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: email@example.com or 412-263-1626.