If Only It Would Be Edible …

So I once said when I laid down the scythe, looking at the heap of green. Then I realized that most of the plants in the garden are edible! Most are bitter and intense, very much to my liking! In preparation for this hunter-gatherer’s season I am going to create this cheat sheet – not to pick anything toxic.

Field Fennel Flower (Nigella arvensis). One of my former decoration-only plants, once a decorative plant in Victorian gardens The seeds of the cultivated variety are used to spice pita bread – but these wild seeds should be used sparingly because they contain a toxic alkaloid.

The seed capsules look like alien space probes:

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) – my favorite daisies on sticks, to be used for tea and salad. It had been imported to Europe from America in the 17th century as an ornamental plant.

Normal (short) Daisies (Bellis Perennis): the 2nd most common plant in the ‘lawn’ after yarrow. I find they taste similar to spinach.

Daisies in our garden
Daisies. Historical view of our garden without the solar collector, but with tall trees. Daisies liked the forest-like climate even better.
Daisies, solar collector
Or maybe I am romanticizing the past – still lots of daisies today.

As a child I ate loads of green woodsorrel despite the oxalic acid. Our peskiest bravest weed belongs to the same family: Creeping Woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata), beautiful but capable of slowly destroying any structure of stone with its innocuous pink roots.

Dandelions (Taraxacum) – I usually uprooted them. The leaves taste like rocket salad with a touch of nuts, and the buds can be used like capers. After World War II people had used the roasted roots as a replacement for coffee. The German name means Lion’s Tooth – but the English one does, too, as I learned from Pairodox’ post.

Dandelions at Home

I uprooted Chickweed (Stellaria media), too, showing up in early spring. It tastes a bit like fresh corn kernels. One German common name translates to Chicken’s Colon. Not sure if this is related to chickens’ craze for it or to the white rubber-like, elastic strand inside the stem!

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Another Plant I had promoted it from weed to decoration. It should taste like pepper, and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Its Wikipedia page features the nutritional merits extensively. In contrast to pepper it survives in our colonies of slugs. Generally, wild edible plants go well with our No Pest Killers / No Fertilizer policy. The wild variety is creeping …

… and there is a cultivated variety growing upright:

White Stonecrop (Sedum Album). Also resembling green pepper, but more sourly. Loves to grow near the supporting construction of our solar collector:

sedum album

White Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – the perfectly scythe-able, drought-resistant replacement for grass. Great for tea, and perhaps salad in small quantities.

Fireweed – the plant flooding our office with cotton-like fluffs every year as I let a few of them grow, for their ornamental merits. Dave from Pairodox Farm had once published a stunning image of similar seeds of Milkweed. You could use leaves and stems, and the young sprouts are said to taste like asparagus. My expectations are high!

Violets. Young leaves are edible and the fragrant sweet blooms seem to be somewhat famous. I think I will not eat them though!

Violets, Daisies, Stonecrop, Yarrow
Viola, Violets – in our ‘lawn’ of yarrow, daisies and yellow stonecrop.

I add two classical plants in the herb garden because I had just found them as alleged wild flowers in our garden: Oregano (Origanum vulgare). I recognized it as an edible herb when spotting a blooms on a salad served in a restaurant. Until writing this post and comparing close-ups of blooms I was sure it was marjoram.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Great for tea, but I like the green leaves especially as a replacement of jam in pancakes Austrian style. I don’t like sweet taste too much – perhaps that’s why I enjoy all these bitter herbs!.

The first harvest:

Edible wild flowers, first test in spring 2015
Dandelion, daisies, white stonecrop, and chickweed.

Edit on May 25, 2015: More than a month after starting extensive and regular harvesting, I notice I missed an extraordinary plant:

Meadow Goat’s Beard (Tragopogon pratensis). The leaves can be used like spinache – cooked with olive oil and garlic, very tasty – but German articles suggest the roots are the real delicacy, similar to Black Salsify. Blossoms and also leaves are somewhat similar to dandelions, but leaves are thicker, and they come in different textures and colors – a bit ‘hairy’ versus smooth.

21 Comments Add yours

  1. bert0001 says:

    I must have been busy celebrating easter holidays, and missed this beautiful post :-)

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks a lot, Bert :-)

  2. Joseph Nebus says:

    This makes me think of an essay the great humorist Robert Benchley wrote about a house he’d rented which had an orange tree in the yard. He was torn by how much he knew he had every legal right to take any orange he saw on the tree and eat it, or juice it, or put it to whatever purpose he wanted, but also how actually doing so just felt impossible.

    What I’m saying is that while we grow a stunning amount of mint in the yard I feel like I’m doing something illicit if I use it for anything besides feeding our pet rabbit.

    1. elkement says:

      Though I am harvesting these plants on a regular basis now, I can relate! It feels a bit like violating a secret law, plucking them 1 by 1. Or it is just because it takes ages to fill a small bowl with such herbs with small leaves :-)

  3. Dewa says:

    are all the flower safe to eat? I have some kinds fruit in my garden. they are sugary and i think that’s enough..
    great post and info. thanks. ^_^

    1. elkement says:

      If they would not be safe, I’d be in trouble – eaten them regularly :-) But they are all bitter, you need to like that!

  4. Mike Howe says:

    I had no idea that the common plants in my garden would taste so good Elke, this is very useful information thank you. I shall now experiment (but only with the ones you recommend) ;)

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Mike – but don’t hold me liable if I did not describe a plant well that can be confused with a toxic one ;-)

  5. Cleon Teunissen says:

    Hi Elke,

    about linguistics, my gut feeling is telling me that for the particular meaning you want to express the following word order is the one that english has settled on: “if only it would be…”.

