All that lawn loot

Friday, May 29, 2009

Leave it to The Wall Street Journal to report on the multimillion-dollar boom in weeds that wind up on your dinner table.

That's right: weeds.

Who knew, until the Journal made a big deal on one of its section fronts Wednesday, that weed-eating shoppers forked out $2 million for dandelion leaves at U.S. grocery stores over a year's time?

Dandelions! $9 a pound!

I wish the Journal also would have reported how much money Americans spend each year on lawn products guaranteed to get rid of dandelions. I'll bet it's in the billions of dollars.

In case you're wondering, I'm among those who spend a lot of money every year to keep dandelions and other undesirable plants out of my yard.

That doesn't keep a decent crop of stinging nettles from popping up in the flower beds in my backyard. Stinging nettles, by the way, are about as popular as dandelions among the weed eaters. I'm not making this up. It's all right there in The Wall Street Journal.

I don't know about you, but my experience with stinging nettles hasn't been fun. The vigorous plants shoot up in the spring right where you're hoping last year's daisies will return. It doesn't take long to realize these aren't daisies at all. So you reach down with your bare hand and grab the main stalk of this weed -- too late, your hand is already full of stinging nettles, which come by their name honestly.

The Journal says stinging nettles are edible after being boiled. Who cares? Anyone who has ever pulled a nettle plant with his bare hands doesn't want this demon of the plant family anywhere near his lips, tongue, throat or stomach. Boiled or not.

I'm not against spring greens. I grew up in a family that gathered greens that grew along country roads and in fields. I can spot dock, lamb's quarters, poke and wild mustard. But who knew you could sell them for real money?

That's what makes this nation great. We are free, under our Constitution, to gather weeds in the country and sell them as exotic foodstuff to city folks who obviously have way too much disposable income.

Nowadays greenhouses are being built near cities to grow greens for the upscale supermarkets where folks who have never seen weeds pay good money to eat them.

Why? This is where American marketing takes over.

According to the hype, weeds are full of nutrients. So are tree bark and raw sewage. Big deal.

When I was growing up we ate spring greens as a sort of tonic, just as we drank sassafras tea to thin our blood, thickened in some mysterious way by winter.

If you put enough bacon drippings and vinegar on a plate of greens, you'll never know what chlorophyll tastes like. Trust me on that.

According to the Journal piece, another weed that's gaining in popularity among the greens grazers is kudzu. Most of you know that kudzu vines take over wherever they grow. There are some lush kudzu patches right here in Cape Girardeau County. A couple of years ago my wife and I saw whole fields and forests consumed by kudzu near Oxford, Miss.

The weed eaters like to batter and fry kudzu leaves. Isn't that something of a health-food oxymoron?

Yes, we all have our battered-and-fried favorites. Chicken. Catfish. Okra. Cheese.

Now kudzu.

Quite frankly, if you battered a piece of rope and deep fried it, nine out of 10 Americans who live on grease-based diets would say, "Yum! Tastes like chicken!"

jsullivan@semissourian.com;

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