To weed or knotweed—Let ‘em grow?

 Weeding my garden today leads to some questions about weeds. In fact surrounding the basil, tomatoes and orach, most of what I saw was edible although we call them weeds— lambsquarters, sour clover, dandelions. Weeds are a decision we have made.   We develop plants that have special qualities—basil, for example, and we get rid of everything that is notBasil. 


Yet if we foraged these weeds we would have a meal. Dandelion greens for example have a nutrient quality close to liver. Lambquarters are used in Indian curries. The leaves taste like spinach and its seeds are a grain substitute.  Napoleon’s army survived on the seeds in lean times. Orach, a red leafy plant cultivated by the colonists, is a relative of lambsquarters; and they look a little alike.  One is a weed in this country and one is not.


We make choices to cultivate certain things about or within ourselves. My wife for example has naturally curly hair, like Peppermint Patty in Peanuts.  When she lets it grow untamed, all of us, my daughters and myself, think it looks great. She, however, isn’t as fond of it that way.  She grew up in the Peggy Lipton (Mod Squad) straight haired hippie era and that is what she prefers— straight hair, and she works to keep it that way. 

We have personal qualities we like, so we cultivate the ones we like and we weed out the ones we don’t like. Maybe I am bright but want to be more open hearted. I’m quiet and want to be outspoken. I don’t want to be so angry or anxious. I want to be kinder to myself and others, or more self-disciplined. So we’re always working on weeding our garden, but I wonder sometimes: what would happen if we stopped?  What  would happen if we let the garden grow?

I like my hair long for example, but at my age it thins. If one values neat and trim, I need to get it cut. But during the pandemic,  I’ve just been letting it grow, and I like the wild and slightly unkempt look. However, my daughter, Laurel, the other day suggested that she was willing to do a haircut, so she’s not so fond of it. In fact, she thinks I should get it all cut off. Ultimately, we don’t know what are the weeds in our life and what is not.

Knotweed is considered as the name suggests, a weed, but Laurel harvests it and it tastes like asparagus or rhubarb.

So in our life, what are the things we cultivate and what not.  We cultivate a job because it is productive, but maybe there are things around it that could be more important to our life, that we don’t pay attention to. Maybe these are the things, the weeds, that we really need to sustain our life. Americans, particularly, are focused on “productivity” and “economics” and often neglect things that are more important to one’s life.  We put a lot of effort in to producing the vegetables we want, when there may be “weeds” nearby that will give us what we need with less effort. It is probably the puritan work effort engrained in us, but we choose the hard path over the easy, assuming the hard path will be more “productive.”

There is a story about a Taoist farmer. He had a prize horse, but it ran away. All the villagers rushed to him  to tell him how sorry they were that he lost his horse and what a misfortune it was. All the farmer said was, “Is that so?”. The next day the horse returns with two other horses.  And all the villagers rush to him and say, “how wonderful.“ The farmer asks, “Is that so?” The next day his son is in the farmyard trying to tame one of the horses, and he gets thrown and breaks his legs. Of course, all the villages rush to the farmer and say, “how terrible!““Is that so?” the farmer replies. Several days later the army marches through town conscripting young men for the war, but his son can’t go. And again all the villagers rush to him and say, “how wonderful.“ “Is that so?”

What are weeds and what are not weeds? Sometimes, I will have plants in my garden I am uncertain of, so I will let them keep growing, so I can find what they are, what they will turn into. Sometimes random plants grow into squash or tomatoes.  Sometimes to find out what happens–without deciding too quickly what is good and what is not–we need to let things grow. A confession, however—I did weed one garden and I left the other to grow. 

What do you want to let grow today?

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