Friday, August 29, 2008

Summertime Harvesting

June is the summer garden, weeding, watering, feeding the plants that are still a bit too small to be producing. Late July and August are the real harvest months. However, if you garden, you can find nutritious edible weeds growing among your beans and corn and whatever luscious vegetables you have growing.

Every day I work in the garden, which is most days, I bring a couple of plastic bags with me for harvesting the edible weeds. In my last post, I mentioned lambs quarter and purslane, so I’ll write more in depth about these two useful, tasty plants, because chances are, you’ll find them in your garden. If you don’t have a garden, see if your family or friends who do will let you help them weed their garden.. Or ask a farmer--Joaz, the Amish farmer we buy our eggs, butter and produce from lets me out into his oat field whenever I ask. I don’t think he can believe that I actually will eat this hated weed; he probably thinks I’m nuts. That’s OK, I think it is perfectly fine when people think I’m nuts. Tells me I’m heading in the right direction…

Here is a terrific picture of young lambs quarter plants. You can see the plants very clearly in that photo. (Check out the rest of Bobcats Wilder Kitchen with its wild plants and recipes while you’re there.) When it gets older, this is what it looks like. Lambs quarter, also known as goosefoot or pigweed, has a long growing season--you can eat it from when it first appears to about November. If you’re weeding, pull out the whole plant and cut off the roots (so you won’t get tons of dirt in the sink when you’re cleaning it). Voila, you’ve weeded, helping your garden plants along by eliminating the competition, and you’re on your way to a nice salad for dinner.

Lambs quarter’s nutritive value is “not only equal by even greater than that of spinach: besides its large content of iron, calcium, and albumen, lambs quarters is also rich in vitamins A and C.”(From Just Weeds.) It is an herb you can use any way you use spinach--raw, in salads, steamed lightly, served with salt, pepper and butter or a touch of vinegar, or in soups, stews, pasta dishes. We like it right now in salad; as the summer goes on, I will also be blanching and freezing it for winter consumption.

The seeds are also nutritious and edible. Gather them late in the fall by placing a paper bag under the seeds and stripping them off into the bag. The seeds can be eaten as a breakfast mush, like cornmeal mush, or ground and used with flour for pancakes or whatever. I haven’t harvested the seeds yet myself, but that’s what the info has to say.

The other plant to look for in your garden is purslane. We found this last summer, growing all over the garden. I had read about it and recognized it, and so picked a bunch to try. We loved it--it’s very tasty, with an acidy, lemony flavor. We mentioned it to our neighbors who also had garden plots near ours, and they ate it too. Some of the men claimed it made their joints stop cracking and were less sore when they moved. After we told everyone about how wonderful purslane is, it became almost rare in the gardens since everyone was harvesting it. This year I hope they forget--the more for us!

Last year, an article appeared on the web called “The 10 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating.” Purslane was number 6 in that article. It has a large amount of Omega 3 fats, vitamins C and A, iron, phosphorus, and calcium. Purslane was cultivated as a vegetable in the past, but it was forgotten. Now is the time to remember this tasty weed and to enjoy its benefits. When harvesting purslane, beware of spurge, which tends to grow near purslane, and looks a bit similar to it. Spurge’s stem is wiry, not thick like purslane, and gives off a milky sap. These two don’t look that much alike, but be careful when you’re harvesting purslane. Spurge is poisonous.

Purslane can be eaten raw, steamed, added to soups and stews, and the stems can be pickled. The seeds are also edible, but again, I haven’t had the pleasure of gathering and serving them. This year, maybe, although it sounds very labor-intensive to gather these tiny seeds.

Now that some folks are trying to live a more sustainable life, purslane is considered a good choice for edible landscaping. I love this idea myself. If I landscaped, I’d try to have every plant edible or medicinal, both handsome and useful. Rather than spend your time trying to get rid of these “weeds,” lambs quarter and purslane, rejoice when you see them in your garden, because it means extra, free food that is more nutritious than the other garden plants you’re growing.

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