A free lunch, wild style
Last week, prepping for camping, I asked Col what meals we should pack.
“Um, beans, tortillas, noodles, bread, apples, carrots, peanut butter and…” he stopped, shrugged and said “lets just pick acorns and Daddy can shoot a squirrel.”*
And I know what he’s talking about. All this shopping and cooking and swiping peanut butter across bread and chopping vegetables into kid-sized bites and sliding the soupy dregs of uneaten cereal into the bucket of chicken scraps, and washing breakfast dishes while the kids are already lobbying for a morning snack. Sometimes it seems our life occurs in the brief recesses between eating, or maybe our life is the eating.
Yesterday the kids and I made a couple gallons of granola and it was so beautiful and satisfying to look at that when everyone tore into it, I caught myself thinking–in a Eeyore-ish way–“Oh, now everyone’s just going to eat it?”
And yet I can get giddy like a middle schooler gripping a note from the cute boy when the kids devour my (grainy, dense, brickish) homemade bread, or eat a bowl of pintos without extracting the green strands of garden chard as if I tossed wriggling caterpillars into their meal.
And in my efforts to shop less, spend less, and pack more nutrition in our meals, I’m serving my family weeds this summer. (how’s that for a segueway? Did it work just a little?)
It’s my Summer Manifesto (thanks to Nicola, for the idea of creating goals for this summer. This summer that’s chugging along faster than a toddler who’s just learned to run. Sigh. Why does that never happen in winter?).
I’ve always been a dutiful weed-eater, but there’s something humbling about observing edible lambs quarters and common mallow flourish in my hardpack garden-walkways without a sprinkle of water, while my pampered lettuce dreams of being transplanted to the foggy coast of Northern California. So, I’m accepting alfalfa and amaranth’s offers for a free lunch and getting serious about eating my weeds.
The Good News
The practical value of weeds is no coincidence; Europeans brought their favorite foods and medicines to America to accompany them in their new lives. Without the checks and balances of their natural habitats, these plants quickly spread out of control, rooting in the wake of soil-disturbing wagon wheels. And now we call them weeds. And I say, let them eat weeds!
Common mallow (Malva neglecta)
The entire plant is edible, leaves, flowers and seeds. This plant is in the same family as hollyhocks and okra and has a mucilaginous quality, making it a useful tea for sore throats. The taste is mild and green like a meadow of grasses exhaling. Young leaves are best, the bigger leaves get a little thick and scratchy with age (like me).
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
We love our dandelion greens around here. Even Rose will scarf them down if cooked into a cheesy pasta (though she’d probably eat gauze bandages cooked into cheesy pasta). The young leaves are best (they get bitter with age – though cultivating a taste for bitter will aid your digestion), gathered before flowering, raw in salads, or cooked like spinach and added to pasta, rice, soups. Dandelions are high in Vitamins A, B, C, iron and potassium. The leaves are a safe, reliable diuretic and the roots a gentle liver tonic. When Col was on a pharmaceutical diuretic for fluid-in-the-lungs as a preemie, I kind of wished I could slip him a little dandelion leaf tincture, but suspected that wouldn’t have gone over well in the chart-and-measure-to-the-hilt NICU.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
I am so happy about lamb’s quarters. They’re so zen and have totally mastered the practice of non-attachment. They wear these drab grey-green robes, doing their walking-meditation throughout your garden, sometimes pausing to bow in the moistness of the lettuce patch. If you choose to pull them up, they go without a fight. When you pick a leaf and turn it over, you’ll find its underside all purple with crystally hairs that would bring tears to any marijuana cultivator. The taste is so mild and fresh, lamb’s quarters blends into a lettucy salad like a very quiet hunter, tip-toeing through the forest. Also, full of Vitamin C and beta carotene.
Red Clover (Trifolium) and Alfalfa (Medicago)
These legume-family plants are riddled with vitamins and minerals (good for pregnant and lactating women). The red clover flowers are sweet and even though Rose wants nothing more than to get the green light on chewing gum, she’s happy to pop these in her mouth for now. Picking flowers encourages more blooming – how do you like that for accommodating? Adding flowers to salad makes me feel like I’m dining at some bistro on the Mediterranean Sea, rather than just eating weeds from my little patch of earth.
Do you guys dine on your backyard weeds? Or, like my mom, buy bunches of gargantuan-leafed dandelion greens from the farmers market for $2.50 a bundle? Or think I’m a complete nut?
Who’s got a salad dressing recipe?
*for the record, we don’t shoot squirrels, but we do eat them