Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Would Eat My Yard

I would eat my yard. Yes, I have really said that, in answer to the question, “What would you do if the world fell in and there were no more grocery stores?” Of course, I have a vegetable garden to rely on as well, but I choose not to have a fine English lawn for a reason. Weeds are good food!

Around my house, we enjoy something called ‘yard salad.’ In cooler weather it contains some traditional lettuce from the vegetable garden, but it also includes many of the plants people work hard to remove from their lawns. They are very high in vitamins and minerals, taste good and look pretty in a salad bowl. I like to joke that if the zombie apocalypse ever comes, the people with the well-kept lawns will be the first to starve!

Here are some of my favorites. They’re in their prime right now, at the height of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere.

Violets

Violets in bloom

These beautiful little plants are a prime source of Vitamin C. The flowers are beautiful, with a delicate flavor. They also have an anti-depressant effect for many people. They go as well in fruit salads as they do in salads of mixed greens The leaves have a surprisingly mild, gently tart flavor and mix well with lettuce and other mild greens. I like them on sandwiches as well. The leaves have the helpful property of getting your lymph system flowing, which is great in the spring after a long winter of staying indoors. Violets prefer cold weather and will begin to wither as the heat of summer comes on, but they do well in containers, so it’s quite feasible to dig up a couple and keep them in pots in the house over the summer. Do be aware that the African violet plants you find in garden centers are NOT the same as the lovely Viola odorata. They are not edible. So stick with the lovely ‘weeds’ and enjoy a delightful taste of spring!

Chickweed

Chickweed - Stellaria media

I’ll admit, I’ve been known to pick this stuff by the handful and eat it while I’m working in the garden. It has a thirst-quenching property that feels very refreshing. Like the violet, chickweed (Stellaria media) is a cool weather plant, providing me with delicious greens before much of anything else is sprouting in the garden. I like to base a tossed salad in chickweed (it’s really plentiful here) and pile it high on sandwiches. It also makes a delicious pesto if you substitute it for all or part of the basil in your favorite recipe. The leaves have a texture similar to spinach, so I like to substitute it in any recipe that calls for raw spinach. It’s especially tasty chopped coarsely and tossed with hot pasta.

Plantain

Common plantain - Plantago major

You’ve probably seen this ‘lowly weed’ growing along footpaths and other places where people walk. It’s surprisingly sturdy and also…tasty. The older leaves can be a bit tough, so choose the younger ones. The flavor is mild, not at all bitter, and the flat leaves stack nicely on a sandwich or toss easily in a salad. Plantain is also my favorite bug bite treatment. A plantain poultice quickly relieves the discomfort of mosquito bites and bee or wasp stings. The fast way to make a poultice if you’re out hiking: pick a leaf, chew it up well and spit the wad out on the bug bite. Yes, I can hear you saying “Ew!!” But it works, I promise. If you’re at home, you can toss a few leaves in the small jar of a food processor for the same result with less ‘ew factor.’ A plantain poultice also works a treat to draw out splinters from the skin.

Dandelion

Dandelion - Taraxacum officinale

This may be my favorite summertime weed. I love to lie in a patch of dandelions and watch the sun shine through the golden petals as the wind whisks the fuzzy seeds away. Summer isn’t the best time to eat dandelion greens raw in a salad, however. They develop some serious bitterness as they mature. The young leaves that are just beginning to grow in the spring are another story – tender and delicious. The flowers make a tasty addition to a salad as well. If you’re still craving dandelions later in the year and they’re not putting on fresh, new leaves, you can cook the mature leaves as a wild vegetable. I like to put them in water to cover, bring it to a boil, boil it for just a minute then pour off the water. If the greens are very dark and old, I do the same thing again, then simmer them in fresh water until they’re tender. They have the consistency of other hard greens like collards and kale, and are great tossed hot with some Italian salad dressing (weird, I know, but delicious), hot pepper sauce or vinegar.

What weeds will you add to your dinner table this year?