Crabgrass Was King

by Green Deane

in Alcohol, Grain/Nuts/Seeds, Plants, Recipes

Forage, Grain, Flour, Manna, Pest

Americans did two interesting things when they moved from the farm to suburbia: They surrounded their homes with toxic ornamentals and attacked edible plants as if they were life threatening.

The Dreaded lawn Invader Crab Grass

Still on that list of dreaded home invaders is crabgrass. It would be difficult among the decapitated grass crowd to find a more hated grass than crabgrass. Multi-millions of dollars are spend annually trying to chemically choke it to death; uncounted hours are spend on hands and knees yanking it from yards. Air is polluted with crabgrass-inspired profanity. One of my neighbors spends the majority of her warm-weather weekends pulling crabgrass (which my little plot replenishes!)   Even the name suggests a loathsome disease: Your lawn has the crabs. My solution? Eat the weeds.

Let’s start with a basic question: Why do lawn folks hate crabgrass? Two main reasons: Visually it does not look like the other common lawn grasses so a patch of it stands out. Next, it does not grow consistently all season so a lawn with crabgrass can look patchy. It looks good in the warm months but can grow ratty in the winter in warm climes. That is, of course, presuming you have a lawn and care what it looks like. I don’t try to keep up with the DuPonts or put their chemicals on what little lawn I have.

Crabgrass seed heads

Adding to the manicured mania is the fact crabgrass can produce some 150,000 seeds per plant. Nature plays hardball. Said another way, lawn grass is weak and crabgrass is strong and if folks didn’t constantly fight crabgrass it would win. For that matter, the trees would win over grass but grass has enlisted humans in its war against trees so we keep the trees at bay as well. Lawn grass survives because it has made human allies. For an audio editorial on that click here.

While we try to get rid of  crabgrass in America in parts of Africa crabgrass (fonio) is a staple grain, and as forage it can produce a whopping 17 tons per acre. Crabgrass seed can be used as a flour, couscous or as a grain, such as in porridge or fermented for use in beer making. Now that’s a label I’d like to see: Crabgrass Beer. Crabgrass is not only nutritious but one of the world’s fastest growing cereals, producing edible seeds in six to eight weeks. It grows well in dry areas with poor soils, and fantastically in watered lawns. It’s a horrible weed and a wonderful edible.

Husking the small grains can be time-consuming, however. Traditional methods include pounding in a mortar with sand then separating the grain and sand. Another method is  “popping” seeds over a flame and then pounding said which produces a toasted grain. If you have a LOT of crabgrass you can even buy a crabgrass husking machine.

Crabgrass Seeds

Stone Age dwellers in Switzerland cultivated crabgrass and it was important food crop in China by 2700 B.C. It’s a traditional food in India and Africa. It was first introduced into the U.S. in 1849 by the United States Patent Office as forage for cattle, sheep, hogs and horses. Then the Department of Agriculture was formed and it took over making crabgrass a main agricultural crop.  Immigrants from eastern Europe. Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, and Hungarians also relied on the traditional grain. They called it kasha/kasza and spread it around but then corn was developed as an agricultural crop. Growers soon learned that corn and wheat could be grown just as easily and was worth more money than crabgrass. The beginning of crabgrass’ transition from valued food to hated weed was born.

Digitaria sanguinalis  (dij-ih-TARE-ree-uh san-gwin-NAY-liss) means red fingers. Crabgrass grows from a rosette (kinda looks like a crab) and the older leaves and sheaths can turn red to maroon. The Dogon of Mali, who call crabgrass po, believe the supreme creator of the universe, Amma, made the entire universe by exploding one grain of crabgrass inside the “egg of the world”.

The leaves and be used to make paper, and ten percent of people tested are allergic to crabgrass. Lastly, even if one does not eat crabgrass seeds, it can be gotten rid of by mowing techniques.  Chemicals are not needed. Personally, I raid my neighbors’ lawns.

Crabgrass Muffins

1 cup flour
1 cup crabgrass flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger (optional)
3/4 cup water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place flours and baking soda in bowl, mix in water, eggs, vanilla and oil.  Fold in raisins thoroughly  Fill muffin tins 1/2 full or pour in 8 inch square baking pan.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes

Let cool and remove from pan. Makes 6 muffins

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A mat-forming grass, rooting at the nodes. Leaves alternate, long, grass-like, some parallel veins, pointed tip, toothless, flowers tiny, stalkless, flattened along branches. Sides minute.

