The English word "weed" can be either a noun or a verb. A commonly used definition of the noun weed is "a plant out of place," and while biased, it has truth from the gardener's or farmer's point of view. If the plant is out of place, it is a weed. If it presents competition, it is a weed, and even if it is not wanted, it can be called a weed.
There is no botanical classification. Sweet corn is a weed if growing in and shading a potato patch; a hybrid tea rose crowding out dandelions grown for wine becomes a weed. It is all very subjective: if a plant is undesirable, it is a weed.
As members of Community Supported Agriculture at the Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, we are asked to give a few hours several times a summer to weed.
So then, when it is a weed, pull it, stomp it, dig it, mow it, cut it, burn it, but for goodness sake do not poison it.
Many of the more common weeds are edible, some medicinal, and it is safe to say most are alien, brought to this country during its infancy as cottage herbs that have long lost favor. Some snuck across the oceans in sailing ships, and continue today.
Yet a weed is simply, in Ralph Waldo Emerson's words, "A plant whose virtues remain undiscovered."
Consider Bermuda grass or crabgrass. When a way is found to turn these noxious weeds into lawnmower fuel, they will no longer be weeds.
Hairy galinsoga, sometimes called shaggy soldier or common quickweed, is a summer annual with fine hairy leaves and stems, sometimes reaching 2 feet in height, and most often found trying to crowd out vegetable and flower gardens. While pulling it, take time to enjoy its pretty, though small, flower.
The common dandelion, if it ever could be tamed not to enter our lawns but be content to allow confinement to garden space, would be prized even more as a salad green, loaded with vitamins and minerals such as A, C, K, calcium, potassium, iron and more. In the flower garden, cultivars with larger blossoms would win awards at county fairs, while it is now used for wine making or fried as fritters.
Common plantain, so truthful in name, is common in lawns and gardens and has long been used as a salad green, or boiled for 12 minutes and served with melted butter. Use only new leaves, as older ones are stringy.
Green amaranth, while cultivated in South America, is here a vicious weed.
Ground ivy or gill-over-the-ground, a mint, while making a fine herbal tea when dried leaves are steeped in hot water for five minutes, is a nuisance in both lawn and vegetable garden and difficult to completely eradicate. Its rich violet blue, tiny flowers rival the beauty of an orchid.
Common lamb's quarters, or pigweed, is an annual and is especially common in gardens and among cultivated crops and, like so many other "weeds," was introduced here. Its tender leaves and tips make an excellent steamed vegetable.
Common mallow, or cheeses, is another naturalized alien from Europe that, when not competing with tender seedlings, is worthy of consideration. It can be used as an okra-like thickener for soups and stews, or a salad green, and its seeds, resembling tiny cheese wheels, make a tasty, nutty snack or addition to salads.
And often, plants in fresh or salt water, whether nuisance or necessary, are called weeds -- but that's another story.