Winter just held its breath until it turned blue. I did not even get a spade into the ground until late in May, and what we have is a bare bones garden of a few tomato plants, pumpkins, fennel, cucumbers, and collards. So here we are almost to July and I nearly blushed with embarrassment when some friends posted their first harvest of berries, radishes and summer squash. What I DO have though, in abundance in fact, is weeds.
Luckily, I am not a fussy eater, and even luckier, I have learned to identify, utilize and appreciate some very tasty and incredibly nutritious edible wild plants. Nature, it turns out, provides for my sustenance better than I and my feeble gardening skills.
The knowledge comes from a variety of sources over a fifty year period. I think the first I remember is when I was maybe six years old and living the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I remember a woman’s voice, my mother I suppose, although I cannot see her, telling me that the hoary velvet-leaved plant could be steeped into mullein tea. I do remember Mom, paper sack in hand, picking dandelion and plantain leaves in the yard. We didn’t have a lot of money, but I am certain she was not picking them because we didn’t have money for “real” food. It was just what one did. Another vivid memory around that time was being in the woods and biting into the shiny leaves of a low-growing plant known only as ” mountain tea”. I still remember that flavor vaguely reminiscent of wintergreen and sassafras.
Summers at my Grammy’s meant lots of good cooked greens, which were most always a mixture of wild and garden greens – collards, beet greens, mustard, kale, chard and poke, cooked to perfection with a bit of ham and seasonings? Later, when my family moved north to upstate New York, my father, who fancied himself an amateur archaeologist, would take us out into the woods hiking, looking for old farm and native people sites for his digs. I could not have cared less then about old bottles, button hooks, broken pottery and arrowheads, but I looked forward to the real treasures he showed us near rotting logs and tree stumps. Leeks or ramps, fiddlehead ferns and puffball. But it was one of the neighbor kids who told me you could snack on the “sour grass” growing around the foundation of our house in town.
Once as a young wife at our home on a few acres stretched from a wooded hillside down to a creek, I asked my sister who was visiting one spring with her new husband ( a city boy), if she would like to go get some greens for a salad. As we grabbed a bag and headed for the door, he asked her didn’t she want the car keys? Silly boy.
Even with all that, it was not until a trip one of our favorite places, the Genesee Country Village & Museum that we were introduced to purslane. In reading about the incredible nutritive value of this ubiquitous member of the portulaca family, that I began to fully realize the value of this acquired knowledge. Most people cannot get past the fear that they will accidentally eat something poisonous, thanks to every adult admonishing us to never eat anything from “outside”. What a shame. The internet now makes it possible to have an illustrated field guide in our pocket that our parents could not have imagined. I am so grateful that eating wild plants was a natural part of my experience growing up. I truly believe it contributed to my present health as well as my adventurous palate. I look forward to passing along the gift on many walks with my grandchildren for many years to come.
Pictured is tonight’s “weeding” salad of purslane, dill that has reseeded itself all over the place, cilantro, chives, and wood sorrel ( sour grass) tossed with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt, pepper, a few drops of light olive oil and a 1/2 tsp. stevia.