Di­ana Nel­son Jones’ Walkabout: Ideas cooked up for knotweed can make it tolerable

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If you had a hu­man en­emy as te­na­cious as Jap­a­nese knot­weed, you would be at war from now un­til you die. It’s in ev­ery neigh­bor­hood, ev­ery bor­ough, ev­ery town­ship and creep­ing fast. You can cut it down, but you can­not con­quer it.

A friend who lives in Cal­i­for­nia-Kirk­bride did man­age to get rid of a knot­weed grove by cov­er­ing it with clear plas­tic for sev­eral years, es­sen­tially burn­ing it out with no-tech so­lar power. This solu­tion has ei­ther not caught on or has var­ied re­sults.

About the only liv­ing thing that loves it is a wild bee to its flow­ers, and that is where the up­side of knot­weed be­gins.

Chef Chad Townsend of the Gar­field restau­rant Salt of the Earth teamed up Mon­day night with GTECH Strat­e­gies at Bar Marco in the Strip to serve up one of sev­eral other solu­tions. Yes, hu­mans can eat this nem­e­sis. (Don’t eat it from soil you ha­ven’‍t had tested, though.)

“Knot Your Typ­i­cal No Menu Mon­day” at Bar Marco raised money for GTECH’s va­cant land use pro­gram and served as an op­por­tu­nity to show the rea­sons for cut­ting knot­weed other than to get rid of it. At­tend­ees sam­pled as­par­a­gus and knot­weed with let­tuce, chicken with knot­weed broth, pork ter­rine with knot­weed jelly and ap­ple and knot­weed pie. Be­cause it is June, the knot­weed isn’‍t as tender as it is in April.

“I treat it very ag­gres­sively,” mostly with sugar, Mr. Townsend said. “It’s in the rhu­barb fam­ily and de­vel­ops a high acid con­tent.”

Sara In­namor­ato, GTECH’‍s com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist, said she looks for “in­ter­est­ing ways for peo­ple to in­ter­act with our work. When we learned you can eat knot­weed, I thought, ‘‍Oh, maybe we can find a chef for an event.’‍ ”

Every Mon­day, Bar Marco lets any or­ga­ni­za­tion or in­di­vid­ual use its space to serve up ed­i­ble fare to raise money. GTECH’s event also fea­tured art­ist Al­bert Pan­tone who demon­strated us­ing knot­weed to make pa­per.

GTECH stands for Growth Through Energy + Com­mu­nity Health. Since 2007, the non­profit has de­con­tam­i­nated soil on about 200 lots in Al­le­gheny County, largely by plant­ing sun­flow­ers.

It is now us­ing $15,000 in grant money from the Sprout Fund and the Garden Club of Al­le­gheny County for two pur­poses: to work on a method for turn­ing knot­weed into a char­coal-like prod­uct that im­proves soil fer­til­ity and to help Mr. Pan­tone take his knot­weed-to-pa­per pro­cess from hand­made to mass pro­duc­tion.

Mr. Townsend said he learned about knot­weed’s ed­i­bil­ity from “Stalk­ing the Wild Aspar­a­gus,” a 1962 book by Euell Gib­bons.

“You couldn’‍t pos­si­bly eat the amount of knot­weed we have,” the chef said. “It is free food but not a wind­fall, be­cause it’s very la­bor in­ten­sive and re­quires long cook­ing times.”

As we talked over cof­fee Mon­day morn­ing, he al­ready had the stuff cook­ing for the eve­ning event.

Knot­weed isn’‍t the most de­lec­ta­ble of foods, but it’s a lit­tle less odi­ous be­cause it is ed­i­ble.

A sim­i­lar reve­la­tion about the wild vi­o­lets in my gar­den made me ap­pre­ci­ate them more. They spring up ev­ery­where, but since I learned the leaves and flow­ers are great in sal­ads, I see new growth and think, “Free food!”

With knot­weed, it’‍s even bet­ter.

As Megan Zeigler, GTECH’s se­nior proj­ect man­ager, pointed out, if you miss it when it’s tender, you can still eat it with much doc­tor­ing, and you can make pa­per out of it. If you’‍re late to that party, you can make bee houses out of it; this is an­other proj­ect GTECH is dis­cuss­ing with Chatham Univer­sity.

Ul­ti­mately, you can burn it and make bio-char to amend soil. The use of a nui­sance plant to im­prove soil is one of life’‍s sweet iro­nies. It’s a thrill to learn of so many uses and that peo­ple are sup­port­ing ef­forts to im­prove those uses.

It’‍s as if there’s been a break­through in peace talks with the en­emy.

Di­ana Nel­son Jones: djones@post-ga­zette.com or 412-263-1626.

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