Okay, to go along with my previous post about foraging, let me tell you a brief story. A few years back, when I had access to a place to plant flowers, I used to spend a lot of time in the garden watering, pruning, even just looking at my plants as they grew. It was meditation of the best sort. Well, one year, after the daffodils had bloomed, I planted a few overstock seeds in a planter and started watering, waiting to see what emerged. When a plant did poke its head out of the soil, I was surprised (they were old seeds, and I didn’t know if any were still viable) and pleased. I kept looking after it daily, watching it grow and wondering what sort of mystery seed I was raising.
Still being relatively new to SoCal at the time, I didn’t recognize the leaves of the plant, and when buds formed, I was so excited. Now I’d finally know what this lovely little planty was! And so it bloomed. A tiny little yellow flower, and then another. Hmm, I thought kind of disappointing for a cultivated flower, but hey, maybe I didn’t give it enough love. I kept on watering and hoped for the best.
Now shortly after that, I was walking down the road one day, and I saw my plant, or rather dozens of them, growing on the side of the road. My little plant, the object of all that devotion, was a weed! I was not happy to make this discovery at all, especially since it was only days after I’d let the seeds from my plant scatter wantonly across all of my flower beds, and I was therefore looking at the prospect of having hundreds of them growing in my garden. I went home, pulled the “weed” and did my best to collect the seeds I could see on the rest of the soil.
Fast forward to this year, as I’m reading all the foraging books, and lo and behold, there is my “Weed” on the pages of the wild foods guide, listed as a particularly nutritious foodstuff for hikers. What? I killed a plant that would have fed me if I’d known better, and spurned it daily as I passed its brethren on the the roadsides of CA? Never again!
The moral of the story is this: the things we think we “know” about the world are often just perceptions we’ve been taught that have little to do with the reality of a situation. My disappointment in finding that the plant I loved was a common weed didn’t even compare to the disappointment I felt when I realized that I’d allowed myself to be swayed by common opinion into killing a useful plant. I guess in the end, it’s all about making sure you learn from reliable sources, and educate yourself on all sides of an issue before you feel comfortable saying you “know” what you’re talking about.
For more information about wild lettuce, see PlanetBotanic.ca