While Toronto is still covered in snow, green life will soon sprout from the ground.
Garden paintings, reminiscent of traditional botanicals, evolved out of my relationship with my garden in Elora, Ontario, where daily, I would pick a common “weed”, observe it and paint its form with milk paint on reclaimed wood.
This “weed” happened to be oxalis or wood sorrel. A tenacious plant, with a slight lemony taste, it has been eaten by humans around the world centuries. In “Handbook of Edible Weeds”, Dr. James Duke relates that wood sorrel was consumed for a variety of benefits to help with cramps, fever, nausea, sore throats, thirst and scurvy. Indeed it is high in vitamin C. I would often pick little bits and put them in my salad.
One of my favourite reference books is Richard Mabey’s, Weeds; In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants. He describes the history of weeds through archeology, literature, garden trends and migration patterns. Weeds root deeply where they land and have an incredible ability to adapt. He is both puzzled and fascinated by them. Observing a construction zone filling in with weeds he writes, “…it occurs to me that they are like a kind of immune system, organisms which move in to repair damaged tissue, in this case earth stripped of its previous vegetation”.
Looking a little more closely at “weeds” led me to question how we construct and relate to our natural environment as well as the mental process of weeding and prioritizing our values. What do we dismiss, reject or discard? What do we cultivate, nurture and make space for in our cultural, psychological and natural ecosystems?
Their tenacity is something we should consider. This spring look out for these powerful edibles for your tea, salads, steamed greens … chickweed, dock, dandelion, fireweed, common plantain, purslane, pineapple weed, wild lettuce, lamb’s quarters, nettles, wood sorrel…