Turkey Tracks: July 8, 2019
Remember this bouquet from a few days back?
The tiny yellow flower I couldn’t identify is Nipplewort, or as it is known around here by those who know these things, “Common Nipplewort.” It is in the larger aster family. “Wort” just means “plant” in Europe, so it’s just known as “the nipple plant.” The fancy name is lapsana communis, which means it grows in a “community of other plants.
It is in my New England wildflower book, but what was throwing me was that I could not identify what some were calling leaves on the lower part of the plant that supposedly resemble a “nipple.” I could only see large leaves that were opposed by two tiny leaves. And what kind of “nipple” did the description mean? A nipple like on a baby bottle? A nipple like on a female dog’s belly—elongated and protruding. Or like a human’s nipple that is surrounded with a wider circle?
I finally found what I think is a more plausible explanation on the web site https://www.juliasedibleweeds.com/general/nipplewort. Julia says that this plant is an astringent, so back in the day (or today too I suppose) it “probably helped heal chapped nipples or breast ulcers.”
It is edible. It is used as a salad vegetable in Europe. It has a calming effect. Used in a tea, it can help staunch breast milk when it’s time to stop breast feeding.
There are big leaves at the bottom, which give way at the top to just mostly bare stems with flowers and an occasional slender pointed leaf. The tiny yellow flowers only open in sunshine and close up by mid-afternoon. The seeds do not have “tufts of hairs to help the seeds fly away—they rely on being carried on shoes or by birds eating them.”
So there you have it. It’s an interesting plant, isn’t it? Who knew?
And remember that all plants interact with the world via chemicals they produce. These chemicals can be very strong—for either good or bad, depending on the dose one gets. So, always be careful. Respect plants! Even supposedly benign plants we eat all the time carry chemical packages to which one must pay attention. Eating plants in their own seasons is always a wise choice.