Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wild Edibles for Pacific Northwest Gardens

The first three edible weeds that every PNW Garden can easily include are Chickweed Stellaria media, Dandelion Taraxacum officinale, and Wintercress also known as Shotweed Cardamine oligosperma. These three weeds are true guardians of the soil. They return and recycle nutrients back into the garden soil. They are succulent enough to be natural green manures. Their flowers, seeds and leaves attract pollinators and encourage birds and wild things to come to the garden. They can be fed to chickens and are easy to control. Most importantly they can be enlisted to compete with and help with keeping the less desirable weeds at bay. All of them provide food that is palatable and high in vitamins and minerals for both man and beast throughout the year.

Cardamine oliosperma is at its best in the winter. It is used like water cress. If you can keep track of the newly emerging basil rosettes they have better flavor. It is very tasty mixed with goat or cream cheese and put on toast or crackers or in a cucumber sandwich. This lovely plant is above ground during the colder wetter months providing a protective cover of green leaves to catch and slow the incessant rain here in the winter months preventing erosion of topsoil. When the soil dries out in the spring Wintercress goes to seed with amazing seed dispersal hence the name Shotweed. The plant dries up and disappears reappearing in the fall from self sowing.

Dandelions are deep rooted and draw minerals up to the top soil. Dandelions have been eaten for millennia. They can be found almost everywhere on the planet. In the PNW they grow primarily in the spring and fall or in areas that are irrigated in the summer. Try them sautéed in olive oil with garlic and then pile between two pieces of crusty Italian bread maybe a little Parmesan cheese hmm delish! Most important always remember Dandelions have only 1 flower per stalk! Lookout for other much less tasty cousins of the Dandelions that have similar flowers but the flower stalk branches and bifurcates.

Chickweed our beautiful Stellaria media star shaped flowers and succulent leaves. Chickweed will linger into the warmer months but disappears in the hottest part of summer in full sun. If you pull it twice a year it keeps pretty tame. The nice thing is, it is a fine green quite lettuce like, and good in omelets soups.

These plants augment the plants growing in the garden and provide early spring greens. It is also good knowing that you could leave your garden fallow for a year or two and come back to find it mostly full of edible plants.

by Lynn Villella

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