Shotweed: A Love Story

How I became smitten with a weed.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY RUSSELL THORNTON


I think these weeds stowed away in the horse manure,” I say, pointing at some new squatters in our garden, tucked up under the base of the red Russian kale.

“Well, just pull ’em out,” my wife says.

“I would, Amelia, but they’re like landmines. Watch this,” I say, reaching down to barely brush the seedpods on one of the weeds. The pods explode into a rain of seeds so small I’ll never be able to sort them from the soil.

Amelia retreats into the house and I’m left staring at my new nemesis. Once I spot one exploding weed, like morel mushrooms in a leafy forest, I see them everywhere: nestled in beside the base of the blueberry bushes, scattered in the strawberries, even tucked in the shadows of the tomatoes. I speak to them out loud, as I often do to my vegetables.

The pods explode into a rain of seeds so small I’ll never be able to sort them from the soil.

“What shall I call you—little bomb weeds? And how can I get you out of my garden?”

I grab my phone and dial my friend Jon, leaving muddy fingerprints on the screen.

“Oh, I know those buggers,” he says. “I call them artillery weeds. My neighbor calls them shotweeds and sometimes gets drunk and fights fire with fire. He uses a shotgun.”

“Does he shoot squirrels, too?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “His shotgun is his number one garden tool.” I understand his rage. Jon tells me I’ve got to pull the shotweeds out before they go to seed, but it’s too late, the pods are everywhere, ready to pop. I try dropping plastic bags over them, hoping to snatch weed and seed in one swift move. They explode before I can close the bags, dropping seeds into the soil. I try a torch, but that only makes them angry and several scorched seeds land in my beard. I react by dunking my head in the birdbath. It’s warm and slimy. I scream and Amelia runs outside.

“Honey, you’re soaked,” Amelia says, smiling. “But I don’t see any burns in your beard.

“I came out to call you in for lunch. Tofu and broccoli!”

Reluctantly I come in. “I’m tired of broccoli,” I say. “And while we’re sitting here eating, the shotweeds are out there spreading.” “You’re getting obsessed,” Amelia says. “Maybe you should take a garden break for a few days.”

She’s right. At night, I can’t sleep. My shallow dreams are filled with shotweed, and I begin to understand why some farmers burn their fields to kill seeds. Every time I even think about pulling a shotweed, my heart races as if I’m on a bomb squad.

So the next morning I take a walk to the park to get away from the shotweed. But it follows me! There’s a clump at the edge of the swing set, and two kids are having fun touching the pods and watching them explode. Their laughter makes my chest clench.

“You wouldn’t laugh if those were in your garden,” I say.

The kids glare at me in silence as their mom squints to assess my motives. I wave and smile. Then, as I’m about to walk away, the little girl picks a stalk of shotweed and eats it!

“Hey, I don’t know if you should eat that!” I say, lunging to try to stop her.

“Get away from my children!” their mom screams, rising from the park bench and swinging her purse as if she’s going to pummel me. I scoot backwards fast.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “She was eating a weed. I just wanted to help.” “That’s hairy bittercress,” their mom says. “It’s edible.”

“Really?” I ask. “Shotweed is edible?”

“Yes. It’s good for the kids. My sister is an herbalist.”

“Wow. OK. Please forgive me. I’ve got it all over my garden and I thought it might be toxic.”

“On the contrary,” she says. “It’s a brassica. Full of nutrients.”

“That’s really good news,” I say. “Thank you.”

When I get home, I bend low and begin to pluck shotweed leaves, stuffing them into my mouth and chewing slowly, savoring the peppery flavor. Amelia spots me from the window.

“You’ve gone crazy!” she shouts, stepping outside.

“Honey, it’s OK. They’re cruciferous. Look at the little cross in the white flower of this one.”

“You just figured this out on your own?” she asks, dubious.

“A lady in the park told me,” I explain.

“So you’re eating weeds based on advice from random strangers now, is that it?”

“No, these are really good greens! Try some,” I suggest.

“Not before I read up on this and make sure you’re not crazy,” she says, heading inside to our garden library. I grab a bowl, fill it with shotweed, and step inside.

“You’re right,” Amelia says. “Cardamine hirsute, or hairy bittercress, or shotweed, is, in fact, edible. So I guess you can declare victory in your war against shotweed.”

“If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em,” I say. “Shotweed, I love you. In salad.”


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