Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pineapple Weed Express


In another lifetime I might have been a treasure seeker. That's what I dig about foraging. You study inscrutable charts (known as maps), pore over old parchments (on the Interwebs), and finally light out for adventure and riches in distant realms (down the block).

Like some of the great explorers of yesterday, I embarked this afternoon—this blistering, unseasonably hot afternoon—to open up a new tea route to the south. Iced tea, that is. I went in search of the lowly pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), a plant I knew nothing about until stumbling across a few references to it recently. Unlike virtually every other weed I've been snacking on in recent months, the pineapple is native. You've probably never noticed it before. It grows low to the ground, usually just a few inches tall, sometimes more than a foot in good conditions, with feathery leaves reminiscent of a carrot top and little greenish-yellow flowerheads about the size of a "peppercorn or pencil erasure," as Seattle botanist Arthur Lee Jacobsen puts it.

Like the sunflower, it is a composite, a member of the Asteraceae family, and is related to chamomile. Pineapple weeds flourish in marginal habitats: compacted soil, sidewalks, gravel beds, old lots. Their tap roots cling to the most hardscrabble of surfaces, the harder the scrabble the better. Crush a flower head between your fingers and you'll know right away if your identification is spot-on. That's right, the smell of pineapple. A pleasing scent to be sure. In Seattle they're harvestable from June through September.

So I set out with Big Dreams. Down the street I went, scanning the nooks and crannies of traffic circle planters, cracks in the sidewalk, guerilla paths of dogs and children. I saw many edible weeds, including a tall patch of Japanese knotweed, but no pineapple weed. My journey took me to the local p-patch, where I snapped some photos and inventoried the crops. Then, just when I was ready to turn around and return to home port in disgrace, at the bottom of a hill in a gravelly lot being used as a de facto driveway by local residents, I spied them: the object of my quest, a scraggly patch of pineapple weeds.



It didn't take long to dry the flower heads in the hot June sun. I spread them on a black plate outside our front door. An hour later I scooped up two teaspoon's worth and steeped them in two cups of hot water for 10 minutes. Then I added a touch of honey and ice, sat back in the rocking chair on the front porch, and remembered my days as an intrepid explorer while afternoon commuters fought their way home in the baking sun.

23 comments:

Ruralrose said...

Great blog, I am glad to have found it. Did the tea taste like pineapple? Peace for all

chiefseth said...

I usually steep pineapple weed without drying first; same with berry leaves. Do you think drying improves flavor? I'll have to do a taste test sometime.

Julia said...

You're an intrepid forager. I think I'm too much of a ninny to seek out pineapple weeds. But clearly your bravery was rewarded!

Ellen Zachos said...

Do you know if pineapple weed has the same sedative properties as chamomile? There's plenty of it near me and I love the fragrance but I've never wanted the sleepytime effect.

LC said...

Ruralrose - The tea most definitely has an essence of pineapple. Subtle but good.

chiefseth - My references suggest both approaches. Since it was so hot, I figured I'd dry. But fresh is fine too. Will try both methods back to back for taste test.

Julia - Now now, don't sell yourself short. You'll be surprised how easy it really is. And then you'll try something a little trickier...and so on. This isn't exactly esoteric knowledge--just forgotten knowledge.

Ellen - Not sure about the sleepytime effects. I didn't notice 'em per se but will pay attention next time.

what's cookin', good lookin'? said...

Wanted to say thanks for sharing this little treasure with us all. I spotted several patches of pineapple weed on my walk to work yesterday between Beacon Hill and Downtown, picked some of the flowers, and steeped them when I got to work. The flavor is subtle, but definitely reminded me of chamomile - but I didn't feel sleepy from it (though admittedly, chamomile doesn't really make me sleepy, either). I'm curious to find out if the flavor is more intense if I dry them first. Thanks again for educating the masses about edible natives!

junglegirl said...

Just discovered your site and saw that you have a book coming out. I look forward to reading it!

Also, I'll share a few tips re: herbs. Drying herbs concentrates the essential oils, (flavors), by eliminating the water. Then when you make tea you only have one dose of water instead of the additional plant water and therefore a stronger brew.

And somehow, a widely held mis-understanding has developed about the herbal action of chamomile. It does not make you sleepy, it calms. Those are two very different things.