TIME OF YEAR: Seeds in fall, best after a frost.

ENVIRONMENT: Sandy soil, poorly tended lawns, gardens, old fields, roadside and waste places.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Stripped off seeds can be toasted and ground into flour, use as couscous, porridge or for making beer.  Untoasted it can be used like rice. Avoid any crabgrass that has purple or black mold on it.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles de C. March 21, 2017 at 17:14

I usually just get lots of annual Bermuda grass. I’d welcome crabgrass… but it never seems to show up!

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Alan January 29, 2016 at 21:28

I’m in Green Bay Wisconsin. I have broadleaf weed grasses in my garden ( crab, quack, or ???). I let the stuff grow naturally. My BELOVED cat Goldie’s favorite meal is the tips of these grass blades….. he eats significant quantities….and does NOT vomit the grass up. Obviously Goldie needs some type of nutrition from the grass. There’s plenty in summer….none in winter…..and Goldie goes crazy all winter hunting for a few scraps of grass. I have tried all the pet store grasses, catnip, and cat edible grocery store herbs & greens- Goldie walks away from them all. Soooo…..this time of year where can I get crabgrass, quackgrass and other broadleaf weed grass seeds or roots to cultivate the stuff indoors for my best friend ?
p.s Goldie’s favorite grass blades are a little abrasive on one side and smooth on other…..smooth on both sides does not make the grade.

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Susanna Dzejachok December 22, 2015 at 15:48

How do you collect the seeds in the first place? They mostly stick like glue to the stalk and then seem to fall off and get dirty the minute they are ripe. I tried picking them green and drying but only about 5% fell off.

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Robbie September 8, 2015 at 03:33

I’d just make seed milk by throwing the seed antennae in the blender and straining out the husks and drink the liquid . I’d probably add some of the more tender blades and get a little chlorofil too.

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scott May 7, 2015 at 01:26

In thinking of taking out an ugly rock garden and bringing back the original surface. Crabgrass is growing through the rocks.

It’s still green during drought season and I wanna adapt it to my front yard.

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randy peck June 16, 2014 at 21:37

I have a great ?? my garden boxes have been taken over by crabgrass the roots are running everywere as I was TRYINGING to get the handfulls of roots out the the best way to get rid of was to eat them !!!! washing and blanching maybe in a stir fry might try juiceing roots and grass help ?????

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Carl in Texas December 25, 2013 at 08:12

Are Bahiagrass seeds edible? Used in pastures here, they show up in lawns like they own the place. And the seed heads pop up a foot overnight right after the grass is cut. Once mature, the seeds practically jump off the stalk when I walk by. Just begging, daring to be eaten. Similar to crabgrass in that respect, only bigger and better. (And, at least in my yard, they are chemical-free.) Thanks.

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Green Deane December 25, 2013 at 09:40

Schery 1972: 440 says: In SE Eu. made into a flat bread or a porridge, or fermented as a beverage. In W China, India, Pakistan, S USSR, eaten as whole grain, ground into flour, or sprouted & eaten. What I don’t know is if there are any special storage or preparation methods.

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Carl in Texas December 26, 2013 at 07:51

Thanks. Since it is readily available most of the year, and due to the high humidity here, I think that it can be used fresh, or toasted, without worrying about storage. Now to see how it tastes!

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Ben December 5, 2013 at 11:28

To make beer out of it you need to malt the grain, which means you need to harvest the seeds, sprout it, and then heat it up at the right time to stop the sprouting. That sounds like a fun experiment, might try it this summer when I have lots of crabgrass to play with. There is a lot of information online about malting grains. Good luck!

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RM McWilliams October 2, 2013 at 17:44

Oh, and it is not just humans that grass has ‘enlisted’ to keep trees and brush from overwhelming and replacing it – at least in areas with enough water to support dense brush and tree growth.

Grass has also enlisted goats, sheep, deer, and many species of ‘grazing’ animals that also browse, expecially on young trees and brush. Even rabbits and other small rodents eat small tree seedlings and can ring the bark on young trees. The savanah and grassland thing had been well established before humans came on the scene – and long before they invented lawnmowers. (Smile!)

