We have little good to say about weeds, yet they thrive without our endorsement.

Wildflower sounds nice, but that's just a blooming reference to weed and we regard weeds as the scuttling vermin of the herbaceous world.

In some ways, that's accurate. Like rats and mice, weeds are plentiful and prosperous despite our best thwarting efforts. They're found everywhere, and dispatching them is always a chore if it's even possible. They are naturally resilient.

There are many varieties of these wildflowers/weeds. People commonly hardly recognize one variety from other. But the more one learns, the more one may note that they have qualities other than making your lawn look crummy.

Out of the masses, consider a couple of what should be familiar characters: common plantain and yellow wood sorrel. The names may ring no bells, but if you don't recognize these on sight, you've probably spent little time anywhere that wasn't carpeted.

These aren't domestic plants but rather wild veggies. They grow along edge cover, in meadows, fields and most anywhere that's not deep forest. Still, most people recognize them as lawn encroachers because they love that kind of open habitat.

Plantain and yellow wood sorrel are viewed as enemies of the groomed lawn, and much effort and landscaping budget is expended to exclude them from among more proper grasses.

Common plantain is a spinach relative that grows from a central stem, producing glossy leaves that fan out in a radial pattern, usually lying out flat more than upright. The spread may be as big as a saucer, sometimes larger, at maturity.

The weed produces a spikey, asparagus-like seed pod that springs from the center.

Plantain develops as small colonies of plants, and the individual weeds naturally compete for space and retard the spread of homeowner-favored grasses. Plantain roots are shallow, but they're tough and resistant to insincere efforts at extraction.

There's a broad leaf plantain that may be more common, but there's also a narrow-leafed plantain, the two varying as the names suggest. The narrow-leaf version also has seed pods that are mainly stem until near the tip of each sprout.

All of these are exotics, native to Europe and Asia as are many of our weeds.

And don't confuse these plantains with the fruit plantains that feed many people in tropical regions of the world. The latter things here are banana relatives that have nothing in common with plantain, the weed, that overtakes your yard.

If you don't need your lawn to look like a golf course, the plantain weed might not be a bad thing. It turns out that earlier, closer-to-the-land people have used plantain forever as a food source, medicine and all sort of herbal purposes.

The leaves can be eaten raw, although they're rather tough and stringy. (As far as taste goes, they don't do much for me, personally.) Boiling or other cooking methods are supposed to greatly improve palatability. The seed pods are said to get more asparagusy with cooking.

If you can eat plantains, they're supposed to benefit the diners with loads of vitamins A and C, plus plenty of iron like their cousin spinach.

Meanwhile, plantain concoctions for natural medicine have been used to treat digestive woes, kidney and urinary infections, hemorrhoids, psoriasis and eczema. It has been used to relieve sunburn on the outside … and lower cholesterol on the inside.

It's been reported that one can chew up a plantain leaf, then take the slobbery mush that results and place it on a bee or wasp sting to get quick pain relief.

Yellow wood sorrel is a whole different kind of weed. It grows from a single-branched stem that sends out trifoliate leaves that look much like clover -- three-leaf shamrocks. The weed develops yellow-petaled flowers, one-fourth to one-half-inch wide. Each flower gives way to single seed pod spike.

When the green seed pods mature, they pop open, launching tiny seeds a few feet to help spread the species.

The wood sorrel weed, which can grow up to a foot tall if allowed to mature, is perhaps not so disruptive to a lawn as plantain, but it does compete with grass for growing space and probably doesn't fit the standards of country club greens.

Yellow wood sorrel doesn't make a bad neighbor, however. In the ancient times of youth, I was introduced to it as "sour grass." I wasn't led astray, finding correctly that all of it was edible and modestly tasty with a tart, lemony flavor. I especially liked the green seed pods, which look like little pickles.

I've long since learned that those sour grass nibbles of my feral childhood were providing me with high doses of vitamin C. There's enough of that good stuff (and apparently no bad stuff) that yellow wood sorrel has been used to ward off scurvy as well as to treat liver and digestive disorders and even wound care.

Reports are that wood sorrel goes pretty good in salads and as accents in soups and stews. The weed is supposed to make a tart tea with a pleasant lemon-like flavor.

Given the choice of the two, I pass on the plantain diet and go with yellow wood sorrel for wild foraging. I still like the pickles.

I'll trust other sources for medications, but I've eaten it without consequences. And thinking back, I haven't had scurvy yet. Aaarrh.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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