Quack Grass Horror! Invasion of the Soil Snatchers!

This map found on the USDA’s Natural Conservation District Service site
shows just how far Elymus repens has crawled its way through the new world. Definitely a plant that needs to be eaten more, in my opinion.

Spread that Eurasian Love Around

One of the wild plants that we can’t say enough swear-words about is the undesirable weed from Europe and Asia called in the Latin, Elymus repens, or in the vulgar tongue, “The @#$!@ plant that ate my garden!” Or just plain Quack Grass, for you non-gardeners who would rather not hate on plants. (This is a good strategy, usually. We love most plants, just some get our ire at times)

Relations and Characteristics

Quack Grass is of course a grass plant, as you can guess from the name. That repens translated from the Latin means “creeping, crawling” and if you ever run into this plant you’ll soon know why. Quack grass can take over a plowed piece of ground as fast as a zombie hoard can multiply. In fact, the breaking up the roots during the plow causes each rootlet to grow into a little plant all its own making this plant very difficult to eradicate. The “Quack” in the common usage doesn’t have to do with ducks. It’s an archaic version of the word “quick,” and indeed quick creepy, crawly grass is what this plant frustratingly is. 

In Michigan, where we live. The plant was first discovered in the late 1800’s but didn’t really manifest as the horror that it now is until early 1900’s. Thanks, Eurasia!

The plant is related to Rye, Wheat, and many perennial grasses and can with much difficulty be eradicated by plowing during a hot day, thus exposing the roots to the sun, burning those buggers alive and preventing them from reestablishing themselves. Other tactics that are suggested to bring this plant to a halt are choking them out with successive plantings of rye and buckwheat. We suggest combining all these approaches for the most effective treatment.

If you have a small space to garden, we’ve found that weeding well every year and having established beds helps keep the plant at bay as well. According to our experience, the beds that we garden in each year in our garden space have become less and less clustered with these plants the more we take them out. But remember the trick is to get every single piece of the root that you can.

I’ve also read an unsubstantiated claim that oyster mushroom mycelium can help to break down rhizomatic plants like Quack Grass, the mycelium helping to eat some of the root material and preventing it from being so hardy. I’m skeptically curious about this and keep looking for more sources that may or may not support this theory.

Let the Cows and Sheep Forage, or Let Us Eat Bread

As many plants do, quack grass carries with it benefits for all its frustrating growth patterns. The plant has been found to grow well with nitrogen fixers like clover, actually helping to encourage its growth. It’s also high in protein and can be a beneficial forage grass for grazers. For example, see this article on its forage potential. https://www.topcropmanager.com/quackgrass-makes-excellent-forage-689/

Especially valuable for sheep, the grass is said to have a similar nutrient value to timothy and can be harvested as silage, just like any other grass.

The roots are said to have a substance that is fatal to slugs. They can also help with erosion and could be medicinally valuable for people with urinary problems, gout and cystitis, containing the useful diuretic mannitol.

But for us one of the most exciting things about quack grass is its potential for bread. I’ve read accounts of people in Germany and other regions in WW1 using the grass roots and seeds as famine food for baking bread. The roots are said to be high in potassium and other minerals. This is something that we haven’t tried yet, but it has made us curious. We’re bound to try it this year and will post our results when the loaf gets baked. There are some antinutrients in the roots as there are in most grain plant seeds (lectins which we tend to stay away from, but this is for science or at least for the experience, so a little quack grass bread isn’t going to hurt us). Other uses for the roots according to this article http://www.hampdenparkcoop.com/joy-quack-grass  are syrup, beer, and using the young leaves and shoots for salad.

We’ll be weeding a lot of it this year for sure, so we’ll either feed it to our animals or try to eat it. And always we’ll keep you posted as to how good it is, if it is good, and we’ll post some recipes.

Let us know your experience with quack grass. It seems to be pretty much everywhere choking out gardens. We’d especially like to know if anyone else has tried eating it out of existence.


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