A Modest Proposal

I was biking through Northeast Ohio’s countryside this last week, taking in the sun, shining through the last leaves of the most bashful trees. The sky and countryside were the traditional golden red of the Midwest fall reserved for olden paintings and postcards. Pedaling through the landscape, thoroughly enjoying the scene, I couldn’t help but be struck by the overwhelming presence of a foreign invader. In spring and summer it greens hillsides and waterways, in fall its leaves yellow right before the whole plant blackens into a dead stalk that gives acres of land the appearance that a flamethrower burned swaths out of it. The plant nagged at me through my trip but I ignored it even as I came across an unexpectedly green patch putting forth a late extravagant show, with full green stalks and a plethora of tiny green flowers, to a packed audience of bees. I remained unimpressed, even annoyed, that the plant was so blatantly out of season. It was, after-all, just knotweed.

Knotweed is one of the very few plants that have provoked my ire. I had spent, in my not-so-distant-past, a couple of summers with an organization trying to eradicate the things from the water-ways of the Pacific Northwest in an effort to aid salmon runs. It was always hard to say how successful it was, even after many herbicide treatments; some areas of plants seemed to ignore our efforts if not almost actively fight back. You leave just a few pieces alone, part of a stalk, a leaf, a piece of root, in a short time it looks as if you were propagating the plant instead of destroying it. You let just a piece of plant in, a couple seeds, and within a season or two it removes the natives and takes over. It’s a foreign invader set on monoculture control of its environs. It adapts to most soil types; it spreads without regard for proper plant or system propriety. Its family, Giant, Japanese, Bohemian, Himalayan can all cross and back breed (Soll, 2004). Its root system, both fibrous and tap, can extend down 3 meters, and out away from the mother plant 20 meters or more. The plant stalk, depending on species crosses, can grow 4.5 meters in height (Taylor, 2014).

In the back of my mind as I progress I imagine a fiber-optic system that is as self-directed and self-repairing as knotweed roots. The plant is glorious, in its own system-dominating way. There is no centralized piece that limits what each part should do, break a branch or a root off and leave it and it will regrow a plant. Knotweed does have energy limits, of course, it cannot do this indefinitely. If you keep cutting it before it can grow tall there is no energy coming in so, in a few years of repeated cutting, a plant will die (in a few years of repeated cutting).

An ambulance passes on a distant road. Imagine if our emergency system was more like that? More decentralized. Less affected by disruption. It’s hard to imagine the practicality of how such a system would work (perhaps with individual satellites working as mother plants of information).

Knotweed is an ornery plant. For the rest of the trip I push thoughts of it out of my mind.

On my way back, a block from home, an idea occurs to me. Knotweed roots are an amazing source of Resveratrol; a panacea, of sorts, that can be used to treat a range of issues:

  • Combat heart disease, decrease cholesterol, aid in treating arrhythmia (Tang, 2014),
  • Reduce swelling (Lastra, 2005),
  • Aid in weight loss (Lam, 2013).
  • Aid in the prevention of and treatment of cancer (Jang, 1997).
  • And it can also be used as an aid in treatment to a number of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s (Kim, 2007).

Knotweed also has some amazing natural, organic, herbicidal-treatment potential. A distillation of knotweed used on other plants can treat white mildew (a common problem that occurs with many squash type crops, and flowers). Applying the knotweed compound causes the recipient plants to boost their own resistance and assume a systemic acquired resistance (SAR). (Vechet, 2009). In a sudden thought that would do credit to my Irish ancestors is my Swiftian solution (Swift, 1729) to the invader: young knotweed is eminently edible. The young shoots and leaves have relatively few tannins and offer a soft rhubarb-like taste. They contain vitamins A and C, potassium, zinc and manganese (Chin, 2013). The blooming season of knotweed allows for the creation of a much-sought-after mono-floral honey, which tastes like a much softer buckwheat honey. So my “Modest Proposal” (Swift, 1729) to control this plant, is to eat it, use it, and, at the end, learn from it. This country and the world has been reshaped by our ability to learn, eat and consume. Whether it came from sowing grain, or demolishing the over abundant species of passenger pigeon (Mann, 2011). An over consumption of knotweed would actually be a more effective, affordable solution than simply trying to poison it. The resource we have from this invader is profound and for once little harm and great benefit could be obtained by taking advantage of it.

Works Cited

Chin, T. (2013, June 18). Knotweed Recipes: Turning a Garden Weed into a Tasty Dish. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://specertified.com/: http://specertified.com/blog/view/knotweed-recipes-turning-a-garden-weed-into-a-tasty-dish

Jang, M. (1997, Jan 10). Cancer Chemopreventive Activity of Resveratrol, a Natural Product Derived from Grapes. Science, New Series, pp. 218-220.

Kim, D. (2007). SIRT1 deacetylase protects against neurodegeneration in models for Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The EMBO Journal, 3169–3179.

Lam, Y. Y. (2013, April 25). Resveratrol vs. calorie restriction: Data from rodents to humans. Experimental Gerontology, pp. 1018–1024.

Lastra, C. A. (2005, February). Resveratrol as an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging. Mol. Nutr. Food Res, pp. 405-430.

Mann, C. C. (2011). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Vintage Books.

Soll, J. (2004, Jan 16). http://www.invasive.org. Retrieved 11 5, 2014, from Controlling Knotweed: http://www.invasive.org/gist/moredocs/polspp01.pdf

Swift, J. (1729). A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. Dublin: S Harding Lundon.

Tang, Y.-L. (2014, June 11). A Review of the Pharmacological Effects of. PHYTOTHERAPY RESEARCH, pp. 1581-1588.

Taylor, B. (2014, October). The Knotweed Company. Retrieved November 6, 2014, from http://www.knotweed-removal.co.uk/: http://www.knotweed-removal.co.uk/welcome-to-the-knotweed-company.php

Vechet, L. (2009, February). A comparative study of the efficiency of several sources of induced resistance to powdery mildew (Blumeria graminis f. sp. tritici) in wheat under field conditions. Crop Protection, pp. 151-154.

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