Eating weeds before the garden comes in

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Are you having a good time eating all your new dandelion plants? I remember your tale last May about what a major foodstuff dandelions were to earlier settlers,” the well-dressed lady asked.
“I had not known that the pesky plants were actually brought here to this country,” she added. The conversation continued with discussion of other edible aspects of the yellow-flowered plant that were covered in last year’s tale. “I don’t suppose you eat any other pesky weeds that we see in profusion this time of year, do you?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” I said, to her surprise. “There are a number of healthy plants, considered weeds, that our ancestors—and a good many people today—enjoy eating while gardens are being planted and new vegetables are sprouting.” “I’d love to hear about them, but I must pick up my daughter right now. Please do a tale about them soon.”
As I drove home on back roads and walked across my yard, I noted a number of the edible “greens” growing wildly. Robust clumps of clover and wood sorrel, that looks like clover, displayed their shamrock-shaped leaves that are great in spring salads. The wood sorrel ones are slightly sweeter. Wild lettuce, with its very tall, spindly stems and small yellow blooms, looks very much the formidable weed, but its leaves are succulent while young and tender. It grows to be quite hard and “woody,” making it inedible, and seems to disappear later in the year.
Wild spinach, also called lambs quarters by some folks, is the mildest tasting wild green. Its top, tender leaves can be eaten almost the year round, either raw or cooked. It is included in the spinach and beet family. The mustard plant provides not only salad leaves but prepared mustard as well.
The distinctly “mustardy” flavor of its leaves are a delicious addition to any salad. They require a bit more cooking than most other wild greens, however.
Shepherd’s purse, a look-alike of the dandelion, grows in a rosette and features long, spindly stems with small, heart-shaped seed pods. Its tender leaves are especially delicious as a salad in combination with early tomatoes from the garden.
Wild strawberry leaves and berries are a different flavor   than most other wild greens. The taste of the spiny, round red berries are nothing like the sweetness of real strawberries, but give an added dimension to greens.
Finally, as I took the walkway to my front door, I noted yet another wild spring green, chick weed. Sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s water cress,” it features spindly shoots that are not very tall, and tiny, white flowers, which are quite delicious in their own right.
So, well-dressed lady, whose name I failed to get during our conversation, here’s hoping you are reading this account of wild greens I encountered that morning after our talk. You will note that I didn’t see any of the ubiquitous “poke sallet” on the way home. I’m sure you know all about it.

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