Casaubon's Book

Invasivores Unite!

My Science Blogs Colleage at Dean’s Corner suggests that in the New Year all of us should think about eating more invasive species. I’m delighted to see this idea being promulgated by both my colleagues and the New York Times, because it highlights one of the best ways of controlling species that get out of control – eat them. The reality is that with almost 7 billion people needing food, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard and the rest of the pests don’t really stand a chance if we take these food sources seriously. There are a host of great recipes here worth considering.

Not only might you want to eat them, but you might want to use them for other purposes – livestock fodder (chicory and kudzu, among others), fiber (nettles and others), and medicinal purposes (I haven’t yet read Timothy Lee Scott’s _Invasive Plant Medicine_ but I’m looking forward to it)!

So if you still don’t have enough resolutions for the new year, work on making a use of those weedy species that accompany us humans! Perhaps one of these days we’ll have to write “save the Kudzu” articles because of overharvesting!



  1. #1 Alice Y.
    January 5, 2011

    Hope so! It’s one of my assignments for our neighbourhood green spaces group to find good recipes for Himalayan Balsam, which is our most common invasive round here. All suggestions gratefully accepted as I have not yet found any recommendations.

  2. #2 Dunc
    January 5, 2011

    I know Himalayan Balsam has edible seeds. Not got any recipes though.

  3. #3 Mike
    January 5, 2011

    Clever idea! But, if a demand is created for these things, then people won’t want to eradicate them, they’ll want to grow more of them. Could that be a problem?

  4. #4 Don
    January 5, 2011

    “Perhaps one of these days we’ll have to write ‘save the Kudzu’ articles because of overharvesting!”

    Not a chance! 🙂

  5. #5 Don
    January 5, 2011

    What, I wonder, can one do with the various species of Asian honeysuckle? They’re about the worst invasives around here.

    And is purple loosestrife edible?

  6. #6 ali
    January 5, 2011

    I’m pretty sure “cattle fodder” was one of original uses for kudzu and that didn’t really help keep it down. It grows really fast and from what I understand the root can be deep in the earth and a long way away from where the kudzu is visible.

  7. #7 Robin Datta
    January 5, 2011

    In some senses, Homo sapiens may be considered an invasive species.

  8. #8 Stephen B.
    January 5, 2011

    My first thought reading this was, “OH, NO!! SHE WANTS ME TO EAT WHAT?!!?” Then I realized that I’ve been using quite a bit of common buckthorn, cut from my employer’s recovering pastures, as firewood. Though the stick size isn’t terribly large (it’s a small tree at best), buckthorn burns so long, so hot, and so cleanly, it really makes cutting up all but the smallest pieces, worthwhile. I think it would make excellent stick wood for a cook stove.

    One does have to keep mowing the stumps, however, or they sucker and regrow quickly, though I suppose for somebody interested in coppicing firewood, that too would work.

  9. #9 ChrisBear
    January 5, 2011

    Too bad buckthorn is toxic- it is ~50% of the shrubbery here in the SW metro of Minneapolis. I spent all of last summer looking for pin cherry or chokecherry trees. I found one, about 60 minutes away. Totally pushed out of their niche by buckthorn!

    There are a few ares of garlic mustard nearby as well. That makes a good salad or steamed green. A few dozen Hmong (and me) have not even slowed its spread.

    One problem I have found is that the invasives are not listed in edible plant books for an area. The U of MN Ag extension and Sam Thayer (_excellent_ books on wild edibles) have helped get me started. But it looks like some botany classes are in my future.

  10. #10 darwinsdog
    January 5, 2011

    In some senses, Homo sapiens may be considered an invasive species.

    No. In every sense.

  11. #11 Some Carnivore
    January 5, 2011

    Funny, I remember reading somewhere that the domestic pigeon was brought to America as a… food source. Presumably because they’d already wiped out all the Passenger Pigeons. Great work, people of the past.

    Then again, I often wonder if I could get away with sticking up mist nets between my bird feeder and the shrubs where all the House Sparrows roost, then break out the turkey fryer. Anyone for McNuggets? XD

    (Please calm down; I was joking.)

  12. #12 dewey
    January 5, 2011

    >In some senses, Homo sapiens may be considered an invasive species.

    And them’s good eatin’! 😉

  13. #13 Richard in Rensselaer
    January 5, 2011

    Nettles! Yea, nettles! The herbalist’s cure-all. Nettles are great for so many things, and I find that boiling 2 quarts of water and pouring it over an ounce of dried nettles and leaving the infusion overnight to drink from all the next day lifts my spirits!

    I’ve also discovered another invasive species, sumac, is a Middle Eastern spice. Dry the seed pods and crush the dried seeds into a powder. Need to get it before winter sets in, I gather.

    I’ll have to go and get that book. I believe that as outside, so inside, and perhaps these invasive species are here to teach us westerners some things about resilience. Might be an interesting lesson to take a leaf from their … leaves. (The word “book” btw, comes from the same word for Beech tree. The beech evidently made for the best pages once upon a time.)

