Posts Tagged ‘purslane’

The Weed You Need: Edible Wild Plants in Your Garden


Lambs-quarters seedlings
Here in New Mexico we have a trio of useful weeds that make delicious greens during the summer heat. In fact, I suspect that most pieces of the continent that aren’t actually submerged have these three. Lambs-quarters, amaranth, and purslane are ultra-nutritious, mild and pleasant in flavor, and take nearly any sort of abuse. They come along in that order; right now lambs-quarters in my yard is nearly ready to harvest, amaranth seedlings are about an inch high, and purslane seedlings are a fine mist on the ground. The reason to learn to recognize them now is so you don’t weed them out. They are shown here in seedling stages, but never rely on one source to identify a wild plant unfamiliar to you, at least not if you intend to eat it. Get a good foraging book (anything by Samuel Thayer or John Kallas will have the info that you need) and double-check yourself. Then, harvest and eat. These three are easy to use. Lambs-quarters is my favorite, but I’d hate to be without any of the three. I generally blanch them for two minutes in boiling salted water in an open pot, drain and press out all moisture, and chop, then proceed in any of dozens of ways or freeze them in vacuum-sealed bags for winter. Lambs-quarters and amaranth can be eaten by themselves with great pleasure, but personally I find purslane a little slimy by itself and prefer it as no more than 25% of a greens mixture. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, though, so don’t neglect it. Click the “greens” category on my sidebar and scroll through some ideas to get you going. Be careful not to let them overwhelm your garden plants. Amaranth and Lambs-quarters can grow six feet high and three across in good garden soil, and they can crowd out nearly any other plant that you might be trying to grow. Leave one of each to go to seed, and pull the others before they take over. I can’t think of anything nicer that most people could do for their health than eat more leafy greens. If you have chickens, be sure to give them all the nutritious weeds that they can eat. My dogs love cooked greens too, although of course they are given only limited quantities.
I can cut the tender tips several times per plant, but these are wild annuals and they do what wild annuals do, which is make huge quantities of seed before winter. When the days shorten, they will go to seed. I’ve tried planting seed in late summer to extend the harvest, and the new plants went to seed before they were six inches tall.  They haven’t been bred for our purposes, and I say thank goodness something hasn’t. Their season is a long and generous one, so enjoy it. Spread some seedheads in any neglected areas that you aren’t using, and you’ll benefit next year.

Amaranth seedling

Purslane seedling

Sudden changes of plan


In urban homesteading as in the rest of life, it’s never possible to know what the future holds. In early July as I was planning and starting my fall/winter garden, my very beloved husky was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and a short life expectancy. Thanks to the care of a wonderful canine oncologist he is free of pain and enjoying his last weeks, but it rapidly became clear to me that the fall garden was not going to be a priority after all, both because of his care needs and because I want to spend all the time that I can with him. Weeding, planting, and the constant ongoing care that a garden needs came to a sudden halt.
So, what to do about the garden? I was soon able to identify the vegetables that flourish on neglect. Corn did well, and we gorged on fresh sweet corn regularly, although the last planting was too young to take the neglect and so our corn season ended early. Sweet potatoes have been unstoppable. Swiss chard has done well, and the winter squash is out to eat the world. We have a problem with borers in our area, so this year I limited myself to squash of the C. moschata variety, which are rumored to be resistant to them. The vines are producing well and not a single one has shown that sudden disheartening wilting that heralds the squash borer. My enthusiasm for edible weeds really paid off, as we ate greens dishes full of lambs-quarters, mallow, amaranth, and purslane. I always let some of my spring crop of arugula go to seed, and a self-sown fall crop is coming up to supply our salad bowl. Self-sown chicory is showing up here and there. Dandelions have grown a foot across, and are too bitter to eat now but after a few frosts they’ll be perfect for braising. Mallow enjoys heat and neglect and even offers pretty purple flowers if you grow the Malva sylvestris type. The wild-type daylilies are spreading happily and will supply spring shoots. Peruvian purple potatoes are healthy and strong. They form tubers late, but in a couple of months we expect to be eating a lot of them. Cherry and paste tomatoes are winding their way through the general melee and producing a surprising number of tomatoes.
At the time that my dog was diagnosed there were hundreds of wild sunflower seedlings all around the property, and I decided to let them grow unmolested, thinking that they would eventually supply green matter for mulch and would keep worse weeds from taking over. We now have a sunflower forest twelve feet high on two sides of the house, and the beauty of the flowers lights up the days. They also attract thousands of bees to the open flowers, and the ripening seeds have drawn hundreds of goldfinches to my yard. Hummingbirds strafe each other over my head, and my husky spends his good days wandering in his own private jungle.
To me the spirit of urban homesteading is one of making do as best we can despite uncontrollable circumstances. It’s a spirit that sets priorities and says “First things first.” My priorities right now are clear, and there are more important things then a carefully planned winter garden. To feed the bees and birds and to find my life unexpectedly full of bright color, flashing movement, wild life,and even good homegrown food although not the food that I had planned on is a gift that I hope I won’t forget.

