The garden is teeming with new growth thanks to recent rains and a generous handful of warm, sunny days. That has meant a lot more weeding for many of us, but I’m not complaining.
Some of my favorite edible native plants emerge this time of year: dandelions and henbit.
Dandelions can be bitter but contain many vitamins and minerals that make them worth eating even if you aren’t a fan of spicy greens. The tender new leaves can be harvested in the spring before flowers emerge and mixed with milder salad greens. I prefer a balsamic vinaigrette to make the dandelion greens’ spiciness more palatable.
The roots of dandelions are also worth harvesting, especially if you use a tool to loosen the soil and pull out as much of it as you can. According to ForagingTexas.com, the root of a mature dandelion can be up to 12 feet long!
While you can peel, cook and eat the root, I think it more beneficial to dry it for making tea. Dandelion root tea can potentially help with detoxifying your body, but be warned, as it is a diuretic. To dry the root for tea, wash it thoroughly and peel. Chop into uniform 1 inch chunks and place in a dehydrator on the herb setting, about 95 degrees, until brittle.
To make tea, boil the dried root and allow to steep for as long as you can stand. The flavor is stronger the longer it steeps. Add other dried herbs or citrus peel for a more pleasant taste to your healthful concoction. If you need inspiration, check out the ingredient lists of commercially made dandelion teas. I personally like it combined with camomile.
Henbit is one of my all time favorite edible native plants. The whole plant is edible, and the greens and tiny purple flowers taste mild. As the name suggests, chickens also love this plant.
While it can be cooked and eaten, I suggest picking the tender tops and tossing them into a salad or a pasta dish right after it has finished cooking. It also makes a lovely garnish.
A word of caution, though, for any new to harvesting edible plants — be sure you know what you are picking and eating.
Use thoughtful observation before ingesting. Another native that emerges around this time of year is wild carrot (also called Queen Anne’s Lace) which can be confused with poisonous hemlock. Just ask Socrates how that worked out for him. With careful inspection, there are several differences between the two.
I personally keep a copy of The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer on hand, and I rely on the detailed information and photos provided on ForagingTexas.com.
This column originally ran in the April/May issue of The Journey Street Newspaper.