Late winter & early spring in our lives is a time of eternal weed pulling. This weed pulling became compounded when we moved out to the country. Without tidy city fence lines and paved street & sidewalk borders, in the country where the garden ends and a field of grass begins is really just a matter of where you’re willing to stop pulling weeds. These weeds seem to keep encroaching on us making our garden smaller and the field larger, but armed with our hands and our weed whacker we’re always determined to fight back.
(weed free side + a soccer ball…always a soccer ball in my flower beds!)
(just to the right, were the weeds are starting to take over)
This year I found something interesting though. In the flower bed that surrounds our back lawn weeds were only moving in to certain parts of the flower bed. Beyond this flower bed is a field and those grasses were making a concerted effort to take over, but only in one spot. After a bit of head scratching and investigation I realized that the areas that were weed free had a thick border of naked lady (amaryllis) bulbs behind them. It seemed as though the invasive grasses had a much harder time getting over the ‘fence’ of thick bulbs and greenery. Upon further research I found that using a thick rooted & foliaged plant as a weed barrier is indeed a sound way of weed control. These types of plants are called fortress plants (as coined by Toby Hemenway of Gaia’s Garden). Other fortress plants are comfrey, lemongrass, red hot poker and I’m betting that the skyscraper asters I have in other parts of my garden would do the job too.
(the back side of the weed free section – naked lady greens are the wide, long leafed plants in the middle)
(divided and soon to be planted naked ladies)
(skyscraper aster blooming in October)
Just as soon as I learned this, I divided up those naked ladies and created a wall of them to surround my entire flower bed. So next spring, instead of weeding you’ll find me leisurely sipping a piña colada in the shade while my fortress plants do the work. Well….a girl can dream.
About six months ago I was outside enjoying the crisp fall air with my boys and as they were playing I started to pick some filaree out the lawn for our salad that evening. My almost two year old came up to me, and in a very slow and deliberate manner asked me, “pickin’ lettuce mama?”. Somehow that comment made me fast forward about 12 years to see my two sons telling their future friends and girlfriends about how their crazy mom picks weeds out of their lawn for dinner. I just knew that in our small town, word would get out and, I would be known as the Crazy Weed Eating Mom. That’s all I need!
Then a few months later, I was watching an episode of No Reservations and Tony went to Greece (don’t you love that show?). Anyway he was talking about how foraging for ‘wild greens’ was an important part of the Greek culture. The Greeks believe that eating wild greens in abundance is what has given them such good health. And I flashed back to my days in Tuscany when I saw many little old nonnas out foraging with their sticks for wild greens. All of a sudden picking ‘wild greens’ became romantic again to me. And I vowed to stop saying that I was eating weeds. I’m not going to be the Crazy Weed Eating Mom, I’m going to be a Wild Green Forager. Or so I can hope, you know how teenagers are.
Well, when I posted my entry about wild greens in our yard the other week Linda Prout commented saying that she learned a lot about wild greens when she was living in Turkey and she was kind enough to write about how to prepare them other than just putting them in salads. The knowledge was so good that I didn’t want it to get lost in the comments and I had to share. And if you are interested in learning more, check out Linda’s website and her No Diet Blog.
Some greens are best boiled, some sauteed. For the filaree, the villagers cut it (stem and leaves) in tiny (1/8) inch pieces and saute with minced onion. After, it is drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice and fresh minced garlic.
Heartier greens such as wild mustard and turnip greens are chopped up and boiled, then drained and prepared as above.
Do you cook up mallow? The mallow around here looks like the same variety in the Aegean. It is cooked the same way as the filaree, although often has tomato in it. It ended up being my all-time meze favorite.
All these greens are often topped with whole yogurt flavored with garlic and herbs.
I would love to know what other wild greens you are eating. Any nettles? The Turks were convinced they cured cancer.
I tried Linda’s suggestion on cooking the filaree and it was tasty. We haven’t tried mallow yet, though it does grown in our yard, nor wild mustard and turnip greens.
Are you a wild greens eater? How do you eat them?
We had a good rain storm in December that brought us some much needed water. And then we had this really freak 80 degree weather in January for about a week. So you can only imagine what that has done to the weeds. They are thriving and ready to take over. So while the far northern half of the country is maybe taking a snowy winters break from working in the garden to admire the many seed catalogs that have been arriving, we have been doing all that we can to avoid being covered alive in weeds. Sometimes it seems like there is no rest here!
Many years ago, Scott and I bought a book called Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. We were inspired to get it after a Labor Day weekend camping trip where we discovered wild huckleberries growing near our campsite. Each morning we had huckleberry pancakes. Ever since we’ve had fun finding new, wild edible plants.
This year we’ve discovered a few more edible weeds in our yard that I’d like to show you.
Chickweed is a scrawny stemmed annual weed. It falls over when it gets to tall and reroots at the leave joints….You an only imagine how quickly this spreads! Anyway, its very pretty and delicate looking with a dainty white five petaled flower at the top. Chickweed is easily distinguished by a single row of teeny-tiny little hairs that grow along the stem. At each leaf joint the row of hairs switch sides.
Chickweed is known as one of the tastiest salad greens in existance! Isn’t that bold thing to say? I’ve tried it and it is, in fact, pretty tasty. The entire plant is edible, stems and all and makes a great addition to salads. Which is fortunate because at this point it looks like we could provide all of Sonoma with a weeks supply.
Filaree is another new discovery. We’ve had it growing in our yard all along, but just now identified it. To be honest, it doesn’t look like something you want to eat. It grows right in the middle of our lawn (along with in the veggie garden). As the stems grow they become really hairy. The kind of hairy that you really don’t want to put in your mouth. But luckily you don’t eat the stems, you eat the tender new leaves. Filaree has small five petaled flowers that are a pinkish-purple color.
