Chickweed, Violet and Cleavers, A Salad

For those of us in the Northeast, now is the season of Greening-Up. Of walks outside without multitudes of layers of clothing, gloves and sweaters. I love this time of year. The air smells with green, and that is before the mowers start their constant whir.

Because now is also the “Season Of the First Mowing.”

Before you mow all that rambunctious green into a tame organized playspace, take stock. Take a walk.

Take a walk with me. Today I went for a little walk around our suburban yard. It has not been reconfigured by me into an herbal abundence – not yet. Still, it is full of rich juicy abundant offerings, goodness waiting to be eaten. So – I helped myself.

Under the old flowering cranapple tree is a plot of chickweed the size of my smallest bathroom! I have  known I could eat this early spring green, and have done so, but really just enough to make a symbolic gesture to the idea. This year is different. My daughter was out weeks ago, before the last snow, and collected large handful of the simple but tasty green. We put it in our spinach salad.

While Wiki says:

Stellaria media – a cool-season annual plant native to Europe, but naturalized in many parts of North America. It is used as a cooling herbal remedy, and grown as a vegetable crop and ground cover for both human consumption and poultry.”

Tama says – Oh! Yum! (Remember – I like tasty herbs, not bitter, pungent, strong, difficult, etc. herbs.)

Then my daughter came home with handfuls of violet blossoms. Also into our salad they went. We munched and crunched and I was surprised at how good the chickweed really was! Thank you, child, for making me prove I’d eat the greens I taught you to identify. (She never even knew it was a challenge for me.)

Viola sororia: common names, including common meadow violet, purple violet, the lesbian flower, woolly blue violet, hooded violet, wood violet, viola, mouse-ear, satinflower, starweed, starwort, tongue grass, white bird’s-eye, winterweed, and chickenwort.

Violets come in white, pink, blue, or lavender blooms. They are related to pansies (also edible.) They have a sweeter, taste than the more colorful blooms of annual violas and pansies. Violet leaves are slightly tart, and are used to make tea, but can also be eaten. Weirdly enough the ‘flowers’ are not really flowers, and the real flowers, flower only at night, …and underground.

Today, I went out to collect more chickweed. It goes well into spinach salad, and I had purchased some arugala, I thought they would pair well together. While I was out, violets jumped into my hand – a tribute to my daughter’s wisdom. In the leaves and white innocent chickweed blossoms, I spied some fresh young dandelions.

Taraxacum – that is the family name, or genus. There are many different species. We usually act like we are talking about Taraxacum officinale, but we call them all dandelions. They are in the daisy family. (I did not know that.)

Now I have to admit, I don’t like dandelion greens. I know I have green-mouth, like somepeople are tenderfoot. I know you CAN eat them, but I am not sure why you would want to.   Okay – I do know, but I still don’t like them, and that is truly a lie. But well get to that, likely in another post. To be a good herbalist and weed-eater, I picked the smallest most delicate leaves and added them to the salad as well. Maybe I wouldn’t taste them.

To my surprise another happy fellow weed peeked out at me: cleavers.

Galium aparine –  commonly called a lot of names (including a damned weed!): Bedstraw, clivers, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, and grip grass….the list goes on.

Stick weed is what I called it as a child. It’s great fun to stick on your friends, as it clings very well to clothes and hair. You can even throw it and it has a good chance of sticking to them. Rather like the hysagtek game – that beach game with the balls and velcro catch pads.

I loved this little guy! Our herb group add it to a smoothie and then strained out the big sticky parts. After drinking it I felt like I was a power station. However, I also remembered a grittiness to it. There was something unpleasant about that, which is why it is most often used as a ‘pot-herb.’  This means cooked.  I was sure I wouldn’t want it in a salad, but it was young and delicate looking….so I popped some in my mouth to prove to myself that it was icky – Instead, it wasn’t bad. It didn’t make me gag, not at all! So, That too went in the salad.

I did learn that green mouthed people like me, would benefit from cutting up this longer stemmed plants, so that the bites are more consistent and resemble the size of our typical leafy greens. It can be slightly disturbing to have long dangly greens poking out of  your mouth. So – scissor those babies up!

I served up a beautiful salad of mixed greens – and it all tasted good!

At the end of the day, I took my dogs for a walk. They sniffed everything and I oogled some beautiful mullen leaves hanging out by the fence. I raised an eye to the burgeoning wild garlic mustard (I mean really I am doing a favor to eat these invaders!), and nodded my head at the wild asparagus plots, noting their location for the future.

I hope before you mow, you go out and try a few of the plants offering themselves to you, right in your own yard. You might even decide you like them.

(PS – They are good for you – don’t tell!)

by Tama Cathers







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