Feb 8, 2013

A Rogue Master Gardener

I love being in Georgia's Master Gardener program- I really do. But sometimes, I feel like I vibrate on a different frequency than most people, and this week's class was no exception.

It was weed identification week and I dutifully brought in a few weeds from our yard that were still mysteries to me. One of them, which turned out to be Florida Betony (Stachys Floridana), is lush and thick in spring and fall in our side yard. I've always encouraged its growth because the chickens love it when I rip up handfuls and feed it to them. It has always looked like mint to me, with its square stem, but it didn't smell like mint and had weird white tubers under the soil. As it turns out, it is related to mint and grows all over Georgia.

I think the takeaway from the class was supposed to be how much Round Up or atrizine was required to treat various weeds, but all I needed was their names. Armed with this information, I went home to do some research. Almost all the entries for Florida Betony came from university extension services, who gave a brief overview of the weed followed by lengthy descriptions of how to eradicate them with Agent Orange. With more digging, I started to find entries from herbalists and permaculture experts outlining the benefits of this much-maligned "weed".

Not only are the leaves healthy and great for the chickens, they could also be used in a survival diet (they're a bit musty tasting so not really a gourmet treat). What I didn't expect to find was that the tubers were indeed a gourmet delicacy! They're certainly not much to look at- the small ones look like grubs and the larger ones like a rattlesnake's tail (hence the plant's alternate "Rattlesnake Plant" moniker). But they are delicious! You can eat them raw, cut them into salads, or saute them with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Once I tried one raw, I can't imagine the restraint it would take to bring them all the way to the kitchen and into a pan. They are crispy and (to me, anyway), taste just like a mild radish, without the bitterness. I plan on going out tomorrow to dig up a bucket of them. A cousin of the Florida Betony (that many researchers are now suggesting is the same species) sells in gourmet markets for over $50 a pound. And, in my yard, I couldn't stop them from growing if I tried, even if I used a flame-thrower. I can't wait to spend the weekend dining through my yard. Next time, I'll talk about the yumminess of the lowly dollarweed.

I promise I'll try to behave in Master Gardeners' class and won't mention to the instructor that I ate
my weeds instead of treating them.



Anonymous said...

One man's weed is another man's flower. I hate the word "weed". Every plant has a purpose. If it looks good in your yard, it's not a weed, especially since it provides a treat for the chickens and a treat for you.

Anonymous said...

I think you should bring the tubers as a special treat and then after every tried them, show them the "weed" it came from.