Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. “Ambrosia”. In classical mythology, the word means “food of the gods.”
You start to get a clue of how this plant is regarded when you learn of its many common names: wild tansy, hayfever weed, bitter weed, hogweed, wild wormwood, stammerwort, black weed, carrot weed, Roman wormwood. In Japan it is called “Butakusa” or pigweed.
I am, of course, referring to ragweed: the bane of all hay fever sufferers. There are over 100 members of the Ambrosia plant family and “artemisifolia” is a North American representative. It was thought that ragweed leaves resemble leaves from the “Artemisia”, or wormwood family.
I am always surprised by the variety of sizes of the ragweed plant. In areas that are regularly mowed, ragweed will grow and flower to less than 10 cms tall. Yet many is the back alley in Toronto where I will discover patches of it growing up to 1.5 meters tall.
Have a close look and you will see that the stem is hairy and rough to the touch. The yellow-green male flowers dominate the top third of the plant. It is estimated that that a single plant produces 1 billion grains of allergenic, wind-dispersed pollen in the fall. Look even closer and you will see the female flowers in the leaf axils lower on the stem. These produce one-seeded fruits.
Here is what a Philadelphia naturalist wrote about it in 1759. “Ye lesser ambrosia is a very troublesome weed in plantations where it hath got ahead. It tastes very bitter and if milch cows feed on it their milk will taste very loathsome.
Feel as if your head has been stuffed with cotton and your eyes rubbed with sandpaper? Blame it on the “food of the gods.”