Saturday, January 21, 2012
Eat Your WEEDS!
Chickweed was threatening to overtake Hoophouse #2…again. The environmental conditions of that area of the farm must be perfect for chickweed growth. For 15 years, we’ve fought the chickweed…and for 15 years, the chickweed has battled back. This time, we beat that chickweed! We ATE it. I got some perverse sense of justice from that.
By the time January rolls around, the brilliant green of the weed growth is looking pretty good to all of the inhabitants here on the hill. The chickens have learned that when I head into the hoophouse (which is very near their home) with a bucket, goodies are sure to follow. They line up along the fence and wait.
Chickweed is high in a number of nutrients, grows profusely and resembles spinach. So, let’s use it for a meal! I’ve read and studied bunches of books on herbs and foraging, so there is little fear of eating something “bad”. Long story short…I picked it, we ate it; it was very tasty. Although, not so tasty that we would be willing to let it overtake the hoophouse. To market weeds would be a risky proposition at best. So, I will return to filling the buckets for the chickens. This activity keeps the hens happy and producing beautiful, tasty eggs.
The chickweed supper got me to thinking about all the plants we do eat, and how many of them have lowly “weed-like” beginnings. The lettuce that is an essential in salads is actually a descendant of wild lettuce. It has taken years and years of careful breeding and selection to make something that is prickly and bitter into the tender tasty lettuces that we look to for salads throughout the year. While the texture and flavor is much better, the further we get from the weed origin, the more nutrients we lose.
The battle of the weeds includes lambsquarters, too. This weed grows prolifically and tastes very much like spinach. We have eaten this one on numerous occasions. Most times, the chickens get this one, too, as it grows far too quickly to manage any other way. The “weeds” don’t sell well, so the chickens eat them and we cultivate similar domesticated crops.
Although, oddly enough, we actually cultivate DANDELIONS! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But, dandelions are part of the “French Salad Mix” that sells so well at the Market. The slightly bitter flavor of the dandy adds a bit of spark to a salad. The plant has an astringent action on the body and provides a sometimes much needed tonic, especially in the early spring.
We also cultivate CLAYTONIA. Also known as Miner’s Lettuce, this tender and delicious green was utilized by the miners during the Gold Rush of 1849 to combat the possibility of scurvy during the long, cold winter. When planted in August or September, the delicious green matures in January and keeps producing until the warm weather causes it to bolt or go to seed. Until then, it adds some green to an otherwise dreary season. It tastes so good; it’s hard to remember that it is just a weed, and as such, undesirable to many.
Those weeds that are the first to show forth their green growth in the spring are incredibly nutritious and in most cases, delicious. After the long dirth of green throughout the winter, anything verdant is welcome. I have often said that we could probably sell ANYTHING green in the early spring, if we had the right tag-line. Although, I admit, I haven’t followed through on this idea.
Much of the knowledge of the natural world has been lost as modernity encroaches. The ability to doctor ourselves with the foods we eat has been all but lost in our highly progressive society. While this fact rather saddens me, there are those who continue to promote wild-crafting food and foraging to those who are interested. That’s most encouraging. The subject is fascinating and delicious. There is a lot of nutrition out there…just for the eating.
A quick perusal of the seed catalog shows many of the so-called weeds being cultivated these days for use as salad greens. This always gives me a chuckle and offers the opportunity to say….
“EAT YOUR WEEDS!”