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The group of  White Snakeroot plants in my yard this year has created a delightful orb of delicate white flowers. It resembles a bush but it is actually a cluster of single-stemmed flowers.

I strongly recommend this native plant for shady gardens. Mine grows underneath the canopy of a neighbour’s Norway maple, and it has produced a plethora of flowers, starting in late summer, and continuing to bloom in September.

White Snakeroot

White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) is indigenous throughout southern Ontario in places such as rich woods, thickets, clearings, waste places, ditches, meadows and beside lakes and streams.  I planted mine four years ago and it has formed a clump of plants, about three feet wide and four feet tall in the centre.  The plants get taller towards the centre, which gives the illusion of a shaped shrub.

Do not plant this plant near pastures, however. It’s poisonous to livestock, and will create “milk sickness” in humans when they drink the milk of animals who have eaten the plants.

I think it’s safe to plant this perennial in my city garden, far from any grazing domestic animals. It will spread by seeds, so if you plant this flower, you will be pulling out seedlings. The picture below shows seedlings that grow in the stones surrounding my flower beds. They do not spread by roots, however, so they are relatively easy to control.

Snakeroot Plant Seedlings

Don’t be fooled by the ugly name, the White Snakeroot makes a pretty addition to shady city gardens.

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Do you think it looks messy to let the leaves that fall on your garden bed lie undisturbed?  That seems to be the case for a majority of gardeners.  Whether the neighbours think it looks unkempt or not, I have a policy of leaving mine to rest on my gardens, especially the beds with woodland plants.  I do this for a variety of reasons.

My Garden Bed with Leaf Mulch

First, they keep in moisture.  We had very little snow and precipitation this winter, but what did fall, was largely retained by the leaves.

Second,the leaves help to support a thriving soil food web with an abundance of different types of microscopic life forms, beneficial insects, and earthworms to make your soils teem with life.

Third, it’s convenient. No need to rake and bag for yard waste pick up.  No need to buy and add mulch to replace the leaves. I do add some compost to some of the plants that need extra nutrition.

I am careful, however not to make such a thick layer that it smothers the plants.  The leaves are from a Norway maple, which are fairly large, and may cause matting which plants can’t grow through. It is possible to use a mulching mower to shred them if you own one.

Yes, sometimes the leaves blow around and look a bit messy on my walkway.  However, the wooden siding on my flower beds helps keep them in.

The proof that the mulch benefits the plants can be seen when I compare the Solomon’s Seal that has leaf mulch with Solomon’s Seal that has no leaf mulch (see below).  The ones with mulch are tall and lush and already blooming. The ones without leaf mulch (or any mulch for that matter) are short and straggly and only have a few buds.

So next time you start to rake leaves from your flower bed, you might like to reconsider!  Leaves are a gardener’s friend!

Solomon’s Seal without Leaf Mulch

Solomon’s Seal with Leaf Mulch

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Passageway 1

Link to New Neighbourhood

Have you ever seen someone walk out of or into a place where you thought there was no way through?  These apparitions may be hints that there is secret neighbourhood passageway nearby.

A walk around a neighbourhood will often reveal a way to get to somewhere else that was hidden from your knowledge.

These secret passages are accessible only by foot or by bicycle.  They can take you up or down a set of stairs, underneath a railway, through a schoolyard or park, to different part of the neighbourhood.

These passages make a community more walkable as they create shortcuts where no motorized vehicles can go. Often there are no signs to indicate that there are links to other parts of the neighbourhood, so when you come upon them, it’s like a wonderful surprise discovery.

Passageway Beside Railway

Pedestrian Path Beside Railway

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Look no further than the sidewalks in your neighbourhood for some nutritious snacks!  The other day I went hunting for edible weeds, and I found ten nutritious ones in one block alone.  Going a bit further afield, I found a total of 13 edible weeds and I likely missed some.

Now I wouldn’t recommend eating these plants that are sprouting by the sidewalks: they may be growing in contaminated soil, or have been visited by the neighbourhood dogs.  But I decided to share the information about these plants with you to illustrate that the plants we usually just want to get rid of can be beneficial to us.

Purslane

Purslane

Purslane plants are succulent and can can make do with relatively less water. They do well growing in the cracks between sidewalks and in people’s yards. This plant’s stems contains alpha-linolenic acid, one of the desirable Omega-3 fatty acids.