    It makes sense to me that way. It’s a daydreamy/metaphorical use of the word ‘only’; the unusual word ordering resonates with a sense of yearning.

    I googled <> and I found very interesting discussion of literal use of the word ‘only’ (not the metaphorical use as in your title), and how its placement in a sentence can affect the meaning.
    http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/78552/if-only-i-or-if-i-only
    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/13878-only-word-order-just

    1. Cleon Teunissen says:

      Aaand it ate my attempt at alternative quoting marks.
      ( I used two adjacent angled brackets. )

      Let me give this a try:
      I googled ‘ if only “word order” ‘

    2. elkement says:

      Indeed – if I google “If it only would” and “If only it would” I find much more pages using the latter version!

  6. I am a bit envious as there’s NOTHING growing here just yet. We are still snow covered, with more on the way tonight. Dandelion has been a traditional staple here in Newfoundland and quite a few, especially older folk, enjoy it. The accepted thinking here is that the newer the better, that is, the leaves are best when harvested from plants that have just sprouted. Typically it is boiled along with root vegetables such as rutabaga and carrot. As for me, I have learned to hate them but not because of their taste. No–they just LOVE the soil around my house and want to take over every single bit of it. They would have crowded everything out long ago except for the fact that i dutifully uproot as many as I can each time they bloom, which maybe as often as three times per year. What a load I take of the lawn! I dump them out back, compost them and spread the mulch on the poorer parts on the edge of my property.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Maurice! Interesting to hear that dandelion is eaten in your place. It seems here there was sort of a renaissance of dandelion salad in recent years, but I don’t think many people eat it often…. it’s more an ‘insider’s tip’ communicated in green living blogs :-)

      I have also uprooted all dandelions I saw two or three times a year. This year I will try to catch most of the delicious buds and blooms first. Then I will uproot remaining plants if they get too big. I have even found recipes for fried roots – maybe I will try that!

  7. Michelle H says:

    The garden here was overrun with portulaca (your preferred reference was purslane) this past summer. That stuff is especially nasty if you don’t want it to take over the garden. If you break a stem or a leaf from the main plant it will quickly grow roots and establish itself as a clone. The only way we can control it here is to remove it from the garden entirely and dispose of it in a garbage bag (or, to dry it completely and then we burned it at the farm, as it does set seed as easily as it grows roots).

    We have a plant that looks like the one you called chickweed, but here people use the name chickweed to mean something else. I once bought a UK published book on herbs and quickly realized that there can be some reference gaps from region to region. It makes me a little cautious about using parts of the plants if I’m only just learning about it, as I’m not quite sure if I’m correlating the information with the right plant.

    At our farm several of our neighbours knew about some of the different wild herbs and plants of the area. Horseradish was a particular favourite of theirs, and some of the older women would get together to gather and grind and pickle it for preserving… they said it was nasty business, burning their eyes and nose, and they had to do the work outside where it was better ventilated. I also found wild mint growing in the pasture sloughs, thanks to the cattle trampling it and releasing the fragrance.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Michelle! Yes, common names are a mess! About (my) ‘chickweed’ Wikipedia says: ‘It is sometimes called common chickweed to distinguish it from other plants called chickweed’ ;-) I have quoted the first English name listed in Wikipedia (and checked if I find some articles by native speakers using this name), but I am not sure about the German names either. E.g. our ‘Chicken’s Colon’ is called differently in Germany. I have now watched these plants grow during several seasons and I checked some characteristics I found explained in different sources – such as the white rubber thing in the middle of ‘chickweed’s’ stem – to be 100% I recognize them correctly.
      Here the most infamous toxic plant is lily of the valley (?) and every year people die or get seriously ill as they confuse the leaves with wild garlic.

      Interesting – I didn’t know horseradish as a wild herb… many people grow it in their garden here!

      Portulaca was quite a weed in our garden, too, but it only grew in the very sunny places where not much else survived. It was the biggest surprise to discover that this is edible – I think this was the weed most praised in articles about its taste and how versatile it is. When we ordered our first tomato seedlings two years ago we got some purslane plants as a goodie – I thought it was an odd joke ;-)
      And yes, it is harder to grow it from seeds – I just managed to kill one of my ‘office desk precultures’ of the upright variety.

      1. Michelle H says:

        Lily of the valley is a cultivated plant here, and I can see how it could be confused with garlic. I’m sorry to hear that one of your seedlings died; sometimes the soil mix can cause something called damping off, a bacteria that causes the roots to rot. If others show a brown spot at the base of the stem and appear wilted, you might need to ask for a fungicide that you can water into the soil.

        1. elkement says:

          I used a special soil, for cultivating seedlings. I guess it was a more stupid mistake, like too much or not enough water or most likely not enough light. The batch of seedlings which got more light (under otherwise similar conditions, same soil) had survived. I will seed some directly in the garden anyway – preculture is just on option.

  8. This is a wonderful post Elke (not just because there are some much-appreciated links) and reveals a side of you that has only been hinted at before. Such a beautiful bounty surely indicates some really healthy soils – congratulations and, Bon Appétit. D

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, Dave – glad the farmer liked it :-)
      Our soil is very heavy and dense, more like loam. Grass typically used for lawns does not seem to like it ;-)

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