The Greens of Summer: greens bruschetta

If you’re interested in making leafy greens an enjoyable part of your diet, I highly recommend Paula Wolfert’s book Mediterranean Grains and Greens. My favorite greens recipe, however, does not come from that book but from another of her books, Paul Wolfert’s World of Food. She calls it “marmalade of spring greens,” and it is intended as a spread for bread. I find it wonderful stuff to have tucked in the refrigerator, where it will keep for several days and makes great impromptu lunches and snacks. I have made it so often for so long that my recipe has morphed into something a little different from hers, as tends to happen with recipes that really work for me.

First, catch your greens. See my earlier blog post about greens options and about cleaning them. Right now I am mostly using mixtures of amaranth leaves ( the polite term for common pigweed), lambs quarters, purslane, sweet potato leaves, and New Zealand spinach, because those are the plants that are doing best in our summer heat. Gather about a pound of assorted greens. If you are using store bought, a mixture of Swiss chard or Tuscan kale and spinach will work well. I avoid the baby spinach that comes in cello bags. It doesn’t have enough flavor for use as a cooked green. If you enjoy bitter greens you can add several dandelion leaves (I am referring to the store bought kind, not the wild kind, which are too bitter to use at this time of year.) Or you can add a small bunch of watercress to add a little bit of snap. But don’t worry too much about this, because the seasonings will add the extra kick as long as the greens are good.

1 pound of mixed greens

One Shallot

Two cloves of garlic, fairly large

1/4 cup of olive oil

10 to 12 kalameta olives, finely chopped

2 tablespoons capers, preferably salt packed, washed of salt and soaked in cold water for an hour

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the greens, and cook uncovered for one minute, just until they are thoroughly wilted. Drain and press out any excess moisture. Turn them out on the chopping board and chop them thoroughly in both directions, so that you retain some texture (you don’t want a paste) but all stems and leaf ribs are cut up into small pieces.

Chop the garlic and shallot quite finely over medium heat in the olive oil until cooked through but not brown. Add the chopped olives and the capers, either chopped or whole as you prefer. Sauté for a few minutes, then add the chopped greens, the red pepper, and a little salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the greens are tender. Taste, season with salt and pepper as needed, and spread thickly on toasted or grilled bread. Top with some grated Parmesan cheese and a handful of toasted pine nuts.

Many variations are possible, and I seldom make this dish the same way twice. I may add several cloves of confited garlic instead of two cloves of fresh for a deep mellow flavor. A mashed filet of anchovy or a dash of colatura added at the saute’ stage give an especially rich flavor- this is very close to the Wolfert original. A generous spoonful of roasted tomato sauce added toward the beginning is a nice touch. A half teaspoon of Spanish smoked paprika, Pimenton de la Vera, gives a faint smoky edge as if you had cooked it over a wood fire.  A good sprinkling of fresh thyme or chopped oregano or marjoram leaves over the top just before serving gives a lovely whiff of its Mediterranean origin.  A poached or fried egg plopped on top makes it a hearty meal. You can serve the greens at room temp on a bed of fresh ricotta, drizzled with your best olive oil, and serve the bread on the side.

I should add that, like so many other things, it seems to taste best if cooked in clay. I tend to use either an unglazed clay bean pot or a Spanish cazuela, after doing the initial blanching of the greens in an ordinary pot. A Chinese sand pot works well too. If you’re curious, do read another of Ms. Wolfert’s books, Clay Pot Cookery, which contains everything you might want to know about cooking with clay.