A Couple of New Backyard Edibles

With a beautiful Sunday afternoon on our hands but with commitments keeping us close to the house today, the boys and I had to come up with some creative ideas to take advantage of the opportunities available in the backyard. Our yard is a collection of varying weeds, none of which would be welcome in an actual “lawn”, but except for the fact that I sometimes cut it with a lawnmower, that’s the only similarity between my barely controlled meadow and an actual lawn. And despite the fact that I sometimes have to fight off the insecurity that I’m not the caretaker of a useless but vibrantly green yard, it does provide opportunity to explore the kind of wild plants that crop up unmanaged in the .75 acre that’s included with my mortgage. The first spring that we lived in our home, a great leafy plant came up all over on one side of the lawn. A bit of investigation revealed it to be a lettuce-ish plant called Curly Dock that is quite tasty when cooked on the stove top in butter. After eight years, it continues to come back and we continue to sample from it each year. There are a couple of other edibles out there too, particularly wild onion, dewberries and dandelion, that I am quite gratified to see the boys eating as they play during the warm months. Raising my boys to be just barely on this side of primitive man is a parenting aspiration of mine!

Now that other plants are showing green and blooms, the boys and I spent the afternoon today identifying a series of other plants that have cropped up and weren’t recognizable to us. Among them, we discovered two new plants that are also categorized as edible and after sampling, weren’t disgusting either.

The first of them was a remarkably constructed “weed” called Purple Deadnettle. It has a very unique assembly of leaves that fit together in a uniform, almost protective, manner around the stem. It’s early in the season, but it has taken over an entire section of my lawn and seems solidly poised to rule that area. Now that I know what it is, it’s a very recognizable plant, both because of it’s structure but also because of the color, transitioning from green at the base to a distinct purple shade nearer the top. Research today revealed that the leaves are edible, but I found it particularly interesting to also discover that the plant is astringent and styptic, with leaves that are useful in treatment of cuts and scrapes.

Neither the boys nor I found it particularly tasty, but it wasn’t unpleasant either. As with any plant, cooking it in butter would no doubt improve the flavor, but even raw it is something I would eat again.

Besides Purple Deadnettle, our other plant discovery today is a close cousin of it, called Henbit. We found them glowing together, often with stems entwined. Both of my favorite sources of wild edible info, Eat The Weeds and Foraging Texas, have pages devoted to this edible which is always a reassuring find before going for a taste. Neither source devotes a lot of page space to the plant, but all of the sources I read agreed that it was a useful edible and a viable source of vitamins, iron and antioxidants.

Henbit has been an esteemed vegetable for a long time. Their mild, sweet taste stands in contrast to the crisp leaves usually put in salads. -Green Dean

As one with a level of knowledge well below amateur, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly why it is satisfying to have a basic recognition of some of the plants that are growing all around. Maybe it’s a bit of a stronger connection to the place around you, or a sense of rediscovery of some seemingly forgotten knowledge, or a psychological throwback to a day when knowing what around you was eatable or not could completely literally save your life! Probably it’s some of all those reasons and more, but at a cost of zero dollars, let me encourage you to do the same and take a walk around your yard with a mind toward learning a new species of two. If you have kids, mine are thrilled at the prospect of edible plant hunting, and you may get some mileage with your as well!