Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Eat The Weeds"

Our local dinner group met tonight in an outdoor pavilion at a local ranch. Two of the dishes prepared for the evening faire were most unusual. One had Miner's lettuce and the other stinging nettle. They were both very tasty, but they are also very nutritious as well. Have you ever eaten nettle? When I saw the green nettle with lemon dressing, all I could think of was the stinging nettle I was familiar with as a kid hiking in the woods in Maryland. How could a plant such as this be good to eat? Well it was very good and I have since been reading that nettle has all sorts of reasons to recommend itself. It has more than 10 percent protein and freeze dried nettle is good as an antidote for hay fever. These are but two of the reasons you should consider nettle as a food.

We also had Miner's lettuce salad. This delicate looking plant tastes a lot like spinach and is known to provide a boost of vitamin C, which the early gold rush miners knew and ate to prevent scurvy. Well I knew about this plant having seen it growing everywhere in the Spring when I lived in the northern Sierra foothills. And I tried this little edible gem while hiking through the woods there. Both of these plants are common, found almost at our doorstep, and they are good for us too.

This past winter having run out of all the books I had brought with me to read on a long weekend to the coast, I picked up a used book called "Eat the Weeds" by Ben Charles Harris. I have long been interested in the nutritional benefit of herbs and various herbaceous plants. But I've found little research to support my hypothesis that these types of plants are very beneficial to human health since they provide many of the trace minerals and vitamins lacking in most of the foods we all eat in today's world. I decided to take another look at "Eat the Weeds" and found it was published in 1963 and is still current today.

Now I digress a little, but please allow me this liberty. Being a gardener, I am always surprised and consider myself lucky when I find an artifact left in a book by a previous reader. Happily finding in books, perhaps a recipe, a gardening article, or a dried leaf. While leafing through "Eat the Weeds", I was lucky enough to discover on page 64 a dried leaf in the shape of an arrowhead. The plant described on that page is the Tule potato, or Sagittaria latifolia. I live near the Tule River - what a coincidence!

Anyway, "Eat the Weeds" is a wonderful book full of information about numerous wild plants that are edible. Both nettle and Miner's lettuce (purslane) are mentioned several times in the book. Ben Harris covers many of the nutritional benefits of plants growing wild around us. Whether you look in your back yard, an empty lot, a pasture, or the woods, there are plenty of plants around you that are very beneficial and free for the picking, so help yourself.