A weed by any other name: Gardening in the DNE (Part 2)

Harvested dandelion greens. Stick them in a salad, try boiling them or stir-frying them. Check out Root Cellars Rock at rootcellarsrock.ca for some very clever gardening ideas and local growing and eating tips plus great photos ! Photo courtesy of Sarah Ferber.

By now, many of you have your garden plots and flower beds prepared and probably have lots of plants in the ground. Perhaps you’ve already started to notice shovings, or potato sprouts, in the garden. With all the recent beautiful weather, you might also have a number of weeds. You can have the best soil, in the best location, loaded with the best seed but if you just let it go, you might grow a few things, but you’ll have a job noticing them in amongst all the dandelions, also known as dipnets, piss-a-beds­ and wap totties. One of the most loathed aspects of gardening is weeding but some weeds can be beneficial, like tansy (Achillea millefolium) and polly peach (Polypodium vulgare), covered in Twig’s December 2011 entry. This month’s Twig, then, will focus on weeds and names for them in the DNE. If you’d like to see what these plants look like, copy the Latin names into Google images and browse to your heart’s content!

Although Dandelions can be quite the nuisance, their smaller greens are delicious in a salad or boiled and seasoned. Another weed that can be eaten is mile-a-minute, or Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica); its tender young shoots can be used for pies, jams and general baking. This weed, like the others, spreads very quickly but it grows somewhat tall and large and can look quite nice along a fence, border or ditch, especially when it’s in bloom.

A local variant for dandelion from 1970. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Other edible weeds include dock (Heracleum maximum) and lamb’s tails (Chenopodium album), both providing good greens. Lamb’s tails are also known as white goosefoot and lamb’s quarters. These are not the same as lamb’s ears (Stachys lanata), a popular garden plant that is known as Jesus flannel in some parts of the province. This plant can be eaten, steeped for tea, or used as a bandage.

Word-file for ‘dock’ with some other plant names included. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

One informant from Notre Dame Bay listed dunch nettle (Cirsium muticum) as a common weed, but this type of nettle is different from stinging nettle. It grows wild and is edible.

Word-file for ‘dunch’ from 1972. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Other edible weeds include farewell summer, or fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), that is lovely to look at but it will spread, well, like fireweed, if left unattended. Some might also know fireweed as blood vine, pink tops, rock flower, silk thread, or wild tobacco.

Word-file for ‘wild tobacco’. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

The DNE collection has one citation for Kinnikanick. According to the source, this was a used by the Mi’kmaq in place of tobacco when certain weeds ran out and refers to the inner bark of a Red Willow.

‘Kinnikanick’ word-file. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Of course, weeds have other practical applications. The blessed virgin’s leaf (Polygonum persicaria) is a common weed and might be more commonly known as lady’s thumb. It, like many other weeds, has been used medicinally. This plant has been used to stop bleeding. Broad weed, or knapweed (Centaurea nigra L.), may also be troublesome in the garden. Other Newfoundland English names for this plant are French clover or French tobacco.

Word-file for ‘Blessed Virgin’s Leaf’ from 1967. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Feraun is from the Irish feorán curraigh. This weed is also known as gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus). In Newfoundland English, however, feraun is a weed that looks like a daisy with no petals and may also be called pineapple-weed (Matricaria matricarioides). According to one source from St. Mary’s Bay in 1956, it is an “evil-smelling yellow weed”.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) is known as sally sours. The leaves of the plant are sometimes chewed by children until the taste is gone. Other Newfoundland English variants for sheep sorrel are sally cives, sally saucers, sally suckers, laddie-suckers, sweet leaf, and sweeties.

Word file for ‘sally 2’ from Gander, 1966. “In the afternoons after school the children looked for patches of “Sallies” almost the way kids look for cigarettes. They grow in much the same terain as dandeloins grow in. The girls & boys would go in gangs to look for these. They didn’t swallow the leaf but just chew it
up until the taste was out of it. Leaves about as long as your index finger. They have a tingly spicy taste. The children longed for these sallies the way one longs for a cigarette because of the taste they would put in your mouth. You really had to search for these because they weren’t very common. The news would be out if someone found a patch and everyone would so running over. By the time you got there the land would be claimed.”That’s my patch!”” Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Monkshood (Aconiturn Napellus), a very poisonous but beautifully brilliant blue or purple plant, is typically considered a weed. According to the one available citation in the collection, in St. Lawrence, the plant is known as Queen’s fettle. Another poisonous weed is gold-withy (Kalmia angustifolia), also known as sheep laurel and lambkill in other parts of Canada. There are quite a number of local variations on the pronunciations of this plant name. Check it out in the online version of the DNE.

‘Gold-withy’ word-file. Notice how many species are refered to as gold-withy! Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Do you have troublesome weeds that aren’t mentioned here? Do you know of other edible or useful weeds (that maybe aren’t really weeds at all!)? Do you have photos? If so, drop us a line and we can check to see if there are any Newfoundland English terms for your weeds.

Happy weeding!

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7 Responses to A weed by any other name: Gardening in the DNE (Part 2)

  1. Lara Maynard says:

    Enjoyed this so much!

  2. Gail Catto says:

    Many lupine plants found in coastal communities with lighthouses were the result of my uncle, Bruce Stacey, bringing seed with him when he serviced lighthouses for The Dept. of Transport, Canada. My cosines , his children , and our family would gather the ripe seed in the fall . He would put a bread bag of hulled seed in his jacket pocket and go off in a helicopter to remote areas of Newfoundland. He was a Scout leader and this was a Johnny Apple seed attempt to make every where we could as beautiful as our grandparents garden. I have noticed that other people are also doing this!

    • suzannepower says:

      What a great story, Gail! Harvesting seed is an excellent way to keep your own garden growing and perhaps get your neighbours and others growing too. I’m struck with the image of gardening via helicopter and that sounds like a lot of fun. It’s truly amazing that a handful of seed can produce the most beautiful gardens and it’s especially nice to think that there are people out there, like your uncle, who take the initiative to beautify our open spaces. Thanks for your comment.

      Suzanne

      • Gail Catto says:

        Yes, a weed for some was sown by others who recognized a use. Dandelion, Lupines, Rockets, and others were brought along as people settled new land. I find this interesting . Thank you .

  3. biggsis says:

    Thank you for this incredibly informative post! I’m going to be more aware of what I’m pulling out of the ground and throwing away!!

    • suzannepower says:

      I felt the same way when I wrote the post. All that Japanese Knotweed and Fireweed I’ve thrown away could have made some great preserves instead!
      Thanks for reading,

      Suzanne

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