Notice the landing strip on the henbit flowers, signaling the beneficial insects where to land.
Most of the last 30 days of winter were spent processing certain edible plants. A couple of those plants are considered by some folks to be
weeds. Other folks call them ephemeral wildflowers. I call them all three. Oh, the third description is food.
Chickweed, henbit and dandelion are three of my favorite winter wildflowers in that they offer a welcoming splash of color when the ground is still brown and gray.
Although most folks think of these plants as weeds, they are truly beneficial in many ways. When they are young and tender, these plants are at their peak of flavor for salads. When the plants flower, they provide food for beneficial insects – bees and parasitic wasps feed on their nectar. When allowed to mature and finish their lifecycle, the plants benefit the soil.
Let’s take chickweed (Stellaria media), for example. Combine with baby mesclun, julienned mustard leaves, dandelion greens and a few chopped stevia leaves, and you have a mouth-watering salad that needs no dressing.
OK, so the edibles I processed were mustard, chickweed and dandelion (both greens and roots).
The mustard is so in abundance this season that I shared all I could as fresh leaves, then I decided to preserve some in the freezer. For short-term preservation, it is OK to freeze without blanching. By short term, I mean a month or less.
Wash your mustard leaves thoroughly, then cut away the large part of the center stem. Pat the leaves dry and lay them out in a single layer on wax paper. Stack each layer of leaves on wax paper on baking sheet and place in coldest part of the freezer to flash freeze. When frozen, place the stacked layers in a large sealable freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible. Store them in the freezer and remove the layers of leaves as needed.
For longer-term storage, it will be necessary to blanch your mustard leaves. Wash the leaves and remove the large stems. Place the leaves in a large stockpot of boiling water for two minutes. Remove the leaves and immediately place in an ice water bath for two minutes. Squeeze out (wring out) the water and pat the leaves dry. Place in storage bags and remove the excess air. Freeze them right away.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) greens are a bit more labor intensive. You have to treat them like pokeweed. Well, the blanching process is the same as any other vegetable. But you have to soak the leaves in boiled water for 5-10 minutes three times, changing the boiled hot water each time in order to cook them. Dandelion greens are very bitter unless you do this first.
Although I have not tried this, dandelion roots can be roasted, chopped and stored in airtight containers. There are mentions of dandelion root coffee on the internet, but it doesn’t sound exciting enough for me to try it. Should you decide to make some, please email me and let me know how you like it.
Chickweed is an underestimated and underappreciated edible wild plant.
Now, how about some tea? Chickweed tea, that is. Chickweed tea is made by boiling water and adding the herb to the teapot after the water is poured for steeping. Use two tablespoons of dried chickweed or three tablespoons of fresh. Steep for five minutes; then pour through a strainer into teacups. Steep with parched yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) leaves for a caffeine lift and stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) leaves for natural sweetener. That gets me going every time!
Here’s a quick note in response to an email I got from John, a veterinarian from Dadeville.
Dear John, (sorry, doctor, I’m sure you’ve heard that one before) your return email address was kicked back, so here is what I wrote. Yaupon holly is simply Ilex vomitoria. Most landscape centers and garden shops stock some variety or another of the plants. In fact, I believe it grows wild in your neck of the woods. It seems like the northernmost region of occurrence is Tallapoosa, Lee and Montgomery counties, as I recall. The native yaupon is an upright variety of shrub or tree. It’s evergreen and can reach a height of over 20 feet. Nurseries carry the dwarf varieties and sometimes weeping yaupons that are tree types like the natives. Weeping yaupons have downward-turning or weeping branches. Both weeping and dwarfs make nice landscape plants. Moore & Davis Nursery, a nursery in Shorter, specializes in trees and shrubs. They are a wholesale nursery, but will probably be able to direct you to a place where you can purchase the plants. Also, Southern Growers in Montgomery usually stocks these plants.
Now it’s time for lunch. I think I’ll have some vegetable soup and a bologna sandwich. Those are two of the simple pleasures of my life.
Don’t fight those weeds, embrace them! Eat your yard! I eat mine.
Until next time, remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water and breathe in and out!
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to find me on Facebook at Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.
As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.