Tasting Between the Cracks: Pineapple Weed

Matricaria discoidea.

Tasting Between the Cracks: Pineapple Weed
Pineapple weed is easily uprooted from the ground.

Pineapple weed is easily uprooted from the ground.

In a way, I was foraging before I even knew what it meant. The schoolyard of my childhood did not have much grass. Okay, it didn't have any grass at all. When we weren't scraping our knees on the pavement playing football or foursquare, we were investigating whatever we could find poking out from the cracks in the pavement. I specifically remember a "game" we had with one weed in particular: Matricaria discoidea, or "pineapple weed". 

Luckily, there wasn’t any poison hemlock growing from the cracks, though something tells me our intuition would keep us away from it.

The game went like this: I would instruct a schoolmate to envision any fruit of their choosing, then would have them smell the pineapple weed flower as I crushed it under their nose and voilà!, smell like that fruit it would. Sometimes I would also take a taste of the (strawberry, cantaloupe, grape, orange...) smelling fruit and, to my surprise, it also tasted like that fruit. Now, I'm not condoning tasting something that you have not identified, but it's fun to think that even young children can find food in a desolate landscape. 

Between its unique look and distinct, fragrant aroma it is pretty easy to identify and can be found in the spring/summer in gardens, on trails and yes, even in cracks in the sidewalk.

Pineapple weed is also known as wild chamomile. Like chamomile, it can be dried and made into a tea and is in the Asteraceae family, which is the same family as daisy, dandelion, and thistles. It grows low to the ground, has thin, feathery, branching leaves and small yellow cone-shaped flowers that resemble a tiny pineapple. 

Abundant pineapple weed at the Peralta Community Garden - the members had no problem with my taking as much as I wanted.

Abundant pineapple weed at the Peralta Community Garden - the members had no problem with my taking as much as I wanted.

Harvested wild chamomile.

Harvested wild chamomile.

On a recent visit to the Peralta Community Garden in North Berkeley for a wild food talk there was massive amounts of pineapple weed that the gardeners gladly let me pillage. I turned my bounty into a stock of wild chamomile simple syrup that is great in cocktails, lemonade, or for drizzling on pancakes. Other uses include scattering on salads, fish, chicken, or fruit tarts. I may have originally "discovered" this weed in childhood, but it's great to come back to it as an adult!