We spend a good portion of our time, we humans, trying to identify and categorize all manner of creatures, including one another. (Is that a boy or a girl? What kind of accent/haircut/outfit is that? One of ours or one of theirs?)
And, even when we can't identify, we sort things as either "good" or "not-good."
Any little kid can tell you that dolphins are nice and good, while sharks are mean and scary.
Judging is arguably how we survived for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution: correctly id-ing food vs. non-food, sorting bad guys from among the good folk of the world, drawing clever parallels between similar things.
"What's past is prologue"* even with as spendthrifty a pen (keyboard) as this one.
*This quote from of course, The Tempest. Act 2, with Antonio and Sebastian piffling away on shore.
And with the prologue passed, the point of my piffle:
While strolling through my tiny kingdom, I find myself not just trying to name the plants, but also sorting them by my lights as bad or good. I spent a studious half-hour or so on figuring out what these four plants were. Each with a maybe yellow flower, each growing rampant on the Would-Be Farm. Each a familiar mystery.
Right to left: the nettle is easy, but as it turns out, it's not common nettle, but Tall Nettle. The second is Garlic Mustard, then Cypress Spurge. And finally, with the dandelion-y leaves, Marsh Yellowcress.
Tall Nettle (Urtica procerea) is a stinger: tiny hairs on the stem will give you a dose of formic acid and histamine that feels a bit like the bite of a fire-ant. Dried, it's used to treat scalp problems, while traditional herbalists would suggest applying the stings to arthritic joints –– sometimes the cure is worse, wait, no, it does in fact work.
Nettle also nutritious: steamed or cooked as spinach, nettle is full of Vitamin A and calcium. So while I want to say it's a bad plant, it's got its good points too.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a garlic-scented member of the mustard family. Shocker, I know, with a name like that. Pretty solidly a baddie, although it's edible from top to toe. I will be grazing on this plant next spring, knock wood.
Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is a recent (1860-ish) immigrant to the country. It's an ornamental that spreads rapidly. Its seed-pods detonate and can broadcast seeds up to five feet. Whoa. It's poisonous to horses and cows (but not sheep. Go figure.)
While the milky sap is poisonous to humans, it has been used to remove warts. That's something.
Cypress Spurge has some other traditional medicine uses, but I'm going to keep my gloves on and pull it as a weed.
Marsh Yellowcress (Rorippa palustris) is a mustard and a cress, which is all to the good. It's native, it likes the boggy wetlands that stripe the farm, and it is edible raw (ooh! peppery!) or cooked (add a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. nom nom nom).
Is it ironic that I am basically re-discovering the common knowledge of my hunter-gatherer ancestors?
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