I use chamomile as my morning tea when I've been drinking caffeine for too many days in a row and it is amazing how much it balances my energy for the day.

cheryl said...

With so many food blogs covering the same old ground, it's refreshing to find one so completely different. I've never heard of pineapple weed in my life, and though I don't plan to forage for it anytime soon, I'm glad to have learned something new.

LC said...

What's Cookin' - Check out JungleGirl's comment below yours for some answers.

JungleGirl - Thanks for stopping by and educating us on the finer points of brewing teas. Good stuff!

Cheryl - Welcome and thanks for your kind words.

silentsoundz said...

Thank you for posting this. Pineapple weed is one of my favorite plants. Native Americans have used pineapple weed for a number of things..... a pillow made from dried flowers to treat headaches, a strong tea given to a new mother to bring in her milk, even perfume and insect repellant. The list goes on. Just wanted to share a few. Happy foraging.

Peabody said...

Hmm, I have heard of pineapple sage(as it is in my herb garden) but never this. I always learn something new from you Lang.

LC said...

Silentsoundz - Thanks for educating me on the Native American uses of pineapple weed. What a modest yet useful plant!

Peabody - I'm learning too! So much of this knowledge is out there, waiting to be rediscovered.

bob said...

Wow, I've been picking the flower heads off these since I was a little kid on my grandparent's farm in Ontario. They grew everywhere but especially in the center of the hard-packed wagon tracks between fields of sweet corn. The smell can still take me back to my childhood. I never tried tea made from them but I will now.

poppy@mixedgreens said...

I always thought that was just a type of chamomile. So glad to know about pineapple weed. Wonder if it might work in a cocktail? I may give it a try - just trying to keep it local.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Went to take the recycling out today and what should I find but a happy little crop of these guys living in my alley. Since I have a cold today, took a small handful inside and steeped them in a coffee mug for about 4 minutes. They really do smell pineappley but the taste was very subtle. A teaspoon of honey made it really good (and good for the throat!). And a shot of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka really spiced things up!

blacksheep72 said...

pineapple weed good to smoke too. cutting down on tobacco by substituing part with pineapple weed

blacksheep72 said...

ps....

also good with fish as a delicate flavouring. grows everywhere here in west yorkshire uk

Rob Clark said...

I always thought they were chamomile, they grow in my gravel driveway, and I've seen them poking out of the edge of sidewalks in Seattle. But I hat camomile tea, so I never made any.

Paul said...

For the last couple of days I've been searching for Pineapple Weed Express and finally I stumble into your blog, it has great info on what I'm looking and is going to be quite useful for my studies.
BTW is amazing how many generic viagra blogs I manage to dodge in order to get the right site and the right information...lol
Thanks for the post and have a nice day

kimberly said...

I really like the pineapple, this is my favorite fruit and i usually enjoy preparing some recipe which contain pineapple. My boyfriend always enjoy what i do for him, He is really happy.
Now we are too closer because he buy viagra really outstanding too.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy you posted this topic. My dogs have gone nuts chomping up our pineapple buds. They love it! But the main reason I am writing is to let you all know that it is also a dominating weed and does not tolerate taller plants/weeds. I have done "selective weeding" in my yard the last two years and now have a full yard of nothing but pineapple weeds and no other kind of weeds by killing only the non-pineapple weeds and allowing a few of the pineapples to remain untouched. I am amazed at how, when it's time for the weeds to crop up again, only the pineapples have come back. So now I am going to plant them on the hard to reach areas like my hillside and kill the other weeds in hopes that next season, only the pineapples will grow back which makes for a beautiful natural landscaping without the uglyness of tall raspy looking weeds. These look like natural ground cover and smell amazing, even when you don't crush them. They have a sweet smell especially in the warm sun or in the morning dew.

john said...

Hi, I live in South Georgia. I remember the pineapple weed when I was a child living in Minnesota. I am looking for somebody who could ship some live plants to me. I can be contacted via 229-450-3932 or lagamorphfarms@gmail.com.

Anonymous said...

As to it being sedative...more likely than not. Chamomile and Pineapple Weed are in the same genus, and the active flavone (Chrysin)is in both. On the other hand, it's never simple with plants...so try it out, see what it does. I think it made me a bit relaxed