, it’s said, but the leaves in my local supermarket are mostly grown all the way across the country from where I live, over in the central valley of California. The bags of lettuce and spinach are brought here in great big refrigerated trucks that spew smog and carbon dioxide. The roads that these trucks require have resulted in the rebuilding of communities all across America, with small town culture now centered around big box stores and highway exits. The leaves that arrive are of just a few varieties, those that are bred to store relatively well. Still, they often come to the dinner plate half-wilted.
Yesterday, I came upon a very local alternative: Glechoma hederacea. In common terms, it’s often called creeping charlie, gill over the-ground, haymaids, or ground ivy. More often than not, though, gardeners don’t even know its name. They simply call it that plant that won’t stop growing into my flower bed and taking over.
Yesterday, I finally assigned myself the task of finding out what this plant was, and what it could do. For years, I had been pulling it out of areas I had put aside for other plants. Every little bit of rooted runner I left behind, however, quickly grew into a vigorously spreading new plant, snaking over large distances with runners (stolons) creeping under the vegetation of other plants, then growing up to capture the light. More often than not, the plants I pulled out and threw on the compost pile didn’t die and rot as I had hoped. They merely took over the compost pile, growing all the stronger for the rich medium they had just been introduced to.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could grow salad like that? Wouldn’t it be tremendous if, instead of going to the grocery store and paying money for half-wilted leaves that have been trucked in from California, or buying little packets of lettuce or spinach seed that we have to tend in special areas of the garden that have been cleared of weeds and protected from rabbits, we could just go out into our yards and gather the leaves of a plant that grows as vigorously as Glechoma hederacea?
We can. Glechoma hederacea is now thought of almost exclusively as a weed that takes over our gardens, but originally it was brought to North America by European settlers as a garden plant – as a salad green and medicinal herb.
As its strong growth suggests, Glechoma hederacea is a form of mint, though the minty taste of the plant is mild. The leaves, flowers and stems are almost certainly safe to eat and full of nutrients. Horses and goats that have eaten immense amounts of the plant have suffered indigestion, but humans have never been reported to suffer ill effects. There is a small amount of the chemical pulegone in the plant, but at about 3 percent of the concentration that is found in pennyroyal. Pulegone is known to induce abortion of pregnancies. So, if you’re pregnant and want to stay that way, avoid Glechoma hederacea, but otherwise, have at it. Besides, there’s no known case of a woman suffering a miscarriage after eating Glechoma hederacea.
Glechoma hederacea was traditionally used as part of an astringent, for soothing headaches, as a mild stimulant and for the treatment of colds and flu. The plant has also been used as an alternative to hops in the brewing of beer.
It’s nearly ubiquitous in its growth, being absent only from New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Unless you live in a completely paved urban setting, chances are good that you can find Glechoma hederacea growing near where you live and work – and very few people are going to complain if you snatch a few leaves from their lawns and gardens.
There is one little catch. People commonly mistake another common weed called henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, for Glechoma hederacea. However, henbit is also edible and nutritious. So, munch with assurance.
For more about common edible plants growing all around us, check out Eat The Weeds.