- By Betsy Nelson, AKA That Food Girl - Photography by Tom Thulen
You may not realize it, but pretty much everywhere you walk, you are basically walking through a salad bar. Many plants, or weeds, that we step on in sidewalk cracks and in our lawns are actually nutritious and tasty edibles, so they are well worth learning about. I am hoping that this inspires folks to embrace the weeds in their garden rather than curse them and to perhaps think of them as lovely gifts from Mother Nature.
You are most likely are growing super-foods without knowing it. Here are some to know and love:
Red Clover: Red clover, Trifolium pratense, is a pasture flower, magenta to lighter purple in color, and the leaves are in groups of three oval leaves with a faint white ‘V’ pattern on them. You can find them in prairie or meadow areas, and they will often volunteer themselves in your garden or along walking paths. Red clover is high in vitamin C, calcium, chromium and magnesium and also acts as a blood purifier and a blood thinner.
Purslane: A nutrient powerhouse, purslane, Portulaca oleracea, is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), vitamins A,C and E, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. For as fantastic a plant as it is, you will find it growing in more ‘humble’ areas....sidewalk cracks and sandy areas near walking paths. It’s leaves have a succulent quality, and the flavor is slightly tart and texture is juice and moistening.
Plantain: Often called ‘broadleaf plantain’, this plant grows in lawns, along walking paths, in sidewalk cracks....well, pretty much anywhere it can! Those on a quest for a perfect lawn find it a nuisance, but that attitude may soften when a person learns about all the benefits that Plantain, Plantago major, has to offer. It is high in vitamins A and C, beta carotene, and calcium. Totally edible, it is great in a salad, but also can be made into a paste to put on itchy mosquito bites to relieve the itch and swelling.
Dandelion: No introduction needed to the beautiful dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, whose cheery yellow blossoms greet us in the spring. Dandelion leaves, roots and blossoms are all edible and are loaded with vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, Vitamins A, B, C and D. It acts as a diuretic and is good for liver and gall bladder health which is why dandelion leaves are a great tonic to take in the spring.
Wood Sorrel: Oxalis stricta, or wood sorrel, often gets mis-identified as a clover due to it’s leaf pattern in groups of three. The difference is that the leaves of the wood sorrel have heart shaped leaves and small yellow bell-shaped flowers. You may have nibbled on their tart leaves...they have a delightfully sour taste that is refreshing and bright so it is no surprise that this plant is high in vitamin C and is sometimes used as an appetite stimulant and a mood brightener. It will likely volunteer itself all over in your garden and is easy to find and identify.
Violets: One of the first wild flowers to bloom, Viola sororia, is recognized by its heart shaped leaves and bright blue blossom. All violet species are edible, and the leaves and blossoms are delicious in salads. The leaves are loaded with vitamins A and C, and salicylic acid, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and has been shown to relieve pain in joints and headaches. They tend to grown in woodland areas, and are also likely to make an appearance in your yard and garden.
Creeping Charlie: Also known as ‘ground ivy’, Creeping Charlie Glechoma hederacea, has an enthusiastic growing habit, infiltrating lawns and gardens everywhere. It is rich in iron, potassium and vitamin C, and tossing a few leaves and blossoms into a salad, soup, pasta or rice adds a lovely pungent burst of flavor. Traditionally it has been used as hops are in beer brewing as a bittering agent. Medicinally it has been found to stimulate digestions and relieve sinus congestion. When made into a tea, the flowering tops have a nice cooling effect in the heat of the summer.
Ways to Enjoy your Garden ‘Weeds’:
Wood Sorrel and Ginger Refresher
The bright, tart, lemon-y taste of Oxalis stricta, commonly known as ‘wood sorrel’ , makes a nice ‘lemonade’ without lemons. It also is high in vitamin C and has been used by herbalists as an appetite stimulant and a mood brightener. Try this infusion warm or chilled over ice or even mixed with fizzy water or as a cocktail mixer.
Makes 2 servings
1 cup wood sorrel leaves, stems and flower, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups boiling water
Add the wood sorrel leaves, ginger root and honey to a heat proof bowl and pour the boiling water over it and allow to steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain the infusion and sip on it warm, or chill and enjoy over ice. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Red Clover and Rose Petal Lemonade
There is a little magic in this recipe....watch as the infusion turns from a pale lavender to bright pink when the lemon juice is added. If you can’t find dried rose petals, just add a few more red clover blossoms. Blossoms are best gathered in the morning or evening when it is cool..the color and flavor will be best. Dry the blossoms to have them on hand through the fall in winter by spreading them out to dry over paper towel or a brown paper bag. Once dried, store them in a well- sealed glass jar. Red clover, Trifolium pratense, is a rich source of isoflavones, and has been used to help relieve menopausal symptoms, skin ailments and to help lower blood pressure. It is also loaded with nutrients and is high in calcium, chromium, magnesium and vitamin C.
Makes 2 servings
1 cup red clover blossoms, fresh or dried
1 tablespoon dried wild rose petals (can be found in bulk at most food cooperatives) 2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups boiling waterjuice of one lemon
Place the clover, rose and honey together in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over and allow to steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and watch the color change from lavender to bright pink. Strain the infusion and serve warm or chilled over ice. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Wood Sorrel and Basil Pesto
Pesto has long been a wonderful way to preserve garden herbs, and wood sorrel takes to this preparation nicely. You can use the entire plant of the wood sorrel, although the stems can get tough towards the roots, so use only the tender upper part of the stem and also the green seed pods. Taste each part before you add so you can learn about the flavor and texture they have to offer. Experiment with the balance of flavors and try adding a few dandelion , purslane, violet or creeping Charlie leaves to your pesto.
Makes 1⁄2 cup
1⁄2 cup fresh basil leaves
1⁄2 cup wood sorrel leaves, tender stems and green seed pods, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor blend the basil, wood sorrel, garlic and pine nuts together while drizzling in the olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Pulse in the Parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated and enjoy within a week or store in the freezer.
So, when you see lots of Red Clover, Dandelion, Plantain, Wood Sorrel, Purslane and Creeping Charlie growing in your yard, congratulate yourself on how good you are at growing so many ‘Super Foods’!
* Writer’s Note: Before you begin eating foraged plants, make sure you know there are no toxic chemicals sprayed on them and also do some research from at least 3 sources to confirm what you have. There are many wonderful books on wild edibles and also great online sources. Check out ‘The Forager Chef’ at www.foragerchef.com for great recipes and resources.