The other day I even saw Dr. Oz recommend the plant on his show. He told the audience that these omega-3 fats coat our membranes and joints. Purslane’s stems are also high in vitamin C.   You can make them in salads.  “In my home, we mix them with yogurt and garlic and it’s just spectacular.” says Dr. Oz.

Plantain

Plantain

This plant is ubiquitous in my neighbourhood. Plantain’s young leaves are edible raw in salad or cooked as a pot herb.  You can also blanche and saute with garlic. They are rich in vitamin B1 and riboflavin. The herb has a been  used as  medicine since ancient times.

Mallow

Mallow

I remember my mother showing me how you can eat the green seeds of these plants.  She didn’t tell me that all parts of the plant are edible — leaves, stems, flowers, seeds and roots. Mallows have been used in various times in history  as a survival food during times of crop failure or war.

Dandelion

Dandelion

This is another food that my mother fed me in my youth.  She made a (rather bitter) dandelion salad.  Perhaps she picked them at the wrong time, because it’s best to eat the leaves when they are young. The dandelion’s uses are actually quite varied.  Its flowers, leaves, stems roots all can be used. Anglo-Saxons and Normans found that the plant prevents scurvy. Dandelion roots are used to treat numerous conditions.

Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s Quarters

Lamb’s Quarters  has been grown as a grain crop in the Himalayas and is often harvested from  the wild in Africa. Its young leaves can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.  The seeds, which are closely related to quinoa, are filled with protein, vitamin A and calcium, and can also be eaten.

Goutweed

Goutweed

As its name suggests, goutweed is used for rheumatic diseases. This disease category includes autoimmune diseases and diseases that affect the joints and soft tissues, such as gout. Goutweed is also used for hemorrhoids, as well as for kidney, bladder, and intestinal disorders.

Burdock

Burdock

Burdock’s root can be pickled or boiled in soups and stews.  Eating it is also purported to get rid of poisons in your system.  You may know burdock more for the “burs” that cling to your clothes as you pass by.  I heard that these clingy seed pods were the inspiration for the invention of Velcro.   

Chicory

Chicory Flower

Chicory has a variety of uses. Its young leaves can be used to make salads. The root can be boiled. And, the dried, roasted and ground root of the chicory plant can be used as a substitute for coffee.

Sumac

Sumac

You can make a  lemony drink with sumac by steeping the red fruits in cold water overnight.  Be aware that poison sumac has smooth leaves and spaced out white berries. Edible sumac has tightly clumped red flowers with jagged, leaves. Many  Middle Eastern chefs dry the berries of sumac, and then grind them up into a spice powder.

Sumac is said to contain calcium, potassium, magnesium, citric acid and antioxidants. The bark is used  as an astringent tea. It’s also reported to be antibacterial.  Sumac was used extensively by Native North Americans for food and medicine.

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed

Those who eat Japenese Knotweed often describe it as tasting similar to a lemony rhubarb. The young shoots can be sliced raw into thin rounds in salad.  Some people also cook  it into a dessert.

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)

Deep fried carrot flower is supposed to be a delicacy. The root can be eaten while young, but quickly becomes too woody. Be warned however, that you should be absolutely sure it is Wild Carrot because it is very similar to poison hemlock!

Red Clover

Red Clover

Red clover’s flowers can be chopped in salads, steeped in tea, or cooked in soup.  I often pull out a number of the petals at a time, and suck  the ends that were attached to the base to get a nice little jolt of sweet. Now I know why honey bees like them.

So now that I’ve described some of the uses of the plants above, I hope that you can look at these “weeds” in a different light.

Note: Refer to an expert or published plant-identification guide before ingesting any plant. Photos in this blog are not meant  for identification.

References

http://www.altnature.com

http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/living-green/dandelions.html

http://www.turtlestuff.com/category/The-Weed-Patch-63

http://www.landscape-america.com/problems/weeds/edible.html

http://chefdaniel.farm-bloomington.com/?p=115

http://bicyclegardening.blogspot.com/2011/04/edible-weeds-aegopodium.html

http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/qna.html

http://www.veggiegardeningtips.com/surprising-lambs-quarters/

http://www.squidoo.com/malva

http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/weeds-edible-plants-0409#ixzz1XV3KqHkd

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