Common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is now in season in my garden another plant categorised by most as a weed, but for me one of the most important vegetables in my garden from now until autumn. It even saves me work as the only thing I have to do is NOT weed it!! It is at its best when the leaves are shiny:
I made a sow thistle basil pesto last night together with basil grown in my office at the botanical gardens! I’m an office basil grower of over 40 years, having started when I was a student in 1978 (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=5221, where I made pesto and Allium wallichii, the Sherpa or Nepal onion)
Last night I used garlic and more Johannes’ shallots (Allium x cornutum; see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=22601)
The last two nights, Barley Garlic Weedotto (or Garlic Weed Barlotto) was on the meny at the Edible Garden!
I have a relaxed approach to weeds and weeding and don’t mulch my beds like no dig gardeners do as I consider the weeds to be an important edible resource which increases the yield rather than decreasing as most people think! If weeding becomes harvesting, it becomes less of a chore!
The greens in the barlotto were mostly weeds harvested when weeding my garlic which has grown well despite the ground cover of weeds (the garlic roots are deeper than the weed roots).
NB! Barlotto (Barley risotto) is a local and more nutritious and healthy food as we can’t grow rice !
Yesterday was my most intensive weeding day of the year so far, first 2-3 hours finishing the weeding of KVANN’s bed at Væres Venner community garden followed by 7 hours at Ringve Botanical Garden weeding the Vermont Bed (see below). It was literally covered in an effective ground cover of birch seedlings, much worse for some reason than the New Hampshire Bed which I weeded a week ago: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=18255. This reminded me of the large flock of redpolls (gråsisik) at Ringve during the winter, a sign that it was a birch seed year 😊 and here’s a picture from my blog last winter at Ringve: http://www.edimentals.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/P1080538.jpg
In the previous blog a week ago linked above, I wrote: “The Allium garden at Ringve has grown well as have the so-called weeds (mostly very young birch trees!). I spent the afternoon weeding and documenting the right hand (easternmost bed)….now known as the New Hampshire bed (I’m told the two beds resemble a map of Vermont and New Hampshire) (As it looks like the garden will be known as Chicago-hagen due to the fact that the native american name Chicago means onion)!!
This is the link to the last album I made from 31st May: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156051646095860.1073743203.655215859&type=1&l=cbacd0612e”
A sign of a fertile soil are the weeds. Being a bit late at planting my chicories and swiss chard, the weeds had already formed a green carpet over the bed I’d intended to use (nature’s plaster!). I hand weeded this area yesterday, harvesting edible plants as I worked!
Most of my vegetable production is by way of what I call the no dig self-mulching gardening (ultimate no dig)…as perennial vegetables form a long-term vegetation cover that requires little energy and no digging to maintain. Below soil surface the earth is full of roots, binds more carbon than other vegetable growing systems and fungi are now known to play a bigger role than we realised only a few years ago.
However, I still grow a significant amount of annual crops, both leafy greens like swiss chard, potatoes, carrots and parsnip. If I was to use no dig methods, where the undug soil is covered with compost, hay or similar, I would need to produce much more compost and import hay (non-organic). I therefore choose to dig and some of the healthiest plants are weeds like Sonchus oleraceus (my most important vegetable from August to September!
In any case, any nutrients which are washed out from my annual beds ultimately end up in my forest garden and perennial plantings below, so are not lost!
Tsukushi (Equisetum arvense) or field horsetail is a much loved spring vegetable in Japan and Korea. In Norway, it is called kjerringrokk or åkersnelle and is only used as a medicinal herb (the green summer stems are used) in particular for urine tract infections and for strengthening hair and nails (see this Norwegian article: http://www.rolv.no/urtemedisin/artikler/equi_arv/art1.htm). It is advised in Norway that one should be careful when picking as it is easily confused with Equisetum palustre (marsh horsetail) which is said to be “quite poisonous”. The two species can occur in similar habitats, as marsh horsetail can also grow in dampish soil, not just marshes. However, the wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equisetum_palustre states that this species is poisonous to livestock but NOT humans.
On my study tour to Japan, I remember eating tsukushi 3 times, all as tempura and even found a farm growing it (see the pictures below). The best vegetables for tempura are strong tasting herbs such as tsukushi, green udo, dandelion etc. as the oil coats the tongue reducing the perception of bitterness!
This is a plant I would not recommend planting in a garden as it is one of the hardest plants to remove once you have it and many gardeners fight a never ending war on it!
My Facebook friend Kiku Day in Denmark allowed me to post her own cooking description: “You need to pick the fertile stems that shoot during early spring. You have to take off the whorls of brown scale leaves on these stems. Then you need to cook it. I think traditionally the Japanese cook with soy sauce and miring (sweet cooking sake), eat it with white rice or with fried eggs. However, this time I blanched them and fried them in olive oil with salt and pepper. I have to say that the “heads” of the plant are quite bitter. So you have to like bitter taste. Also, don’t eat the green plant that comes later but use those for tea.”
I asked most people for a donation for disaster relief for a Xmas present, but when I visited the botanical garden in Oslo in the autumn with my daughter (see http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=14674), she saw my eyes light up at this fantastic original print of dandelions in all their beauty from a series of drawings by weed artist and agrobotanist Emil Korsmo in the 1930s!
Norsk Hydro had financed the printing of the drawings in the 1930s in Leipzig. During World War II, the original plates were destroyed in a bomb attack. It is therefore not possible to print more.
Once in the 1990s, Norsk Hydro decided to dispose of the original prints they still had in store. Fortunately, a small group of employees were allowed to take them over and they have been stored in a barn until now. The natural history museum in Oslo have now been allowed to sell them in their shop…and, YES, I got that dandelion print for Xmas and it’s now hanging proudly on my wall! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Hazel
Those that follow this blog will know that I consider common sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) to be a super weed in the sense of its importance as a food and (protective) medicine plant for Homo sapiens. Inspired by the Maori tradition of “cultivating” … or tolerating this weed on their vegetable plots due to its market value…. I actually introduced this plant to my own garden and it is probably now my most used vegetable from July to September! I wrote 10 pages about it in my book Around the World in 80 plants ;)
There is, however, an ornamental sow thistle called “Custard-in-Greens” (or as the RHS spell it: “Custard ‘n’ green”). I traded seed of this with an ornamental gardener in Holland in 2003, but despite my best efforts to encourage it, its offspring were mostly not variegated. One single plant appeared in 2009, but it didn’t go to seed and I haven’t seen this form since…. I can’t find a source of seed either, so maybe it’s lost :( (Admittedly, it’s not the most ornamental plant out there, but I love the unusual, so please let me know if you know of a source!)
In summer 2009, I was invited by Sortland Gardening Club in North Norway to come and help them celebrate the fact that they had won the Norwegian Gardening Club of the Year Award. I composed a salad, mostly from my garden and transported to Sortland in a cold box. It was decorated with 4 flowers of the almost black-flowered hollyhock Alcea rosea “The Watchman” (as Sortland means Blackland!). It contained Custard-in-Greens in the ingredients list (see the bottom of this page) which is how I found it!
(from http://miamariashage.blogspot.com/2009/08/stephens-medbragte.html?_sm_au_=iHVtKTV0jncQ500M )
See also the following blog posts on sow-thistles:
COMMON SOW-THISTLE – SUPER WEEDY FOOD AND GOOD GLOBALISATION!