  14. #14 Don
    January 5, 2011

    How does one harvest nettles without getting, er, stung?

    And the fruit clusters of staghorn sumac (which is a North American native, not an exotic) have a citrus-like flavor and can be used to make a tea or even a kind of “lemonade.”

  15. #15 PennyBright
    January 5, 2011

    Parks in my area host yearly garlic mustard pulls, and give out recipe sheets. They’re pretty popular.

  16. Where are nettles an invasive species? I need more… 🙂

  17. #17 Sarah
    January 6, 2011

    I happily eat rabbit, and will even manage prickly pear at a pinch, but I draw the line at eating cane toad.

  18. #18 Brandie
    January 6, 2011

    The whole natives vs. “invasives” thing is a kind of plant xenophobia. I prefer to think of plants as useful or harmful, regardless of how recently they first grew here. Poison ivy is a native, for example, but not welcome in my yard. I have a sentimental spot for the “invasive” honeysuckle though.

  19. #19 dorveK
    January 6, 2011

    “Soylent Green… it’s… it’s NETTLE!!!” (An idea for a PC remake, lol:)

  20. #20 Dunc
    January 6, 2011

    How does one harvest nettles without getting, er, stung?

    The easy answer is to wear gloves. The “hard” answer is that if you grab them firmly enough and in the right way, they don’t sting (as much). Takes a bit of practice though…

  21. #21 ChrisBear
    January 6, 2011

    I was thinking about this topic last night- as the climate changes, populations move, etc., what does ‘invasive’ mean anymore? I-do-not-want-that-growing-here takes too long to say, but isn’t everything invasive at some point?

    If current trends continue, the conifer forests in the BWCA will be hardwood forest or even oak savanna in a century or two. Are those oaks and maples invasive species? Or do they have to come from far away, like the siberian elm, and kudzu?

    Everyone should find a good nettle patch to harvest. Yummy greens, good tea, and I have seen mention that you can make rennet from nettles.

  22. #22 Don
    January 6, 2011

    Brandie, exotic invasives are a problem to the extent that they crowd out native species. For example, our wetlands that are choked with purple loosestrife have lost significant biodiversity as native wetland species are unable to compete. Since the evasives didn’t evolve with natives, they don’t have defenses that enable them to compete with them. And leaf-eating insects are unable to eat and digest their leaves for the same reason; therefore, natural checks on the spread of invasives are not present..

    I’m not a purist–natives only–but the easiest way to enhance biodiversity in one’s yard is to cultivate some native plants.

  23. #23 darwinsdog
    January 6, 2011

    ..what does ‘invasive’ mean anymore?

    Humans are endemic to tropical Africa. Any of us living elsewhere is an “invasive exotic.” If people don’t like purple loosestrife, Siberian elms, kudzu, or rabbits & prickly pear in Australia, etc., they ought to consider how these organisms became introduced outside their endemic ranges. There’s really only ONE “invasive exotic,” and we’re it.

  24. #24 Claire
    January 6, 2011

    The starchy root is the part of kudzu that you eat. It’s the kuzu in macrobiotic cookbooks. Haven’t seen any around here, yet, but if I do, I’ll be digging up them roots. 😉

    James Duke in The Green Pharmacy says that at least one of the Asian honeysuckle species (Lonicera japonica) has antiseptic properties. The flowers are the part used and they are employed for respiratory problems.

    I’m not so sure that any living organism can be properly labeled an invasive exotic species when looked at over the long run. David Theodoropoulos wrote a book, Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience to make that argument. His points are worth considering even if you don’t go to the lengths he does in reconsidering the invasive species label.

  25. #25 darwinsdog
    January 6, 2011

    I’m not so sure that any living organism can be properly labeled an invasive exotic species when looked at over the long run.

    Claire, you impress me with your insight. When I was in grad school I had a cohort member who looked at five genera of woody vine (Lonicera was one of them) that had a native species, an exotic species that didn’t appear to be invasive, and one that did. She (or her adviser) hoped that some common factor could be identified that could be used to predict whether or not an exotic would become invasive. In every case, the factor that promoted invasiveness was idiosyncratic. This outcome didn’t surprise me at all.

    At one point I had a bias against “invasive exotics.” I’ve outgrown it. Earth is too small for such provincialism. I’d have to tow a trailer far afield to harvest pinyon & juniper for firewood if not for Siberian elm & Russian olive. Where I live, I’m an “invasive exotic,” yet, take one step back in time, so are the Navajo. Whatever gets to where it gets to, and manages to stay, should be accepted. That’s just what life does. It’s rare for a person to take the long view, as you seem to. Well done.

  26. #26 Sharon Astyk
    January 12, 2011

    I actually agree with Theodoropolos – and I like his book – it will be showing up as one of our 31 later on. And I agree strongly with DD that most of the species seen as enemies are really our allies – they accompanied us and thrive with human disturbance. But that said, I don’t think it is a bad idea to eat or use abundant weedy species, instead of others.


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