If you’re shopping for a book on weeds for your library, look for one to help you easily identify the bane of our yards and gardens. Truly useful tomes are those that offer photos or line drawings to help you in identification, plus information on how it grows and advice on how to control it. But if the weed guide comes complete with cooking tips, the book you have enters the realm of must-have resources for gardeners.
I’ve never had a book on weeds include a chapter with recipes, but Nancy Gift included them in her new book, Good Weed, Bad Weed (St. Lynn’s press,Pittsburgh, $17.95) for a reason. “There’s a sweet revenge in eating a weed that’s growing in the lawn where you don’t want it to be,” said the author and weed scientist, who brings a refreshing perspective to the plants we consider uninvited guests.
“People care about weeds because they hate them, but my background is that I love them,” said the assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. “I have my Grandmother’s love of plants, and I look at how people use them.”
After a career spent working with farmers as an Agriculture Extension Agent with Cornell University, Gift moved to the suburbs and the saw that the style of weed control in home yards was based on the farmers’ method of spraying herbicides. “But the rates of spray homeowners use is much higher than growers use, because farmers are minimizing how much they’re exposed to and trying to keep costs down. Homeowners are more interested in getting every last dandelion out of their lawn.”
This intolerance for weeds is, in part, due to advertising that characterizes all uninvited plants as weeds to be eradicated, she said, which leads to intolerance for wayward seedlings. “When people start to be aware of wanting an organic lawn, often they feel guilty, worried that the neighbors won’t like them because they have weeds in their lawn. But there are weeds you don’t have to do anything about; they’re just plants.”
Gift is quick to acknowledge that there are weeds that fall in the “bad weed” category, such as those which cause allergies, are painful, or poisonous. These she agrees need control and offers tips for getting to the root of those problem plants. “We need to understand where the weed comes from, what point in its growing cycle it’s weak, and plan our attack. If we can figure out when to take action, we can avoid using a lot of chemicals.”
Writing a book that categorizes weeds as good, bad, or not-so-bad was challenging, said Gift, because weeds don’t behave the same in all locations. What is unremarkable in one area of the country might be an invasive nightmare in another, so her advice on learning to live with them – like trellising bindweed to enjoy its lovely flowers – might strike some as borderline wacky.
But her easy to use guide lists the most common weeds and includes photos to help you identify seedlings and mature plants, along with tips for using or appreciating their beauty. For those who want to get rid of the weeds, Gift covers a variety of ways to control them other than reaching for a bottle of chemicals.
Within each description, Gift includes her experience with the weed, and what lead her to including it in the book. Those that didn’t make it into this guide can be found on her website.
Finishing the book with a flourish, she included a few recipes, in case you want to whip up a few dishes to serve those judgmental neighbors at the summer potluck.
- Start pulling now to keep weeds under control (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Smoking Weeds: Stopping Fast-Spreading, Invasive Reeds without Chemicals Takes Perseverance (scientificamerican.com)