by Besa Schweitzer
My daughter and I were talking about the grocery store shortages, and she commented that she wished she could be a rabbit and just eat the grass. “Well,” I said, “we can all be rabbits with the bounty of edible greens in our spring gardens.” Looking around my garden, I found several edible weeds, including henbit deadnettle, onion grass, violets, and dandelions. In my herb garden, I found parsley, garlic chives, kale, and mint. For some fun color, I included the edible flowers of the dandelion, violet, and redbud. With all the nutrients from these hardy spring greens, I should be able to avoid a trip to the grocery store for a few more days.
Our family has a tradition of including flowers in our Easter meal. The easiest flower to find on Easter is the violet because of the long bloom period. My garden grows plenty of violets, and I harvest them often. The violet’s leaves are edible, but the tastiest part, I think, is the flower. Some people candy or make a syrup of violet flowers for attractive desserts. The violets I harvest go straight on a salad or are used as a pretty garnish on any side dish. While harvesting violets can be tedious, I have good luck picking the flowers by running them through my fingers to pull them off the stem.
Redbud flowers can also be eaten directly or made into a candy or syrup the same way you would do with violets. The pink of the redbud and the purple of the violet really make a dish festive. It is also great to watch the look on a friend’s face as you pick a flower and then stick it straight in your mouth. After inspecting the seedpods, which look like flattened beans, you will likely notice the redbud is a member of the bean family. The redbud flower also looks like a bean flower, with a hinged mouth surrounded by five petals: one on top, two on bottom, and two wings.
One more weed to add color to your salad is dandelion. I like to pick the yellow fluff out of the center of the flower and remove the bitter outer green part. Dandelion petals are tasty eaten in salad and can also be baked into dishes like pancakes. I once had dandelion pancakes with fresh maple syrup. Yum! Dandelion leaves are also a healthy green, but look for fresh new leaves because older ones can be very bitter. In a salad, a few yellow dandelion petals look great.
Note, however, that eating weeds is not recommended if there is a chance that chemicals have been applied to the area during regular lawn maintenance or to kill weeds. Additionally, whenever adding new foods to your diet, start small and check with your doctor. Weeds can be an overlooked source of fresh nutritious greens. Check your garden for weeds next time you want a snack.
Besa Schweitzer is the author of The Wildflower Garden Planner: An Interactive Guidebook to Native Landscaping in Missouri and owner of Besa Grows Wild, a native landscaping company.