by Jane Anne Morris
JAM’s Top Five Greens
It’s grid crash, or spring in the upper midwest. That winter diet of muskrat and tree bark goulash has not provided the vitamins and minerals you need to avoid slipping into a 33-degree lake. You can’t live on birdsong alone.
Greens, too often called weeds, start appearing in the spring, when you need them the most. Here are my Top Five.
1. NETTLES. Go for the nettles.
Off the charts in vitamins and minerals, and my personal favorite for taste. Yes, they will sting your skin, so wear gloves or plastic bags while picking the tender 2″ tops. The stingy stuff is formic acid (ants use it, too). Don’t worry, cooking banishes it (as does saliva). Nettles pack more protein than most plants, and are full of potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Nettles are a rich addition to any soup, stew, pot of beans, or broth. Stir-fried/braised with garlic and chopped walnuts, and served with turmericked basmati rice, they’re hard to beat. You can eat them raw if you can get them to saliva without stinging your lips on the way in. (Work it out yourself.)
Nettles also make a nice tea (infusion) that you can drink, or rinse your hair with; they’re great companion plants in gardens, and good additions to compost piles.
Archaeological evidence suggests purslane was a food staple as early as 17,000 years ago. Higher in omega-3 fatty acids than some fish, purslane is also a super source of Vitamin A, among many other vitamins and minerals.
Purslane is a succulent, with fleshy leaves and stems, and like nettle, can be eaten raw or cooked. I like it with sunflower seeds in a pot of black-eyed peas.
It loves disturbed areas, and since humans are so good at disturbing areas, it’s common almost everyplace Homo sapiens is found. Supposedly, purslane is one of the eight most commonly dispersed plants on earth. I’ve seen it looking really happy growing in gravel.
It’s every bit as impressive as nettle, but without the sting. It’s number two here because I just can’t get enough of them nettles.
These were my favorite before I discovered nettles. Cooked, the leaves suggest extra-rich and earthy spinach. They rival nettles and purslane for their huge lode of nourishment, especially calcium, protein, and vitamins A and C.
Lambsquarters are good in salad if you don’t mind the “furry” coating on the leaves, which disappears if you cook them in any way: stir-fry, soup, whatever.
They like “waste” and disturbed land, and don’t seem to require the rich soil that nettles prefer. Like quinoa, they’re in the Amaranth Family, and Chenopodium genus. In fact, if you plant a quinoa seed, the resulting plant is virtually indistinguishable from lambsquarters.
Unbelievably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other good stuff, reputed to do everything from cure cancer to grow hair and fade age spots, can be eaten raw or cooked, tastes good in everything from soup to salad; is this getting repetitive?
Often found in small streams trickling from springs, watercress is sometimes available even in the depths of winter if creeks are not frozen over. In case you didn’t pick up on it, watercress grows literally in the water, so bring double-plastic bags or something suitable to carry it in.
If cows have peed anywhere uphill of your watercressed creek, your cress may be bearing strains of E. coli you don’t even want to think about, but don’t panic. I’m sure you have developed a foolproof method for removing E. coli from corporate broccoli; just carefully apply this technique to your watercress and you will be fine. Eating it cooked (instead of raw in salads) will further reduce your chances of encountering an “Evil coli” (what did you think the “E” stood for?)
Also off the charts in all kinds of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B-complex, C, and D, and calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, choline, boron, and silicon. The leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots.
Eat the leaves in salad, if you like a touch of bitterness; otherwise, use them as cooking greens. The bright flowers are excellent as a tempura vegetable.
The stemmed flowers can be fashioned into a grand necklace or thornless crown for celebrating spring days.
Ifs, Ands, and Buts…….
NOTHING IN THE PLANT BLURB ABOVE IS INTENDED TO CONSTITUTE MEDICAL, HEALTH, OR DIETARY ADVICE OF ANY KIND, or suggestions for diagnosis or treatment of any ailment. Do not so much as nibble a leaf without consulting your physician about possible drug interactions.
IDENTIFICATION. This is a life-and-death matter. Use a good plant identification book or books, and never miss a chance to talk to local foragers. If you are one of those people who think that everything with a darling little purple flower is the same species, NEVER forage for food unchaperoned.
PICKING AND CHEWING. Obviously you can get information from any herbal or foraging book on what part to use, what time of day to pick it, how to process it, and recipe ideas, if you need them.
CONTAMINATION. Try to use some common sense about where you forage. Railroad tracks, road rights-of-way, construction zones, and conventional farmers’ fields are among the most toxic places on our fair planet, due to both accidental spills and intentional spreading and spraying. Plants tend to lap up the crap with the rest. Remember, tumbleweed on the Hanford nuclear complex sucks up radioactive material, then dries up and tumbles eastwards with the prevailing winds, carrying the radionuclides along with it.
UNDOCUMENTED PLANTS. The likelihood is that none of my top five greens are native to north america—they’re all probably eurasian immigrants. Food for thought, if you are a native plant fanatic (and I am).