In the Weeds: Plantain (nope, the other one)

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become better acquainted with one of our quiet but powerful neighbors.

We all know that plantains are the world’s best starch, but did you know that plantain (Plantago spp.) is just as wonderful?

plantainplantain

Plantain has been in North America since Europeans invaded in the 15th century. Now, thanks to its invasive and stubborn nature, it lives almost everywhere where humans do. Plantain’s tiny seeds – over 20,000 growing on each plant – hitched a ride across the continent on European’s boots, leading members of Algonquian nations to call it “White Mans Foot” or “English Man’s Foot.” Perhaps this – or the shape of the leaf – is what gave rise to the scientific name, Plantago.

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Vivacious, Viable Vermicompost

I’m not big on new year’s or birthday resolutions, but there was one big hurdle I wanted to jump before turning 30: my fear of worms. I’ve been absolutely disgusted by earthworms ever since my older cousins put them down my shirt when I was five. With a little encouragement from some gardening pals, I’ve become Sunset Park’s newest worm herder.

worm union

Vermiculture is using worms to compost kitchen, garden, and household waste. It turns stinky trash into nutrient-rich, fresh-smelling worm castings that can be added to potted plants or gardens. If you pay for your trash collection it will lower your costs and, whether you pay or not, reducing the amount of methane-producing food that goes to landfills is good for everyone. While traditional compost requires a large, outdoor space, vermicompost can be housed in a tiny Brooklyn kitchen. And although a worm or two might get antsy and make a wiggle for it when they’re getting used to their new space, once they’re established, no one will ever know they’re around.

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In The Weeds: Gallant Soldier

The difference between a weed and a flower is judgment. Or maybe just attention. Who – other than the gardeners who spend hours uprooting them – really thinks about weeds? Weeds are tenacious growers, always looking for new ways to survive where they’re not wanted. Although most are unassuming, they always carry rich histories and often have potent properties. Learning about these overlooked plants can teach us about spontaneity, endurance, and healing. Every two weeks, I’ll find out everything I can about a local (to wherever I am at the time) weed that’s in season so that we can become better acquainted with one of our quiet but powerful neighbors.

Context is everything. In Colombia, guascas are an essential ingredient in a chicken and potato stew called ajiaco. In the U.S., gallant soldiers are organic gardeners’ worst nightmare. No matter what you call them, Galinsoga parviflora are probably the cutest members of the daisy family.

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Fucking Pansies!

Next time someone tries to tell you that queer and trans folks have taken our identities too far, give them a botany lesson. Plants are SO queer, y’all.

Before we get into all the very exciting sexualities that plants have, let’s talk about their sexy parts. If you’ve ever taken a 6th grade science class, you’ve probably learned about the “male” and “female” parts of plants. Since we’ve all come to recognize that there’s nothing inherently “male” about sperm or “female” about eggs, it’s about time for a vocab rehab. I’m excited about all the trans and queer plant-lovers out there who are rethinking ways that we can talk about and learn from plants. Today, I’m going to talk about “stamens” and “pistils,” and I can’t wait to see what we come up with in the future.

With that in mind, let’s hop in the Magic School Bus and learn all about plants’ bits.

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In The Weeds: White Snakeroot

“Weeds are flowers too,” said Eeyore, “once you get to know them.”


A few weekends ago, my boo, Isa, and I went on a walk in Prospect Park. She’s an avid birder (is there any other kind?) and I love plants more than cheese, new shoes, and lots of other Very Good Things. It was my first time in the park in the fall and I was amazed that even in October, there were fat, speckled berries on the trees and a rainbow of flowers along every path.

Although birders keep lists for big days (Isa’s that day had a pin warbler, a dark-eyed junco, a clark’s nutcracker, and 9 others), most plant people want more. We like to know where a plant comes from, how people have used it, how it grows, where it got its name, and at least three fun facts to foist on a friend who never asked us to identify it in the first place.

All of which is a long way of saying that it’s high time for a weekly series where we learn everything we can about weeds. I’m starting with intrigue; this weed’s story is a heady mixture of animal husbandry, deadly contagion and, of course, a good dose of misogyny and white supremacy.


As we walked through Prospect Park, every trail seemed to be bordered with clumps of small, white flowers. I identified them as white snakeroot, but didn’t think much of the nondescript blooms until we left the woods. The same white flowers were peeking from under every tree on Isa’s street and had even colonized a pot on her front stoop. Suddenly, like pumpkin-spice in October, white snakeroot was everywhere.

White snakeroot grows in shady, wet places.

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En Lo Pequeño Radica La Fuerza: Herbalism for Quiet(er) Revolutionaries

For as long as it’s existed, A-Camp has been one of my favorite places. It’s also been a place that turns the worry knob in my brain up to full blast. I worry that I’m too small or maybe pretending to be big but what if I’m too big and then everyone can see right through me and what if seeing through turns into looking past and and and and and.

So this year, after a winter that was more cold than cozy, I wrote a love letter to myself in my application and planned to lead nothing but arts and crafts for four days. Y’all! We made tiny grills, sewed coptic-bound books, and made jewelry out of recycled beer cans, but my favorite activity was the herbalism knowledge share I hosted. We were a ragtag group of queers and damn if every single person there didn’t have something to teach me.

I came home from camp with a low humming calm that my body had known before but forgot the year it first knew blood. I’m not saying I came back perfect or fixed, but I stopped confusing devastation with depth and started to feel the whole way around things. Like maybe the earth is a warm place. Like maybe I make it warmer.

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