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.