Category Archives: weeds

Sonchus and Basil Pesto

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, 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

Garlic Barley Weedotto!

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 !

Garlic with ground cover of “weeds” ready to harvest
Allium oleraceum (wild onion / villøk), Allium scorodoprasum (sand leek / bendelløk), Stellaria media (chickweed), Urtica dioica (nettle / nesle), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion / løvetann), Urtica urens (annual nettle / smånesle), Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd’s needle / Venuskam; an endangered annual edible weed of grain fields in the UK, in the carrot family, deliberately introduced as a weed in my garden and encouraged by letting some plants self-sow), Sonchus oleraceus (common sow thistle / haredylle; see my book for more on my most productive and most used “weed”) and Chenopodium album (fat hen / meldestokk)!
Barley Weedotto!
Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd’s needle / Venuskam) in parsnip / pastinakk
Flowering Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd’s needle / Venuskam) in a reconstruction of a traditional wheat field in Utrecht Botanical Garden
The characteristic seed heads of Scandix pecten-veneris (shepherd’s needle / Venuskam)

Weeding Vermont!

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: 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:

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:

No dig?

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: 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, 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.”

Korsmo’s Dandelion Print

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, 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


Sonchus “Custard in Greens”

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 )

The Sortland celebration salad was made from 209 varieties of edible plants, including 131 botanical species, 50 flowers and 23 berries and fruits. Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and juice from boiled mixed horseradish, chili, pelargonium, lemon verbena, sage, summer savory and oregano, salt and pepper. See the bottom of this page for the full ingredients list!

See also the following blog posts on sow-thistles:



I love this video featuring Sonchus

10 years ago I wrote this article in the Norwegian Useful Plants Society magazine (in Norwegian) (Sopp og Nyttevekster)

Ingredients list in the 2009 Sortland salad:
Part used Botanical name Norwegian name

