Horseweed

August 10, 2022

I thought it appropriate since I wrote on pigweed yesterday that I follow up with horseweed today.  I mentioned while I have placed a small fence around the areas where I grow vegetables, I allowed Zena access to two small areas of ground to run and play.  The larger area had been planted with the ground cover and the naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) I have written about.  The area next to the faucet had been used effectively for potatoes last year, but with Zena this has become the preferred digging area.  Her excavation has become intense, and I knew it was time to cut down some of the taller weeds and fill the holes back in with the soil she had piled on the cement pavers.  I was surprised to see how tall the weeds had grown, and when I googled, they were identified as horseweed. 

When I looked online, I found Horseweed (Conyza canadensis, formerly Erigeron canadensis L.) or marestail, is a common agricultural and landscape weed.   This annual plant is found in most of North and Central America.  As the plant matures, it forms a single, hairy stem up to six feet tall (nearly 2 m), with alternate leaves that are long, narrow, hairy, irregularly toothed, baseball-bat shaped leaves that lack leaf stalks (petioles).  The mature horseweed produces flowers at the top on the stem branches that look like tiny, white, daisy flowerheads.  Horseweed can be a huge nuisance to farmers and has developed a resistance to a variety of herbicides.  Horseweed only propagates by seed and is dispersed by the wind, with a single plant able to produce over 15,000 seeds.  The best way to get rid of horseweed is through tillage.  Horseweed seeds are small, and germination requires light.  Studies have shown that seeds will not germinate when buried more than 0.2 inches (1/2 cm).  That means the fields need to be plowed rather than tilled. 

Tillage is not practical in my garden but pulling the plants out is another effective way to get rid of horseweed.  Like pigweed, horseweed has not always been a nuisance and was also used as both food and medicine.  Young leaves and seedlings are edible and can be dried and stored for later use to help flavor meals (with a flavor like tarragon).  Indigenous North Americans often pulverized the young tops and leaves and ate them raw (like an onion).  The leaves are a good source of calcium and potassium as well as protein.  In traditional North American herbal medicine, horseweed was boiled to make steam for sweat lodges, taken as a snuff to stimulate sneezing during a cold, and burned to create a smoke to ward off insects.  

THOUGHTS:  My horseweed will not be used for anything.  Since it is in flower it is too late to eat the young shoots or leaves.  Since I really like onions (yet cannot get them to grow to save me) I will not eat the tops as a substitute.  However, I do not want to spread the 15,000 seeds to another area.  I tried to pull them earlier and found them difficult to remove.  Perhaps I should get Zena to dig them up for me, but more likely I will do it myself.  Another thing my attempts at subsistence gardening have taught me is when you rely on whatever is produced to survive, you find ways to utilize everything.  That is behind most traditional Southern cooking (collards, mustard, turnips, and kale; add the oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and crab; and end with pork and catfish).  Most would agree this has taken subsistence and necessity to new heights.  The same is true for traditional dishes of other areas.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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