|When Adam delved and Eve span--Portuguese tile painting.|
A friend complains of the chore of weeding his garden, suggesting that the tendency of gardens to sprout up in “noxious weeds” is a result of the fall. He struggles in particular with dandelions. And what he says is borne out by Genesis: Eden was originally a garden, and after the fall, Adam had instead to struggle to wrest his food from the ground “by the sweat of his brow.” All of nature fell when man fell. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake... Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.:” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Yup. Clear enough. But dandelions? Dandelions are delicious. Every part of a dandelion can be eaten, in a variety of ways. The leaves make a good salad. The flowers do too, or they can be deep-fried like fritters, or potato chips. They can also be fermented into a wine that tastes a lot like champagne. The roots are good boiled or sauteed. Roasted, they make a coffee substitute; or the dried leaves make an herbal tea. Even the crowns are good—you can pickle them, like capers. The white milk is soothing for skin lesions. Dandelions have more beta-carotene than carrots, and more iron than spinach. Noxious indeed!
|Everything you see here is edible.|
This, of course, is not to mention the many recreational uses of the dandelion—the fun of blowing on the seeds, or twisting the stems into daisy chains. Or that it is, in fact, a remarkably beautiful flower.
You might think this remarkable neglected utility might be special only to the dandelion; more generally, a weed is a weed. But it seems it is not so. It seems to be the common case. In my Ontario childhood, the second-most hated garden intruder, after the dandelion, was the plantain. But it too is edible: so much so that the Anglo-Saxons called it “way-bread.” Leaves and stalks suitable for salad, leaves boiled a substitute for spinach, seeds with a nice nutty flavour. And it is much better than the dandelion as medicine: proven good in clinical trials for a variety of respiratory problems, reputedly also good for ulcers, fevers, and against toxins. It has cosmetic uses as a skin softener; and the seed husks are the world's finest natural source of fibre: a key ingredient in Metamucil.
|No, not the banana kind.|
How about crabgrass? Did you know that crabgrass is actually a variety of millet? Perfectly good grain, suitable for making flour, bread, porridge, pasta, or beer. And used in all these ways in Africa.
|Fancy a pint? With bread, or pasta?|
Another friend complains of goutweed. And why is goutweed called “goutweed”? Because as a poultice it is a great salve for the pains of gout or arthritis.
So what gives? How come these things are considered “weeds,” and worse than useless, when they are in fact incredibly useful?
Their fault, it appears, is simply that they are too easy to grow. They grow without being cultivated, and even in the worst conditions. We are obliged to work so hard largely, it seems, because we do not value what comes too easy. You have heard, no doubt, the Biblical saying, “No rest for the wicked”? In fact, that is a bad paraphrase. What the bible actually says is, “The wicked will not rest.”
Just so. Consider the lilies of the field; they work not, neither do they spin. I would venture to suggest that caviar does not taste any better, objectively, than dandelions. We prize it more only because it is more difficult to get.
It is perhaps partly in this sense that nature has fallen along with man: it is our perverse attitude towards it that constitutes its fall. This perverse attitude prevents God from helping us, when his help and bounty is often all around.
And isn't this perversity, in the end, exactly the same as the original sin of the Garden of Eden itself? We only want what we cannot get. If there is just one thing we cannot get, we are inconsolable until we get it. Just one tree we cannot eat from is sufficient. Who cares about all those tasty dandelions about our feet?
But I do not suggest that this is the whole story. Even on this principle, I cannot justify mosquitoes.