The War on Weeds: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Eat ‘em

Five months ago our CAST blog focused on the disturbing comeback of weeds—especially herbicide-resistant weeds. The CBS Morning Show caught weed fever last Sunday and ran an eight-minute segment, The War on Weeds. They interviewed a University of Georgia specialist known as Dr. Pigweed, and he made it clear. Palmer amaranth (pigweed) is more resilient, more prolific, and more costly than anything spawned by B-grade science fiction movies, and our crops—such as cotton—are in peril.
The CBS show continued with a general look at glyphosates, herbicide-resistant weeds, the kudzu invasion, and steps farmers might take—including goats, new chemicals, and other methods. One possibility mentioned by the morning show grabbed my attention. Hand-to-hand combat. Humans may need to step back into the arena and take on these weeds with brute force. The March CAST blog includes a lengthy description of those days when “We’d often start early to beat the heat. Dew-drenched, with mud sticking to our Keds’ tennis shoes, we’d trudge along, pulling most weeds, chopping some, and basically wrestling with the ones that seemed more like small pine trees.”
In the B.G. (Before Glyphosates) Era, soybean fields often had to be “walked,” but the move to biotech soybeans turned the fields into English gardens devoid of that old weedy character. Mobs of teens wearing cut-offs and baseball hats were no longer needed.
The weed comeback might require a return of the bean walkers. Or we could try another solution proposed on the CBS Morning Show. If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. They interviewed a foodie who demonstrated some salad and casserole recipes that included weeds. I’m way ahead of that idea. In 1965, while trying for a Boy Scout merit badge (not sure which one, but it should have been called “hunger games”), I had to make a meal out of what I could find in the woods. I used lambs quarters and dandelions for the salad.  I probably smuggled some jelly beans in my pocket for back up. I’m not sure whether they would be classified as a fruit or a vegetable.
My wife and I also ate a well-known Midwest weed while we lived in Tokyo. In small, smoky yakkitori shops, Japanese cooks can grill anything and make it taste good. We enjoyed grilled burdock root—then again, we also ate grilled ginko nuts, fish heads, and eel. Maybe it was the sauce. We’ve since dug some burdock from the home farm in Iowa and grilled it. It definitely must have been the sauce.
I’m all for eating off the land, even if it includes weeds, but I can’t imagine dining on the cockleburrs, buttonweeds, and Canadian thistles we used to battle. We’d have diverticulitis in no time. And you should see the size of those Palmer amaranth. When it comes to pigweed and kudzu, we might want to think beyond eating. We need to be armed. It’s going to be survival of the fittest out there.
 by dan gogerty (top photo from; graphic courtesy of Jack Bacheler and Communication Sevices, N.C. State Univ. in Perspectives)

Note: CAST’s recent and influential Issue Paper, Herbicide-resistant Weeds Threaten Soil Conservation Gains: Finding a Balance for Soil and Farm Sustainability, examines the impact of certain weed management practices on soil conservation objectives and addresses ways to mitigate negative effects.

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