Friday, January 11, 2013

Edible Weeds: Chickweed and Miners’ Lettuce

Two of my favorite edible weeds, chickweed and miners’ lettuce, are growing out of season and even starting to flower in some places, mainly down by the river where the temperatures are moderated, under the locust trees. 
Chickweed usually starts in January or February in Grants Pass.  It tastes a lot like lettuce, with a bit of wheat grass flavor thrown in.  I use it on sandwiches and as a salad base; it has lettuce beat all hollow for nutrition, with loads of vitamins A and C.  It has paired, opposite smooth leaves that are pointed ovals about ½-1 inch long and half as wide, on long, jointed, thin but succulent stems.  Flowers are small, white, and starry, in pairs at the leaf joints; they are already starting to bloom in some areas; usually they bloom in March or so.  There is another plant called “mouse-eared chickweed” which is darker green, hairy and has shorter stems; it is inedible.
I use chickweed extensively when it is available for sandwiches and salads, as eye medicine, and I eat the wilted greens from making chickweed tea for eye drops, and drink the left-over tea.  See Rycke’s Remedies: Chickweed for eye infections.

Miners lettuce with strap-like young leaves.
Miners’ lettuce is growing even further out of season, as it usually doesn’t start to grow until March.  It is mild, slightly bitter, and spongy in texture.  The first leaves are strap-like or spoon-shaped; when it blooms, the leaves are round like nasturtium, but the flower stalk comes out of the middle of the leaf; the plant is quite decorative.  Flowers are small, white and starry, in a raceme arrangement.  I use it on sandwiches and in salads as a lettuce substitute; I haven’t yet tried it as a boiled or “wilted” green.
Unlike lettuce, both are good to eat even in flower, and the seeds are nutritious and numerous, though small.  They can be brought into your garden by picking the plants in seed and spreading them in your garden; the seeds will ripen, fall out, and grow.  Choose your seed stock carefully.  The spoon-shaped miners’ lettuce is more useful than strap-shaped before flowering, as the young leaves are larger.  Chickweed varies in its growth; some have big, beautiful leaves and shorter stems; others have small leaves and long stems, which are not a useful or beautiful. They grow together in the forest, and go together in the garden.  Since both are done by June, they may be grown in a spot that will be used for summer vegetables.
These annuals make a lot of seeds and the plants grow before most garden plants and can choke out seedlings.  Chickweed will keep growing until it sets seed, breaking off at the root when one tries to weed it; thus it can be kept around all summer by occasional weeding.  Miner’s lettuce will grow up to a foot tall and quite thick in good soil, but is much more easily weeded out when in flower, as the seeds are slow to drop.    

Published at under The Natural Gardener #10.

No comments:

Post a Comment