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Posts Tagged ‘purslane’

Every gardener or farmer knows that weeds can be a scourge. In large numbers, they can choke out flowers, vegetables, or other crops. Even in smaller numbers, they can grow where they are undesirable or unsightly. Dealing with weeds is often a season-long battle, fought with hands, gloves, hoes, or cultivators. Some even choose to use chemical means to eradicate them, but weeds can become more resistant to even this, not even considering the other issues/concerns this brings with it.

While ripping out offending weeds is totally understandable, and I do it all the time, many people do not know of the value of some of these plants.  While it is true that some weeds are too fiddly to mess with (such as the delicious – but tiny – nuts of Nutsedge), inedibly tough or bitter, or even poisonous (such as the Nightshades), others are edible, even tasty (some have good medicinal value, too, though this is often not for beginners). I have selected and will elaborate on a few of the most common, easily identified ones I find in my plantings.

A very exceptional purslane growing among my onions. Normally they are not this large or thick – I guess it likes its spot!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

  • – Low growing, creeping-type plant. Thick, smooth, computer-cable like stems, usually with a strong reddish color or tinge. Succulent, thick leaves shaped like little paddles or spatulas. Small yellow flowers give way to tiny green seed pods
  • – Contains more Omega-3 than any other leafy vegetable. Mucilaginous quality lends it well to soups/stews, or very good just as a salad herb or snack. Can have a tangy or salty flavor. Stems are good for pickling
  • – Does not grow tall or very competitive; tolerates poor soil and drought. Good companion plant – crops such as corn will even let their roots ‘follow’ paths broken in the soil by purslane, and its deep roots and ground-covering nature bring up and stabilize moisture that might otherwise be unavailable
  • – Used historically; still widely used in Europe, the middle east, and others

Young lambsquarters – great as a fresh salad at this stage

Lambsquarters/Goosefoot (Chenopodium album)

  • – Cultivated in some countries as a food crop, but usually considered a weed in the US
  • – Tall growing, to several feet or even a few meters high, with stiff stems. Alternate, spade-blade shaped, well toothed leaves; leaves at the top and bottom are more diamond shaped and less toothed. Leaves repel water, and top ones are often mealy, with a white powdery look
  • – Is competitive – can cause crop losses if not pulled out
  • – Edible raw or cooked, but probably best cooked if eaten regularly (it contains some oxalic acid and saponins – probably not enough to do any harm anyway – but these are reduced by cooking). Good spinach substitute, and nutritious. Seeds can also be eaten, or the flowerheads used as a broccoli substitute

Galinsoga with the corn

Galinsoga/Gallant Soldier (Galinsoga ciliata)

  • – Grows to about 2 feet in height
  • – Opposite leaves triangular with rounded back, coarsely toothed along edges, quite hairy on stems and leaves alike. Flowers like a tiny, underdeveloped daisy, with a yellow center surrounded by 5 very small, white, 3-toothed petals
  • – Flowers, leaves, or stems edible raw or cooked, added to soups, or used as a salad
  • – Not as tall and tough as Lambsquarter, but very tenacious – can grow in huge numbers, choking out other plants, and if you break its stems off instead of uprooting it, it will grow two new stems at the place it broke

Yellow wood sorrel

Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

  • – Often confused with or called a ‘clover’
  • – Starts out erect, but as it grows it lays down and branches. Leaves with 3 leaflet segments, each shaped like a heart. Small yellow, 5-petaled flowers
  • – All parts are edible, with a very tangy/lemony flavor. Good accent in salads, or can be crushed and made into a lemonade-like drink. The tanginess is from its oxalate content – it is perfectly safe in small quantities, but should not be eaten in huge quantities constantly because this can bind up the body’s calcium

Mallow cheeses

Mallow Cheeses/Dwarf Mallow (Malva neglecta)

  • – Grows from a central point/in a rosette, branching from the base. Prostrate/stems lay along the ground.  Alternate leaves on long stems are circular or kidney-shaped and irregularly shallow-toothed or crinkly-lobed. Short hairs are present on the surfaces. Flowers 5-petaled and usually pink or pinkish-white, with noticeable darker pink or purple stripes upon close inspection
  • – Flowers replaced by disc-shaped seed pods that appear like a button or a cheese wheel in shape – this is where it gets its name. These are very crunchy and  tasty, although small. Leaves and shoots edible raw or cooked as salad or pot greens. They also have mucilaginous properties and are good for thickening soups or stews
  • – Taproot makes it hard to uproot, and it can grow quite large and sprawlingly competitive in the right environment

The domestic carrot’s mommy

Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

  • – Tall growing, to a meter in height. Large clusters of tiny white flowers on tops of stems, often with a single maroon flower in the center. Foliage is lacy, like the familiar leaves of domestic carrots
  • – Root is edible like a carrot, or flower heads can be fried and eaten. Seeds can be used to flavor soup. The root can also be dried, roasted, and ground into a coffee substitute
  • – To avoid confusion with poison hemlock, look for the strong carrot smell and the very hairy stems – they should also lack purple spots
  • – Some people are photosensitive after handling the foliage, so treat with care if you are uncertain

Very immature Velvet-leaf, this youngster will grow many times this size if I let it

Velvet-leaf (Abutilon theophrasti)

  • – Grows several feet tall on stout, stiff stems, with large, heart-shaped, long-stemmed leaves covered with velvety, fine hairs. These are very soft to the touch. Yellow or orange flowers give way to segmented seedpod clusters with an overall ‘crown-like’ appearance, each segment having a pointed ‘horn’ on top. Entire plant has an odd, distinct odor about it
  • – Extremely competitive, stealing nutrients and water from other crops. A damaging and invasive species
  • – Seeds are edible and tasty (in my opinion). Although a bit small, they are easy to get to, and eating them stops the plant from reseeding. Leaves are reportedly eaten stir-fried or in omelettes in China. The plant also provides strong, jute-like fiber, which is what it was originally grown for.

and last, but never least…

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

  • – The familar dandelion almost everyone knows needs no photo – it grows in rosettes of deeply toothed, dark green leaves, with prominent yellow composite flowers on long, often reddish-tinged stems
  • – Entire plant is edible. Leaves are better when young, and get bitter as they age. Root is edible raw or cooked, or can be dried and roasted as a coffee substitute. Flowers are edible, fried into fritters or plucked of petals and mixed into anything (I like to put them inside a veggie burger of sorts). They can also be used to make wine, or pickled and used like capers. The milky sap is a folk remedy for warts
  • – A number of other medicinal uses as well!

Looking up the wild plants you find around you can be an addictive pursuit. So many of the plants we treat as weeds or ignore actually have beneficial qualities. Whether you decide to eat them or not, maybe this posting will give you a little curiosity about the leafy neighbors of your prized plants. After all, they’re just plants too – they just don’t often benefit from the help of a human hand, so they come up with other strategies to succeed, strategies that can invoke our ire at times.

Happy growing/harvesting season 2012!

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