I had intended to make this blog focus almost exclusively on art, but I'm in the middle of a very large complicated drawing that won't be done for a while and now I've got a new off-topic obsession that I can't begin to resist. Here it is.
It's a weed. But it's so much more.
Here's the deal. A few years ago I took up gardening on the roof deck behind my studio so that I would have references for all the botanical patterns in my paintings. I discovered that I'm pretty good gardener, if you can count the kind of people who water weeds just to see how they turn out good gardeners.
I've made some great discoveries that way, though. Pokeweed, one of my first exciting weeds, has hot pink stems, lime green leaves and strings of long purple berries that I've been told get birds drunk. My first pokeweed plant was a symmetrical marvel of a waterfall of pink and purple- it was gorgeous, and birds did seem to love it. (Pokeweed is also extremely poisonous to people, although Southerners eat it after subjecting it to a careful washing process that involves disposing of the water it's boiled in a number of times.)
This badger is holding some pokeweed. In fact this image is a detail of a larger piece called Pokeweed Allegory (Grip and the Nevermore Raven With Respective Badgers).
Not all my weed experiments turn out so well. I was fascinated by a tall dramatic plant that grew straight up to the sky out of one of my flower pots a couple years ago. It got about four feet high, and when it was the least bit thirsty it would droop over as if it was about to die that very minute. I watered it tenderly until it bloomed into a vicious shoot of ragweed which has now seeded itself in every pot I own.
But this weed- the one in the picture above- this is a Weed of Redemption. It's a Weed of the Gods, and it grows wild all over Philadelphia. Purslane.
It's an herb, it's a vegetable, it's been eaten by ancient Egyptians, Greeks (who called it food of the gods), and it's still common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cooking. It has huge amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure and is a general anti-inflammatory. Ancient people thought it was good for the frenzy. (My more reasonable medical claims come absolutely unverified, from this web page, and this one, too, which I choose to believe). It can be eaten in salads or soups or under fish or chicken. It's a Mexican comfort food.
And it's in the cracks between the sidewalks.
Of course I tasted it. After looking at a billion pictures of it on the internet, of course, and being very sure I wasn't about to poison myself.
It's really delicious. Not just edible- delicious. There are good pictures of purslane here, and another, better article about purslane here. There are also some recipes here. I also found some in the Gourmet cookbook, and Saveur had a great looking potato salad that uses it too. Go grab yourself a salad off the sidewalk- it's purslane, the Philadelphia free food weed.