What if rather than trying to get the weeds out of your lawn, you could make a lawn out of weeds. Well, wead on, dear weader, and you shall see how.
Besides its well-known medicinal properties, the common weed Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major) is a nutrient powerhouse, and thus gardeners everywhere should incline their eye toward it. It apparently came to North America with the Pilgrims, and its ubiquity across the disturbed landscapes brought on by European colonization earned it the nickname “white man’s footprint.” Yet despite its generous nutrient package and non-necessity of cultivation, it is described as bitter and fibrous, and one website calls its preparation for eating “tedious”, which right there, in my opinion, is a death knell to a wider circulation among cooks (http://www.ediblewildfood.com/broadleaf-plantain.aspxi). But what if we could take the weedy nature of broadleaf plantain, its hardy, no-help-needed attitude toward growing, and what if we could thin out and tenderize its leaves. What if we could make, in essence, a super-nutritious grass-lookalike which at least for part of the year could approximate a lawn. What if nothing……it’s already out there!
What is that grass doing with prongs? IT’S NOT GRASS!
Last year I wrote about my delightful discovery of a culinary plantain cousin, Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago coronopus).
Though new to me, the gardening community at large has prized it for centuries, especially in Italy under the name erba stella (it is also called minutina, though I do not know why, except, perhaps that its seeds are minute) . Admittedly mild in the taste department, though neither inoffensive nor fibrous, it merits a try for its boldness in the shape department. It’s long, shoelace-wide leaves sprout little antler prongs as it elongates, giving it strong visual appeal on the plate and earning it its common name. Watch out for these common names, though….another fibrous and bitter common cousin, the Lanceleaf Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is also called Buckhorn Plantain, despite the fact that it hasn’t even the slightest hint of a prong. Thus we must mark a victory for the botanical Latinists, who teach us not to put much stock in common names because they often conflict.
Anyway, this past fall I decided to try a very thick, cover-crop like sowing of erba stella aka buckhorn, and I was rewarded with an edible lawn! The sheer density of growth keeps the plants small and tender, and it’s easy to just grab some scissors and give it a haircut. From two years of my own experience, I can say that it appears tough as nails in the NW winter, and blogs and seed catalogs indicate that it is winter hardy with a little protection across the nation.
The website below gives some wonderful culinary uses for this plantain, including as a bed for seafood, cooked vegetables, and meat medallions, as well as the following mouth-watering suggestion:
“…try pan frying a handful of Minutina leaves in a buttered frying pan with fresh snipped chives and a fresh duck egg cracked on top. ”
With a buckhorn “lawn” on some of my raised beds, mowing the “grass” never tasted so good! Anyone out there have a duck egg?