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Master Gardener: To be or not to be

I talk a lot about community gardening and farmer’s markets but how about another age-old activity - foraging. Not just picking roadside or meadow berry patches or snacking on wild nuts or muscadines when you were hungry as a kid. My earliest memories of this go back forty years ago when a cousin from California was visiting. He was an “earth child” to say the least. My dad was working in his garden, getting ready to plow over some nondescript and particularly aggressive weeds when my cousin, who was walking up and down the rows barefoot, hollered: “Hey, we can make a great meal out of that!” He salvaged some and Dad took care of the rest. We still laugh about it.

Of course, wild items have entered the menus of restaurants as well. Wild leeks, fiddle head ferns - but stinging nettles?! Cookbooks dedicated to those who make meals from foraging will be out this fall. Back to the nettles - sauteed, they’re supposed to go well with chicken. (You be sure to let me know how it tastes.)

Speaking again of nettles…According to Carl Hunter, in his book “Wildflowers of Arkansas”, we have at least three types of plants named nettles in the state - one from the spurge family, one from the mint family and one from the nightshade family.

Another piece of nettle trivia that you might not know. Over in the UK, there’s actually a world nettle eating championship held at Bottle Inn, Marshwood, Dorset. This odd event was born of an argument between two farmers drinking in a pub back in 1986. They were arguing over who had the largest nettles. Three years later it developed into an eating contest. Of course, you get to wash it down with the house drink! (One gent ate a fifteen-foot-long nettle!) What is the lesson behind this? Be careful of what you argue about when eating or drinking with friends!

Oh, and the reference to the article’s title: That once-welcomed plant from Japan (along with honeysuckle, kudzu, etc.), the knotweed has itself even found a place on the menus of well-healed restaurants in the Pacific northwest. Personally, I regret the day I ever planted this in my yard. See if you can imagine the wonderful attributes this chef makes of knotweed: “Shape and texture of asparagus with a rhubarb-like taste….also subtle citrus notes with exotic tartness.” In my case, it is (k)not to be.

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