If picked young, the leaves have a parsley like flavor to them which add a nice flavor to salads.
If you like to hike and camp, this is a fun book to have. Even though the title says that it is for the West, it says that at least 50 percent of the plants shown in it appear all over the States and 75% appear from in the northern half the states from California to New England. I’d recommend adding Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West to your collection.
Here’s an unusual read for Green Bean’s Bookworm Challenge.
I bet you never thought that weeds are really an indication of the nutrients in your soil. I never did. I just thought certain weeds grew where they grew because they just kept sprouting from the year before. But by changing the nutrient content of your soil can actually allow new weeds to grow and stop the growth of weeds you currently have. Interesting, isn’t it? I never would have thought. We learned this all in a book that Scott ordered called, “Weeds and why they grow” by Jay McCamen from Moses (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Inc.)
The root systems of some weeds, especially perennials, can penetrate deep into the subsoil to loosen it. Some weed roots can go down into the soil as much as twenty feet, breaking up the soil and improving drainage and aeration. They also bring up minerals and make it possible for the root systems of other plants, such as vegetables, to use those minerals and natural aeration.
As I mentioned, you can identify problems in your soil by what weeds are growing in it. There is a detailed chart that lists almost every weed out there and the soil nutients that allow that weed to proser. Through reading this book and looking in our yard, we found that the prolific srouting of purslane, amaranth, dandelions and some others that we have a calcium deficiency. That would also explain our yearly battle with blossom end rot on our San Marzanos. So off to the nursery we went, and back we came with liquid calcium which the man working there said is the best way to apply calcium at this stage in the growing cycle.
So once we get our calcium problem fixed, will the purslane, amaranth and dandelions leave? Quite possibly. And in its place maybe red clover will arrive. How will it get there? Well weed seeds can lie dormant and viable in the soil for as long as 30, 50, even 70 years! They are just waiting for a spec of light and for their proper soil conditions to sprout. (I’m serious about that spec of light, a fraction of a second of sunlight will do to get it growing, which is why he recommends tilling at night.)
Another thing I learned is that a garden that is free from weeds is actually a very unhealthy garden. When very little weeds grow it means the soil is actually extremely unhealthy. So it’s a good thing if you have weeds. Healthy weeds mean a healthy soil.
So by now, my regular readers are rolling their eyes saying, “Another weed post, Kendra? Give it up already, let’s talk about real vegetables.” Well, I can’t seem to give my weed obsession up. And I found another place to cater to it. You may have noticed it on my sidebar, but I have a link now to Learning Herbs. It’s a pretty neat place where they teach you all about how to make herbal goodies out of things you have growing in your own yard, medicines, teas, food recipes, etc.
The owners, John and Kimberly, has compiled an ebook which you can get for free if you sign up for their newsletter and its pretty interesting. It’s all about how to make home remedies. They even have good uses for lavender which is my all time favorite fragrance and flower, and it just happens to be blooming right now.
Their first newsletter has a recipe for how to make dandelion lemonade with dandelion flowers. Our flowers are all gone by now, but I’m going to save this for next year. They say, “dandelion blossoms steeped as tea can help relieve headaches, menstrual cramps, backaches, stomach aches and even depression.” Cool stuff isn’t it?
I have this thing for weeds. I really like being able to eat them. I don’t know why. Maybe it appeals to my scrappy nature because they grow so easily that its truely like free food. Or maybe it appeals to my inner nutritionist because of all those extra antioxidents they carry to defend themselves. Or maybe it makes me feel like a pioneer in making do with what you have. But I like them. When I was my older sons age and in preschool our teacher would take us through her wilderness like backyard on exploritory walks and she would find the minors lettuce and let us eat it. Ever since then I never pass a grove of minors lettuce without picking some and enjoying it’s fresh taste.
So imagine my delight when I found out that our biggest weed bully, purslane, was edible. Purslane only comes out when the weather heats up and then it comes out with abundance, taking over every last inch that it can penetrate. Its one of the most common weeds in the world and I’ve heard that the one growing in our neck of the woods (or valley should I say) is called golden purslane. I like to eat it earlier in the spring when it’s taste is light and lemony. I find that as the plant matures it takes on a kind of soapy taste. It has high levels of iron and Omega 3s. And in Turkey they make a stew out of it. As soon as I read that recipe, I took our salad spinner basket (our favorite harvesting basket) and headed out to pick some. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of purslane and after picking a half basket full, I was only at half a pound. So you can really get rid of some weeds this way.
I washed it well followed the recipe, made the yogurt garlic sauce to go with, Scott poached a few eggs to go with and we had ourselves an incredible Sunday dinner. Really, it’s worth trying. And if you don’t have purslane where you live you can easily substitute spinach.
Purslane Stew Served with Yogurt and Garlic Sauce
from Classical Turkish Cooking
2 lbs. purslane
3 T. butter
1 c. chopped onion
1/4 lb. ground lamb or beef
1 tomato, chopped
1 c. stock or water
1/4 c. uncooked rice
salt & pepper
Heat butter in a large heavy pan and cook onions until lightly brown. Add meat and cook until it browns. Add tomato and cook for a minute longer. Then add purslane, cover the pot and let cook for about 10 minutes until the leave wilt. Stir in the stock or water, bring to a boil and add the rice. Season to your taste, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Serve with Yogurt Garlic Sauce (2 cups of plain yogurt mixed with 2 t. crushed garlic, salt and pepper mixed together).