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RM McWilliams October 2, 2013 at 13:53

Deane – WONDERFUL comment about ‘not keeping up with the Du Ponts,
or buying their chemicals, either’ !!!

Many may be unaware that Du Pont also sells GMO seeds, under their ‘Pioneer’ label. At first glance, it may seem strange that chemical companies have invested so heavily in seed production (Monsanto, etc) until we realize that the GMO seeds create an on-going market for their toxic, synthetic chemicals.

Thanks for all the great info, Deane!!

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Stacey September 4, 2013 at 15:39

Has anyone tried juicing crabgrass? It would eliminate the concern about cellulose digestion.

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Cynthia August 11, 2013 at 19:39

I live in Wimberley, TX. We had our house built in 2007. There was no lawn to speak of, just tan dirt. I saw a few patches of grass and I started watering. My neighbor said you have crab grass like it was this terrible thing. I have a lot more grass now; I look out now my lawn is green. Why should I try to get rid of it? Is it destructive to structures or sidewalks or anything else?
Thank you,
Cyndi

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RM McWilliams October 2, 2013 at 13:47

No, crabgrass is not destructive to stuctures or sidewalks. People are mostly influenced by the millions (billions?) of dollars that the chemical companies spend convincing them that crabgrass is ‘evil’, and that they need to spray toxic chemicals – that are often tracked into their homes where they accumulate in carpets, and are not broken down due to lack of sunlight/UV radiation, rainfall, or biological activity. Not sure how you can overcome your neighbors’ brainwashing, but other than maybe making them mad because the seed can spread into their lawns, there is no harm in crabgrass.

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Trevor Primm January 28, 2013 at 20:07

Does anyone have a crabgrass beer recipe that would be willing to share? I’ve never made beer before but i think it would be fun to try to make crabgrass beer.

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Ariel July 4, 2012 at 14:13

Does anyone know about the leaves? They seem so vibrant and rich with
nutrients when young, before getting coarse from heat and age……can we steam them, eat in salads…..any experiences to share? Thanks

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Green Deane July 4, 2012 at 21:15

Generallly said grass blades are not eaten because we don’t have the appropriate stomach(s) to digest them. However, blades can be dried and powdered and added to bread and soups for bulking and texture.

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Robert September 2, 2012 at 15:56

Perhaps the leaves could be simmered like tea which would break down the fibers. Also,the digestive acids in animals is much higher than humans,so maybe making a crabgrass ‘kraut’,i.e.,immerse the leaves in boiled water for a minute,then add some vinegar or lemon juice & salt. This should prep it for eating. An interesting experiment anyway.

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johanna March 19, 2013 at 18:04

the digestive acids in Carnivores are different and slightly more acidic than humans; the digestive acids in Herbivores are different and more alkaline than humans. But another relevant point to digesting grass is that, like Dean said, we also do not have the right system of stomachs and colon that vegetarian animals have–which contain a much larger and more varied number of bacteria that do the ”digesting” and fermenting of grasses and other such plants. Humans (and Carnivores) don’t have that capability in our GI tracts, vegetarian or not. –Doc Johanna, VMD

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Greg June 4, 2014 at 17:49

I’ve been juicing the crabgrass and other grasses / weeds in my backyard. I’ve gone from being on the verge of death with disease to being pill free. our indoctrination / culture tells us not to eat greens and stick with the processed foods, however, our culture is completely wrong. Many mammals thrive on greens. Yes, our stomachs cannot break the cellulose in many grasses, but with juicing the cell wall is broken and we can enjoy free nutrition. I have only heard two logical arguments against juicing the grasses in your backyard. One is possible pesticides and the other is urine from your pets. Hypothetically, if a person does not spray pesticides and does not have a pet then there is zero logical arguments against juicing.

juanito March 26, 2012 at 14:30

Hey,
I think I have crab grass growing in my garden, but it has seeded in late March. Is this a possibility?

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Jamie March 21, 2012 at 18:30

I have been interested in crabgrass because of it’s great nutritional value as animal forage. I tried looking up “crabgrass husking machine,” with no hits. Are you familiar with somewhere that they’re available?

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Green Deane March 21, 2012 at 19:30

Usually they parched the seeds in the husks to make the husks brittle then either flail them or put them in a motar and hit them with a pestil

Reply

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