“Summertime, an’ the living is easy…“, or at least it would be if the allotment didn’t need quite as much attention. Happily, late July sees an abundance of courgettes, squashes, French and runner beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. Less happily, the weeds are growing well, in particular Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga parviflora).
If you don’t know of Gallant Soldier, be thankful. It is a warm season weed of lighter soils and it grows in abundance on our allotment, emerging as a forest of seedlings that rapidly start to smother other small plants, such as the brassicas I transplanted at the end of June.
Galinsoga parviflora is an annual member of the Daisy family, the Asteraceae, and is a native of South America. It has small flowers with a centre of yellow tube florets and white outer ray florets, like a sparse and rather scrappy daisy.
In 1796 Galinsoga parviflora was brought to Kew Gardens from Peru. It soon escaped and by 1863 it was described as “quite as common as groundsel” in the area between Kew and East Sheen (see the NOBANIS – Invasive Alien Species Fact Sheet for the related species G. quadriradiata). It is now found on cultivated light soils in much of England and there are records for Wales and Scotland too, as can be seen in its online British distribution map. It is found in many US states as well and in other parts of the world, including continental Europe and Africa.
Gallant Soldier is a nuisance because it grows prolifically and fast. Its stems are fairly brittle and easy to snap and bases of stems left in the ground will regrow and flower again. The best solution is to hoe up small seedlings in hot, dry weather, so that they rapidly shrivel up in the sun and die. This expert tip from the United States gives some other useful advice on controlling the weed.
Like many weeds, such as Ground Elder, it is possible for gardeners to take revenge on Gallant Soldier by eating it. The Plants for a Future website tells us that the leaves, stems and flowering shoots are edible either raw or cooked and the plant can be eaten as a pot herb, or added to soups and stews or salads. The leaves can also be rubbed onto nettle stings (rather like a dock leaf).
In his article Herbs: Guascas or Gallant Soldier: History, Culinary Uses and Nutrition, Peter Bilton describes how the plant has been used as a food throughout South America, where it is generally known as Guascas. (The Costa Rican name is Mielcilla.) Galinsoga is used to flavour the
I nibbled on a few leaves of Gallant Soldier on my allotment and found them to be very palatable. I will use the next (inevitable) growth of new plants as ingredients in a salad.
Julia’s Edible Weeds gives information on the plant’s nutritional properties. Gallant Soldier may have medicinal uses too, as it contains ACE inhibitors, which help to treat high blood pressure and heart disease.
In parts of Africa, Galinsoga
Before writing this article I had to check that the Galinsoga growing on my allotment actually was Galinsoga parviflora, for the closely related Shaggy Soldier, Galinsoga quadriradiata also occurs in much of England, including East Anglia. (The first British record was from Middlesex in 1909, from where it has rapidly spread.)
I consulted my copy of “Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland” by Blamey, Fitter and Fitter (A & C Black, 2003) and discovered that the difference is in the scales in the yellow disc of the flower. G. parviflora has three-lobed disc scales, whereas those of G. quadriradiata are unlobed or scarcely lobed. Shaggy Soldier, Galinsoga quadriradiata, is a much hairier plant as well.
I have discovered that I have both plants on the allotment. It doesn’t really matter as far as eating goes – Shaggy Soldier is edible too. Here are a couple of recipes for either plant (and see below for a recipe for Ajiaco, added in May 2016).
Update – November 2016
Thanks to Ruth, who runs a Colombian Street Food business in Camden, London called Maize Blaze, for sending me the following recipe for Ajiaco, and allowing me to share it with you. I tried it several times this summer and it is delicious. You can use tinned sweetcorn if you don’t have fresh corn on the cob. I use a mix of both species of Galinsoga.
I’ve now changed my view of these plants. Yes, they are still prolific weeds, but they are useful herbs as well.