The Weed Eater

Prickly pears. Pepper grass. Cattail stems. It's all snack food to T.R. Zimmermann.

In a pavement crack next to the pool, T.R. spots oxalis, a little green cloverish plant with yellow flowers and fruits that look like Barbie-sized okra. Some people call it wood sorrel, and it tastes lemony, like the sorrel you buy in gourmet stores. T.R. says it's good in salads, but only in limited quantities. Oxalis contains lots of oxalic acid, and a buildup will give you kidney stones.

Lots of things will hurt you if you eat them wrong. Evening primrose, a pretty pink wildflower, is poisonous raw but fine if you cook the flowers and leaves in a change of water. Prepared right, T.R. says, yaupon leaves make a pleasant caffeinated beverage. Prepared wrong, they make "an interesting vomiting experience."

He continues his inventory of the yard, listing the plants' medicinal and food uses. In another pavement crack he finds pepper grass, whose seeds look and taste like the ones you'd find inside a chile pepper. By the gate he spots a dayflower. Uncooked, its roots taste like raw biscuit dough; cooked, they taste like biscuits. Nearby is prairie tea, which relieves dehydration. And morning glories: You can sauté the leaves and flowers in olive oil, and the fibrous little tubers taste like sweet potatoes.

A flash in the pool catches my eye.

"Was that a goldfish?" I ask.

Helen nods.

"There's minnows, too," T.R. says. "There's as much protein in a pound of minnows as in a pound of salmon." He looks at the pond, and at the yard, and at Helen. He is a satisfied man. "If the world goes kaplooey," he says, "we have everything we need right here."

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