Digging Deep with Cynthia Brian
By Cynthia Brian
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” Zen Saying
All winter long the Lamorinda hillsides struggled to shed their golden grasses as they thirsted for showers of life giving rain. Finally the precipitation carpeted the landscape in lush emeralds where grass seeds sprouted producing weeds that feed.
My husband believes that I was born to be a bunny. Not the curvy sirens published in the pages of men’s magazines, but the hungry hares hopping over hillsides breakfasting in our backyards.
Yes, I confess. I eat weeds. I am a forager. Everyday I scour my property for edible flowers and leaves. I’ve never met a field of greens that I haven’t snipped, sampled, and savored.
Both wild and propagated, I assure you that you, too, can fill your pantry with nutritious, delicious fresh herbs, lettuces, shoots, leaves, and vegetative discoveries if you take the time to get to know the genuine food of nature.
In my obsession to get you up, out, and gardening this year, I aim to introduce you to the scrumptious salad bowl of edible weeds awaiting your dressing.
First, a cautionary warning: Before eating an unknown plant, make sure to definitively identify it to be certain that it doesn’t contain poisonous or irritant properties. Poison hemlock and wild carrot truly look alike, especially to the untrained eye. Hemlock killed Socrates and it can kill you.
With that proclamation, let’s eat our lawns. As long as you haven’t applied insecticides, pesticides, or non-organic fertilizers, your organic turf may be your ticket to a free feeding frenzy. Dandelions, chicory, chickweed, purslane, cresses, violets, and prickly lettuce are common specimens growing in Lamorinda backyards. Whether we want to admit it or not, a weed is merely a plant growing where we don’t want it to grow. All of these “weeds” are actually cherished cultivars in other cultures. In Greece, on the island of Crete, the residents rank amongst the healthiest people in the world with zero heart disease, almost no dementia, cancers, or other diseases. Their diet consists of colossal amounts of foraged greens, which supply a maximum amount of vitamins and nutrients. The Mediterranean diet is healthy and effective because of the plentiful consumption of wild vegetation.
My current personal favorite is wild arugula. Both the leaves and the flowers provide a tasty, peppery flavor to my salads, sandwiches, and soups. I’m also a huge fan of wild garlic mustard with its sharp, pungent essence. Raw, steamed, sautéed, or stir- fried, these are great sources of calcium and iron. Whether it is sorrel, chives, thistle, calendula, or Miner’s lettuce, the dietary content of wild greens is generally more nutritious than anything you can purchase at the supermarket. Depending on the specific greens, you’ll ingest high concentrations of vitamin A, C, beta-carotene, zinc, manganese, fiber, and omega 3’s, .
Besides consuming my “rabbit chow”, my garden supplies me with carrots, Swiss chard, cabbage, kale, leeks, lettuces, dill, fennel, parsley, spinach, onions, peas, beans, beets, radishes. I’m sowing new varieties from Renee’s Garden Seeds this season including tricolor pole beans, Oregon giant snow peas, wasabi arugula, jewel toned beets, specialty eggplants in an Asian trio, and, of course, butterfly and hummingbird garden favorites.
Discover these yummy edibles in your garden and instead of eradicating them, embrace them into your culinary creations. Whether you forage or cultivate, venture where the wild things are. (Don’t harvest from roadsides, city streets, dumps, or places that could be contaminated, and always wash all gatherings.)
Spring has sprung. Let the grass grow while you bunny hop to your own personal field of greens.
ASK CYNTHIA: Readers Requests:
- ϖ After perusing garden centers and the internet with no luck, Kelsey a reader of The Lamorinda Weekly who enjoys Digging Deep, emailed me asking where she could find wild mustard seeds in bulk to plant on her hillside. Although they truly grow wild in our vineyards and on my personal property, I contacted my winery relatives in Napa Valley for a reliable resource on her behalf. Here you go Kelsey:
“For mustard seeds of several different varietals go to www.wilburellis.com . Click on the Agriculture link and put in your zip code for a location near you. Or contact Molly at the St. Helena, 975 Vintage Ave., St. Helena, CA 94574-0404 at 707-963-3495.”
- ϖ Another avid garden reader, Susan, contacted me about vetch as an over wintering cover crop she planted. Now that it is flowering, she wants to know if she can eat it.
“Although geese and goats gloat with adoration, if you have vetch as a nitrogen cover crop, don’t be tempted to dine on it despite the fact that it resembles sweet peas. It is poisonous to single stomach creatures.”
Celebrate Passover and Easter in a field of greens!
Happy Gardening to You!
The Goddess Gardener
My virtual door is always open. I am available as a speaker and consultant. Feel free to contact me.