Leaves Aegopodium podagraria Ground elder
Leaves Aegopodium podograria variegata Ground elder
Leaves Agastache anisata Anise Hyssop
Leaves Agastache anisata alba Anise Hyssop
Leaves Agastache rugosa “Golden Jubilee” Korean Hyssop
Leaves and flowers Agastache urticifolia
Leaves and flowers Alcea rosea “Peach” Hollyhock
Leaves and flowers Alcea rosea “The Watchman” Hollyhock
Topset onions Allium ampeloprasum “Elephant Garlic” Elephant Garlic
Leaves and bulbs Allium ampeloprasum “Sand Leek”
Leaves and flowers Allium angulosum Mouse garlic
Leaves and flowers Allium carinatum pulchellum
Leaves Allium carinatum pulchellum album
Leaves and bulbs Allium cepa/fistulosum Spring onion (5 varieties)
Leaves Allium cernuum “Pink Giant” Nodding onion
Leaves Allium cernuum album Nodding onion
Leaves and flowers Allium ericetorum
Leaves Allium hookeri, Hooker’s onion
Leaves and topset onions Allium longicuspis Wild garlic
Leaves Allium nutans Siberian nodding onion
Leaves Allium nutans “Slizun” Siberian nodding onion
Leaves, bulbiller Allium oleraceum “Geirlauk from Tautra” Wild onion
Leaves and flowers Allium paniculatum “Dwarf Selection”
Leaves Allium ramosum
Onions Allium sativum “Alexandra” Garlic
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum Chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum “Pink Flowered” Chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum “Wallington White” Chives
Leaves and flowers Allium schoenoprasum alpinum Chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum Ex-Forescate Chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum ssp. sibiricum Siberian chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum v. alpinum album Chives
Leaves Allium schoenoprasum v. alvarense Alvar-chives
Leaves Allium senescens “Sierui”
Leaves and flowers Allium senescens glaucum
Leaves and flowers Allium senescens montanum German garlic
Leaves Allium senescens v. petraeum
Leaves Allium spp. Ex-Råneå Norrland onion
Leaves Allium tuberosum Chinese chives
Onions Allium victorialis Victory onion
Leaves and flowers Allium wallichii Nepal onion
Topset onions and leaves Allium x proliferum Topset onion
Topset onions and leaves Allium x proliferum “Catawissa Red Top Set” Topset onion
Topset onions and leaves Allium x proliferum “Mc. Cullar’s White Topset” Topset onion
Leaves Althaea officinalis Marshmallow
Fruit Amelanchier alnifolia “Alvdal” Saskatoon berry
Fruit Amelanchier alnifolia “Thiessen” Saskatoon berry
Leaves Anethum graveolens Dill
Leaves Anredera cordifolia Madeira Vine
Leaves Anthriscus cerefolium Garden chervil
Stalk and Leaves Apium graveolens Celery (3 varieties)
Seed Apium nodiflorum Perennial celery
Root Armoracia rusticana Horseradish
Root Armoracia rusticana variegata Horseradish
Berries Aronia melanocarpa “Moskva”
Leaves Artemisia dracunculus sativa French tarragon
Leaves og umodne frø Atriplex hortensis Green Garden orach
Leaves og umodne frø Atriplex hortensis rubra Red Garden orach
Leaves Balsamita major (syn. Tanacetum balsamita or Chrysanthemum balsamita) Balsam
Leaves Basella alba
FlowerBorago officinalis Borage
FlowerBorago officinalis alba White borage
Leaves Brassica “Tree Collard”
Leaves Brassica oleracea “Ragged Jack” Kale
Leaves Brassica oleracea var capitata “Nero de Toscana” Cabbage
Flower Brassica oleracea var italica Broccoli
Leaves Brassica oleracea var sabellica “Hungry Gap” Kale
Leaves Brassica oleracea var sabellica “Red Russian” Kale
Leaves Brassica oleracea var sabellica “Siberian” Kale
Root Brassica rapa Turnip
Flower Calendula officinalis “Citrus Cocktail”
Flower Calendula officinalis “Double Mixed Colours”
Flower Calendula officinalis “Dwarf Mix”
Fruit Capsicum frutescens Chili
Bulbils Cardamine bulbifera (syn Dentaria bulbifera)
Leaves Cardamine hirsuta Hairy bittercress
Leaves Carum carvi Caraway
Leaves Chenopodium album “Magenta” Fat hen
Fruit Chenopodium foliosum Beetberry
Leaves Chenopodium quinoa Quinoa
Flower Cichorium intybus “Red Rib” Chicory
Flower Cichorium intybus var. Chicory
Flower Cryptotaenia japonica Mitsuba
Fruit Cucumis sativus “Passandra F1” Cucumber
Fruit Cucurbita pepo pepo “Partenon F1” Zucchini
Leaves /dressing Cymbopogon flexuosus Lemon grass
Flower Dahlia “Wild Forms”
Flower Dahlia pinnata
Root Daucus carota Carrot
Flower Dianthus barbatus nigrescens “Sooty”
Leaves Diplotaxis tenuifolia Perennial rocket
