Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Flowers: Non-native weeds

Western Salsify or Goat's Beard

Tender young goats-beard shoots are edible raw or cooked like asparagus. The fleshy roots of first year plants can be roasted or boiled like parsnips.

Every week, the meadows and marshes have a new flower display to observe. Many of the prolific plants are introduced species from Europe that have won the competition for habitat over some of our native plants.

One weekend, I looked through a new group of flower pictures to identify them, and discovered that every photo I had taken was of a non-native species. Reading further, I learned that many plants were brought here for gardens or for medicinal purposes.

Imagine leaving the home of your ancestors and travelling across the ocean to an uncivilized and unfamiliar place. Who wouldn't want to bring the seeds of some familiar herbs or flowers along? Here are a few interesting introduced plants and a description of some of the things they were used for. The information is from the book Ontario Wildflowers by Linda Kershaw unless stated otherwise.

Climbing Nightshade or European Bittersweet

This was introduced to North America as a medicinal ornamental. It was used for treating coughs, fevers, and other illnesses. It was applied to warts, pimples, swellings, and aching joints.


The tender young leaves are rich in vitamins and make a good salad or cooked greens. The flowers can be added to fritters or pancakes or made into wine. The roots provide a raw or cooked vegetable and a caffeine free coffee substitute. The mildly laxative and diuretic leaves are used in teas and digestive aids.

Bladder Campion

The leaves when boiled have something of the flavor of the peae ( pea ) and proved of great use to the inhabitants of the island of Minorca in the year 1685, when a swarm of locusts had destroyed the vegetation." ..... " The leaves whenorical Note 1776 .. William Withering; Physician, Botanist, Minererlogist 1741-1799

Bird's Foot Trefoil

This cheerful roadside flower was brought to North America for fodder and honey. Herbalists recommended the plant as a sedative. This perennial legume produces high quality forage for cattle and sheep and grows well in poorer soil.

Chicory (one of my favourite wild flowers!)

Chicory has been planted as a source of food and fodder. The flowers can be added to salads and the tender young shoots and leaves eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. The roots are considered the best caffeine free substitute for coffee.

These introduced plants have adapted to our landscapes and have spread their history across the continent. Check out Laura O's post from yesterday on burdock. Many plants we consider to be nuisance weeds are useful food sources that we will not see in the aisles of the grocery store.


  1. Anonymous6:32 am GMT-4

    You're right, we are photographing many of the same flowers right now! I have such mixed feelings about non-natives. They are all so pretty and many, as you state are useful. It does make me wonder what this continent looked like before the Europeans arrived.

  2. Interesting stories, Ruth. Thanks for sharing. I like the Chicory also.

  3. love your flowers. I used to think of Hawksbeard as dandelion clone. The Afghan women's burka is always called cornflower blue and I always wondered what that flower was. To me the colour is that of chicory, but I think because the Brits have such a long association with Afghanistan and cornflower is one of theirs that is how is got it's accepted description. And somehow cornflower blue better captures it than chicory blue. Funny thing that.

  4. Great idea for a post.-I enjoyed reading the historical descriptions.

  5. Jennifer- I know this area was covered in dense bush before the Europeans came. With so much land cleared, the native plants would have lost their habitat anyways. I would love to see more forests here. I think some our climate change is related to deforestation.

    Mary- I am interested in the medicinal uses of plants. I really like the Ellis Peter's books about Father Cadfael, the medieval herbalist.

    Dr.B.- Thanks. Hawksbeard...this flower has many names. It is like a giant dandelion and has a similar but sturdier seed head. I always thought the chicory flower was a cornflower. As a child, I loved the flower and would pick them for my mother. But they close up when picked. I will have to look up the Afghanistan/cornflower connection.

    Larry- thanks! Now that i am learning about these plants, I have a harder time "weeding" my garden!

  6. Chicory is MY favorite, too!
    A good source of caffeine, huh?
    See ya later....I will be out back, grazing.

  7. Dear Susan...Chicory is a good caffeine free substitute for coffee. That is why I don't like it! ;-)
    You can cease grazing. I will have to introduce you to Tim Hortons!

  8. Re Climbing Nightshade. I found this plant growing down by the river in Vancouver and wondered what it was as it wasn't in any of my books! Thanks for the info!

    I've been giving your total blog a quick going over ... mostly looking at pics. You're my kinda gal!

    I also, am interested in the medicinal uses of plants ... will have to check those you indicated (Ellis Peter's books).

    TTFN ... Eileen

  9. Eileen- Thanks for your comment. It is nice to meet and interact people with similar interests even when we are many miles apart.


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