Thursday, April 29, 2010

Knotweed Time

I’m a knotweed apologist. I mean Japanese knotweed, Polygonum cuspidatum, the stuff that so many people incorrectly refer to as “bamboo.”

Well, knotweed is at the perfect stage for picking, here in Mid-Coast Maine. The basic recipe requires steaming or briefly boiling the tender, young shoots in a scant amount of water. The other recipe, one for knotweed chutney, somewhat more complicated, involves home-canning the stuff. That recipe is found in my new book, Wild Plants of Maine, A Useful Guide. Look for the link to that on this blog page. The book is scheduled for release very soon, hopefully within one week.

But back to knotweed. Yes, it’s knotweed time and for at least the next week, I will probably consume a side dish of knotweed every day. That’s how these things go with me, a mad fling while the plant remains at its prime and then on to the next wild, edible.

The accompanying photo shows some knotweed growing along my driveway. The story behind those plants is worth sharing.

Termed an “aggressive, non-native,” most people despise the stuff. However, the aggressiveness is somewhat understated. Knotweed only spreads when its roots are disturbed. Left alone, it expands at something slightly less than a snail’s pace. All the same, homeowner efforts to remove ancient plots of knotweed usually fail. Like horseradish and mint, once established always established.

Anyway, given all that, who would think that anyone in their right mind would purposely attempt to encourage knotweed to grow on their land? I plead guilty. Here’s the reason.

Much of my foraging takes place on other people’s property. Each year, more and more of these sites are placed off limits by posted signs. New property owners typically erect no-trespassing signs before the ink has dried on their deeds. That spells doom and gloom for foragers, hikers, bird-watchers, hunters and fishermen. Requests to continue using the land, with all due respect, are usually denied. It’s a new age we live in, definitely not in the old-time Maine tradition of permissive trespass.

Therefore, I try to encourage as many of wild, edible plants as possible to grow on my own property. And knotweed, being one of my favorites, stood at the head of the list. Oh, yes, I have long ago distributed seeds of common dandelion and curled dock, to name only a few.

Back to knotweed. I dug some clumps and planted them in a convenient location. They did not grow. My clay soil was too hard and the stuff never gained a foothold. After three years, more than long enough for my knotweed to begin growing in good shape, it was clear that my efforts were in vain.

Not to be thwarted, I tried again, this time planting the root clumps in the loose, gravelly soil along the edge of my driveway. Now, again three years later, my knotweed has finally become established.

So much for its “aggressive” tendency. I won’t pick my own knotweed this year because I don’t want to set it back. But in one or two more years, I should be able to enjoy at least a limited harvest.

Picking knotweed takes little time or effort. Just bend the young shoots until they snap. This usually produces a fairly loud, popping sound. Take them home and rinse. Then, set perhaps a half-inch of water to boiling in a frying pan, introduce the knotweed shoots and cook only until they turn a light shade of green and become fork-tender. Drain thoroughly and serve with salt, pepper and butter.

I forgot to mention, knotweed does have one, other use. It makes a delicious dessert. Stewed knotweed tastes something like stewed rhubarb. Just boil knotweed stems and add sugar to taste while stirring. Cool and place in the refrigerator. Use as is or as a pie filling.

Yup, I’m a knotweed apologist. And glad of it.

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