Leaves Foeniculum vulgare “Purpurea” Fennel
Fruit Fragaria vesca “Alpine Strawberry”
Fruit Fragaria vesca “Fructo albo” Strawberry
Fruit Fragaria vesca “Pineapple” Strawberry
Flower Fuchsia magellanica “Globosa”
Leaves Hablitzia tamnoides Caucasian spinach
Flower Hemerocallis cult Day lily
Flower Hemerocallis fulva ”Kwanso Double” Day lily
Flower Hosta sieboldiana Hosta
Leaves Lactuca sativa (4 varieties) Lettuce
Leaves Lavatera arborea variegata
Leaves/Flower Leucanthemum vulgare Ox-eye Daisy
Leaves Levisticum officinale Lovage
Leaves / dressing Lippia dulcis
Fruit Lycopersicon esculentum “Black Cherry” Tomato
Fruit Lycopersicon esculentum “Sungold” Tomato
Fruit Lycopersicon esculentum “Tante Ci’s” Tomato
Fruit Malus domestica “Aroma” Apple
Leaves and flowers Malva alcea “Fastigiata” Hollyhock mallow
Leaves Malva crispa Curly mallow
Leaves, flowers and young seeds Malva moschata alba Musk mallow
Leaves, flowers and young seeds Malva moschata rosea Musk mallow
Leaves Malva sylvestris Common mallow
Leaves Melissa officinalis Lemon balm
Leaves Mentha (7 variieties) Mint
Leaves Mentha aquatica Chickweed
Flower Monarda “Squaw”
Flower Monarda didyma “Adam”
Flower Monarda didyma “Croftway Pink”
Flower Monarda didyma “Schneewitchen”
Flower Monarda fistulosa var menthifolia
Leaves Montia sibirica (syn. Claytonia sibirica) Siberian purslane
Leaves Myrrhis odorata Sweet cicely
Leaves Ocimum basilicum “Large Leaf” Basil
Flower and young seeds Oenothera biennis Evening primrose
Leaves Origanum vulgare “Aurea” Oregano
Leaves and flowers Oxalis spp. (2 varieties)
Root Pastinaca sativa Parsnip
Leaves Pelargonium “Attar of Roses”
Leaves Pelargonum odoratissimum
Leaves Petroselinum crispum *3 Persille
Leaves Petroselinum crispum *3 Persille
Leaves Petroselinum crispum *3 Persille
FlowerPhaseolus coccineus “Painted Lady” Stangbønne
Fruit Phaseolus coccineus “Streamline” Stangbønne
Flower Phaseolus coccineus “White Lady” Stangbønne
Fruit Pisum sativum “Hurst Green Shaft” Ert
Fruit Pisum sativum var. Ert
Leaves Plantago major GroLeaves
Leaves Polygonum virginianum variegatum
Bulbils Polygonum viviparum Harerug
Leaves Portulaca oleracea Portulakk
Fruit Prunus cerasus “Fanal” Surkirsebær
Seed pods Raphanus sativus “Rat’s Tail” Radish
Fruit Rheum x rhabarbarum “Glaskin’s Perpetual” Rhubarb
Fruit Ribes divaricatum
Fruit Ribes divaricatum “Worcesterberry”
Berries (fresh and dried) Ribes nigrum Blackcurrant
Fruit Ribes petraeum biebersteinii Black redcurrant
Fruit Ribes sativum “Hvitrips” (Prob. Hvit Hollandsk?) Redcurrant
Fruit Ribes uva-crispa Gooseberry
Fruit Ribes x culverwellii Jostaberry
Fruit Rubus fruticosus Bjørnebær
Fruit Rubus idaeus “Apricot” Raspberry
Fruit Rubus idaeus “Stiora” Raspberry
Fruit Rubus idaeus “Varnes” Yellow raspberry
Fruit Rubus idaeus “uknown” Raspberry
Fruit Rubus occidentalis Black raspberry
Leaves Rumex “Shchavel” Sorrel
Leaves Rumex acetosa “Blonde de Lyon” Sorrel
Leaves Rumex acetosa “Non-flowering variety” (proliferum?) Sorrel
Leaves Rumex acetosa lapponicus? “Beitostølen” Sorrel
Rumex acetosa variegata Sorrel
Leaves Rumex acetosa vinealis Wine sorrel
Leaves Rumex acetosella Sheep’s sorrel
Leaves Rumex sanguineus ssp. sanguineus Bloody sorrel
Leaves Rumex scutatus Buckler-leaved sorrel
Leaves Rumex scutatus “Silver Shield” Buckler-leaved sorrel
Leaves Salvia officinalis Sage
Leaves Sanguisorba minor ssp. minor Salad burnet
Leaves Satureja hortensis Summer savory
Tuber Solanum tuberosum “Blå Congo” Potato
Tuber Solanum tuberosum “King Edward” Potato
Tuber Solanum tuberosum “Russepotet” Potato
Tuber Solanum tuberosum “Shetland Blue Eye” Potato
Tuber Solanum tuberosum “Yellow Finn” Potato
Leaves Sonchus oleraceus Common sow thistle
Leaves Sonchus oleraceus “Custard in Greens” Common sow thistle
Leaves Spilanthes acmella “Gul” Toothache plant
Leaves Spilanthes acmella “Rød” Toothache plant
Root Stachys sieboldii (syn. affinis) Chorogi
Leaves Taraxacum rubifolium Red-leaved dandelion
Leaves Taraxacum kok-saghyz Rubber dandelion
Leaves and flowers Tradescantia occidentalis
Leaves and flowers Tradescantia ohiensis
Leaves and flowers Tropaeolum majus Nasturtium
Leaves Urtica galeopsifolia Marsh nettle
Berries Vaccinium myrtilus Bilberry
Leaves Valerianella locusta “Dunkelgruner Volherziger” Cornsalad
Leaves Veronica beccabunga Brookweed
Fruit Vicia faba Broad bean
Flower Viola Canadensis Canadian violet