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JANICE WELLS: The thing about goutweed is…


There's a lovely stone path in there and old roses that I usually keep clear.
There's a lovely stone path in there and old roses that I usually keep clear. - Janice Wells

In the yard, sure, but on your table?

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

In for a penny, in for a pound.

I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

If you’re gonna go bear, go grizzly.

You get the point.

Last week I extolled the virtues of dandelions as pollinators for bees. This week, believe it or not, I’m searching my soul — and the Internet — to find something good to say about goutweed. I will admit, though, that whatever I’ve found will never make up for all my unkind thoughts, about the bane of my garden’s existence.

Some of you agreed with me about dandelions; some didn’t. And I’m sure there are people who don’t know what a pollinator is, yet embrace the opportunity to not feel like such slobs when it comes to not mowing their lawns (even though it can’t help but relieve some of the guilt).

Also, Richard from Nova Scotia pointed out that a bylaw in Halifax Regional Municipality mandates lawns be cut and trimmed. I understand the esthetic behind that, but I have to say I would oppose it vehemently were St. John’s to follow suit.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. No one wants to live next to a plot of messy overgrown grasses and weeds. But as we become more in tune with the Earth, I do believe lawns will become less common and diversified gardens will increase proportionally.

You don’t have to be a gardener to have a diversified garden – just plant the right stuff. Do some homework. Look at the pictures of the many examples online. Talk to your local nurseries. Ground cover, ornamental grasses can live very happily and attractively with native plants and native rocks and even stumps.

 Newman can still reach the he-shed. - Janice Wells
Newman can still reach the he-shed. - Janice Wells

The good Lord knows I cannot in all conscience recommend the kind of goutweed that I have — the solid green one — but the variegated variety is much less invasive and quite attractive and won’t need mowing, herbicides or watering.

And you can eat it! Just like dandelions. I knew about the dandelions; every part is edible. My father used to send us out in the spring to pick the young greens for a feed that he laced with vinegar. We couldn’t pick from our garden; my mother wouldn’t tolerate a dandelion amongst her lovely flowers. Then again, she didn’t have much grass either. She was ahead of her time.

I didn’t know anything good about goutweed. It never occurred to me that I could feed a small country from my backyard. I have, in fact, surrendered to it and now refer to what was my back garden as “the park.” Newman keeps grassy sections mowed (now the dandelions are finished) and mows paths through the goutweed. It looks quite lush from a distance and fits with my mantra that anything you can’t see from three feet away doesn’t count.

I have some smothering perennials out there on which I keep performing the garden equivalent of CPR, trying to keep a spot clear around them. The peonies are amazing. There is one I didn’t even find until last year. I cleared it out and put in a brick barrier (almost useless) and it’s facing the world with buds again.

Eat goutweed! Blessed redeemer. You can cook the young leaves or use them for salads, soups and smoothies. You can deep fry the flowers and it has been used for centuries as a remedy for… wait for… gout.

I haven’t tried it yet. We’ve been mortal enemies for so long that there’s something repugnant just thinking about eating it.

If I was 20 years younger I could make some money on it. First I’d take a page from the Australians and use one of its other names, like ground elder or herb gerard. Did you know the kiwifruit is also called Chinese gooseberry? Which one sounds more appetizing to you? Herb gerard could be the latest thing. What foodie wouldn’t want to try it? I can see it on the menu at high-end restaurants; “Locally sourced herb gerard salad with beets roasted over a wood fire and pureed oyster mushroom and virgin of grotto dressing.” You never have to pretend you like kale again.

Who knew? Goutweed is not all bad.

 A struggling daylily. - Janice Wells
A struggling daylily. - Janice Wells

Janice Wells offers her own unique take on life as a baby boomer, often served up with a twist of humour and a splash of gin. She lives in St. John’s, N.L., and can be reached at janicew@nf.sympatico.ca.


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