Years ago a friend lost his job as an engineer. Rather than seeking employment in the corporate world, he decided to farm. Not growing up on a farm, it took several years of poverty for them to see the fruits of their labor.
Why am I telling you this? One day his wife confided in me that the only fresh salads they got were from the weeds in the backyard. Unbelievable? Not really. The herbs growing in our backyards contain many more nutrients than the bags of iceberg lettuce in the produce section of the grocery that most of us call a salad. Let me introduce you to a wild salad—one of highly nutritious herbs—growing in my yard.
The chief of salad greens, dandelion (Taraxaum officinale) cleanses your liver and kidneys and promotes digestion. It also delivers boron, calcium, and silicon; making it an excellent choice for preventing osteoporosis and other bone and muscle conditions.
“Young dandelion leaves make delicious sandwiches, the tender leaves being laid between slices of bread and butter and sprinkled with salt. The addition of a little lemon juice and pepper varies the flavor,” states the classic book on herbs A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve.
Grieve also says that when boiled, the young leaves of chickweed (Stellaria media) “can hardly be distinguished from spring spinach, and are equally wholesome.” A crawling perennial, this wholesome herb grows about six inches tall. It has hairy stems, ovate leaves, and star-shaped white flowers (from which the name stellaria comes). Chickweed is native to Asia and Europe, but you can now find it in most parts of the world. It is a wonderful addition to skin products and also contains compounds that aid digestion; making it the perfect salad green. “Apart from its medicinal uses,” says Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, “chickweed is a tasty and nutritious vegetable.”
Another ideal addition to your salad is lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album). Amazingly, this European relative of spinach actually tastes like spinach. It branches like a tree and unchecked, can reach up to six feet tall. However, for your salad, you would want the young, tender leaves. Diamond shaped, they appear to have white powder on the undersides. High in beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, and iron, lamb’s quarters provides more nutritional punch than its cultivated cousin. Some folks even harvest it from their field before plowing and can or freeze it just as they would spinach.
Now that we have the foundation for our salad, with what shall we top it? I could add a few red clover blossoms, a cup of wild berries, some sprigs of mint, or even some chopped green onions—all from the backyard.
But this only begins our produce foraging experience. My backyard, and probably yours as well, also has herbs for health, ones for tea, and fruit for dessert. What have you eaten from your backyard lately? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
- Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve
- Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier, FNIMH
If you are not familiar with foraging, please use a field guide for proper identification or have an experienced forager accompany you before eating wild foods.
Photo by Chiot’s Run