Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
I found this old friend growing by the side of the tarmac path in Cherry Tree Wood last week, and it brought back many memories of when I was a little girl. I grew up in Stratford, in East London, and our local park (the ‘Rec’) was full of Pineappleweed, growing up through the cracked surface of the playground and huddling along the pathways. I was entranced by the way that the crushed blooms smelled strongly of pineapple, and even today I couldn’t resist giving one or two of the flowers a little squeeze (just in the interests of research, you understand).
Pineappleweed is, in fact, a member of the daisy family , and is closely related to chamomile. If you take a good long sniff after making a cup of chamomile tea, there is a distinct pineappley scent, so this seems to be a family trait. Traditionally, Pineappleweed has been eaten in salads and used to treat uterine complaints (the family name, Matricaria comes from the Latin word for womb, ‘Matrix’). Some people believe that the scent is closer to that of crushed apples, and the plant has the vernacular name of ‘Apple Virgin’,
As with so many of the ‘weeds’ we’ve investigated, Pineappleweed is not a native – it comes from north-eastern Asia and the western part of North America and ‘escaped’ from Kew Gardens in 1871. Since then, it has travelled to most parts of the UK, and the seeds are easily transported in the tyres of motorcars, which explains the many colonies of the plant in car parks and in the cracks of roads.
In North America, Pineappleweed was used by many Native American tribes. If you haven’t yet discovered it, can I recommend having a look at Plant Biographies by Sue C.Eland? Here is part of what she has to say about Pineappleweed:
“Babies in the Crow tribe could have a perfumed cradle as it was lined with the dried, crushed plant. The dried flower heads also provided a perfume for the Montana Indian and Blackfoot tribes, and they were an ingredient in a perfume mixture used by the Cheyenne.
Both the Kuskokwagmiut and Inuktitut Inuits enjoyed the scent in their steam baths, and Kutenai Indians,who used the dried leaves, also took pleasure from the scent and even made necklaces from the dried flower heads.”
We see, in this description, the way that a plant that is ignored and unnoticed in our urban environments has been used and enjoyed in a myriad ways by other communities.
This humble little plant was one of the first to spark my interest in the natural world. I loved showing my friends how the plant not only looked like a pineapple, but smelled like one as well. This was enough to get me thinking about how plants are related to one another, and to start investigating the communities of animals that existed around these plants. Sometimes, a lifelong passion can be sparked from the smallest things.