A letter from a Thistle

I submitted this letter about a month ago to our local paper, but they told me it’s too long for print. (Fair enough.) I wrote “A letter from a thistle” as a passionate plea for peace after reading How to control noxious weeds” by Irene Shonle, Director of the CSU Extension Office in Gilpin County, which begins: “To win the war on weeds…”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve been following this blog for a while, perhaps you can understand why this is so immediately offensive to me. I do encourage you go read Irene Shonle’s entire article, and take my satirical response with a pinch of salt (and a pitcher of margaritas)!
Dear Irene,
Can we be friends? I’m not 100% native, I guess. But I thought I’d get to know some of
my “native-ist” neighbors and see if I couldn’t learn something from them.
My family immigrated to North America from Europe only 100 years ago. So, even
though my grandparents were born here we still don’t have full-citizenship status. In fact, we’re officially blacklisted by the US Government and targeted for eradication! So much for the land of the free.

But enough about my troubles. I know since my kind landed on these shores we have
been very prolific in reproducing, in fact just one of my bright purple flower-ettes can produce over 100,000 seeds! Goldfinches love my soft, white down, too. We are especially popular with the bees – which I hear are endangered, no? – and several different kinds of butterflies. A bit of free entertainment is watching the ground squirrels scale my tall, spiny stalk until it bends to the ground, so they can chew off the flower head and eat it for lunch! (We are related to artichokes, our most popular and delicious cousin.) Speaking of lunch, have you ever tried stir-fry thistle? Harvest the stalk and leaves, cut off the spines, wash and steam for 20 minutes. Then chop in big chunks and toss in your favorite sauce! I’m told all parts of every thistle are completely edible, and because of a special compound called cinarina, eating thistle is very good for people who have liver troubles or digestive problems.

But I do understand that sometimes we are a bit too prolific. We really like to move in and make a spot as hospitable to our needs as possible. We clear-cut the trees, we tear into pristine mountain hillsides to build our 2,000 sq ft. dream house, we drive around in polluting cars, we plant ornamental gardens and golf-course lawns that consume obscene amounts of water, and we buy all our food from a supermarket. Just kidding, that’s what you do.

Can I ask just one favor, Irene? The next time you’re teaching a class about your war on
weeds, remember what they say, “Make love, not war.” There are lots of weeds on the official blacklist that can be pretty helpful, if not downright amazing.

Consider cheat grass, for example. The only real reason it is considered “noxious is the
fact that when it grows tall and dries out in late summer, it’s a fire hazard. Are we not
superfluously duplicating this hazard by “re-seeding” with so-called “native” grass? I’d like to point out that cheat grass, along with many other weeds actually stabilize the soil in places where human development has contributed to extreme soil erosion.

While I haven’t found anything exceptionally wonderful about leafy spurge, the virtues
of all living things should be lauded highly and considered worthy of protection.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

For example, many invasive and so-called “noxious” weeds provide an important source of food for pollinators and wildlife, soil stabilization and medicine and food for humans, too!

Do you like spinach, Irene? Have you ever tasted the sweet, juicy leaves of lambsquarter,
also known as “wild spinach”? Lambsquarter, thistles and dandelions make an extremely
nutritious wild salad, and is exceptionally elegant when tossed with rose petals, violet and
dandelion blossoms (all edible)! On the government website, America’s Most Unwanted Weeds, I couldn’t help but notice the juicy, delectable succulent stonecrop is listed as a class A noxious weed alongside thistles and knapweed. It makes me wince at the laughable irony of stonecrop for sale at Home Depot as groundcover, when it’s supposedly so terrible.

Stonecrop, from Pinterest.com

Since we’re trying to be friends, here, let’s be perfectly honest. Irene – you don’t really
douse your weeds with Milestone, do you? Milestone, or aminopyralide, also sold as Forefront, is used in grazing fields or large hay crops to target thistles. However, surrounding plants and soils are inevitably contaminated with this deadly chemical. In 2008, thousands of gardeners in the UK lost entire crops of tomatoes, peas and other sensitive plants from using manure laced with Milestone. The next year here in the US, we faced a similar agricultural crisis when crops of tomatoes, peas and soybeans treated with Milestone-laced mulch (unbeknownst to the growers) failed to thrive, and succumbed to disease. Techlinenews.com reports “low potential for water contamination” from Milestone only due to the “low use rates combined with moderate soil half-life.” They also report Milestone has a “low risk of runoff in surface water compared to current market standards.” Market standards are not an encouraging “status-quo” when it comes to environmental health. Their health and safety report is too extensive to summarize here, but I’m sure you’ve read it.

The bottom line is that Milestone does not dissipate, is retained in plants exposed to
Milestone, and is potentially devastating to our super clean water table in Gilpin County, especially as widespread use continues to increase, according to your recommendations.

Please, please, I beg you, STOP advocating for the use of chemical warfare on the environment!

If you MUST get rid of some weeds, my first recommendation is to pull them up by
hand. With proper working gloves, thistles are pretty easy to pull up as their tap root grows straight down. And then you can have them over for lunch, or an afternoon cup of tea. In areas where you prefer no-thing to grow (like the cracks in your sidewalk, or around a fire pit) here’s a little recipe for 100% all-natural weed spray: 1 gallon white vinegar, 1 cup salt, 1 Tablespoon liquid dish soap. Mix and apply. That’s it.

Anti-weed propaganda such as this flyer are harmful to biodiversity and balanced ecology. Am I breaking the law just by growing here? Are my herbalist friends criminal for allowing dandelion, mullein, scentless chamomile, leafy spurge and thistles (along with hundreds of other innocent plants) to grow and propagate?

As a token of my sincere desire to establish a fruitful friendship with you, Irene, I would
like to gift you with a one-year membership to my favorite nonprofit, The Holistic Homestead (a $25 value!). As a member, you will enjoy free admission to all our events throughout the year including Wild Weed Walks where founder Arwen Ek introduces folks to the wonders of the edible and medicinal plants that grow wild and free right here in our own back-yards. You will also receive a subscription to the Homestead newsletter where you will learn more about how to live peaceably side-by- side with the colorful diversity of wild weeds that thrive in the clean soil and water of Gilpin County. You will also get 10% off all Homestead products, many of which are made with (gasp!) noxious weeds!

Please send your mailing and e-mail address to: The Holistic Homestead, 972 Golden
Gate Canyon Rd. (right around the corner from you!) Black Hawk, CO 80422. Or you can e-mail connect@theholistichomestead.org. I look forward to your reply. Perhaps we can sit down for tea sometime?

Sincerely, Musk Thistle

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