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"After all, what is life without a little WILD STUFF?"

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Every gardener knows the little chickweed plant that comes up in cool weather in the flower beds. Chickweed seldom grows more than 6 or 8 inches high, but will make a thick ma in a neglected bed. With its tiny, starry white flowers and little oval leaves, it is a succulent looking plant, and succulent it is. This is one of the tenderest and tastiest potherbs , when gathered young.

The best way to gather a mess of chickweed is to use a clean scissors and snip the young tips off the young tips of the plants. Older parts tend to be stringy. Put your chickweed tips in a pot with a bit of seasoning meat and salt, and cook it only about five minutes. It stays a pretty bright green color, and you’ll agree it’s tastier than spinach.

Some fresh, tender chickweed is always good raw in a salad.

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Dock (Rumex sp.)

Dock, sometimes called Sourdock, Curly-Leaf Dock, etc., is a cool-weather herbaceous plant which forms a large basal rosette of leaves from fall to spring in damp, sunny places. In spring, it sends up a tall spike of tiny greenish flowers, which are followed by flat, russet seeds about ¼ inch across. When I was a kid, we smoked these seeds, calling them “Rabbit Tobacco.” Gee, it was horrible! The only worse thing I ever smoked was some bits of rotting canvas we rolled into cigars.

Dock is a really good potherb, however. There are several species, all edible, but the best is the one called Curly Dock, with long, narrow, slightly crinkled leaves. The taste it a bit strong, and some folks prefer to pour off one water, after it boils. We cook it straight, which takes about 7-8 minutes. The midribs of the leaves are tough, so strip the leaves from them before cooking.

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Sow-Thistle (Sonchus sp.)

Sow-thistle has an unappetizing name, but it’s another cool-weather plant that’s very good to eat. The plant looks, as the name implies, like a thistle, but it’s not really that stickery. It forms a light basal rosette of laves, then sends up a stalk with small yellow flowers, which are followed by seeds on parachutes, like dandelions.

Your flower beds and yard will produce this plant from fall to late spring, if you don’t keep them frequently mowed and tended. Let the flower stalk develop to the extent of forming buds, then harvest the whole plan and throw it in the pot.

Sourdock and Sow-Thistle

We’ve found that these two plants are excellent in a pot together – much better than either alone. Start the Dock first, then after about 3 minutes cooking, toss in the Sow-Thistle. A bit of seasoning meat and salt always make it even better. Bet you’ll like this!

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Bullthistle (Cirsium horridulum)

Another very unlikely customer for the pot, Bullthistle is nevertheless fine food.

Cirsium likes open, rich pastures and roadsides. It pushes up a bloomstalk in spring about 1 to 1.5-feet tall, and this is topped by a pretty powder-puff like flower, pink, rose, white, or yellow.

To gather: Go when the flowers are just forming well. Grasp the plant by the blossom, as this is the only spot on it that is “ouchless.” Take a long knife and sever the bloomstalk at the base. Gather 6 or 8 of these for an average meal, then take them home, and hold the plant by the flower while you scrape off the thistly “bark.” It is quite easy, as this skin is thin. You will then have a tubular, succulent stem that should be cut into short joints and boiled for about 4-5 minutes. Add a bit of salt. This tastes very much like artichoke, which is also a thistle. It’s really good!

One the larger thistles, it is also worthwhile to scrape and clean the basal leaves. These are especially tender and tasty. The bottom parts of the larger flowers can also be used, as you would use the base of an artichoke.

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Cat-Brier (Smilax bona-nox)

Here’s another stickery one, and this one’s good right off the vine. The species name, bona-nox, means “good night” and that’s what someone said when he first grabbed it. That’s not what he really said, but they didn’t know the Latin for what he really said.

The tender growing tips of Cat-Brier are a sweet, good vegetable raw. We pick them often to toss in our salads or lay on sandwiches. As far down as the tips will easily break off, they are tender and good, and even the little incipient thorns are edible. You might pull off the tendrils, as they tend to grab you in the nose.

On an old farm fence, you can often gather enough brier tips to make the base of a large bowlful of salad.

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All the Smilax species seem to be edible, though the one above is best. Most of these briers have large rootstick which can be pounded or chopped, then boiled, to obtain a sweet syrup. Smilax lanceolata, a vigorous vine of the southern part of the country, has huge tuber clusters that may weigh fifty pounds or more. They produce a good syrup or refreshing drink.

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Poke (Phytolacca americana)

“Poke Salad” is the best known wild vegetable in America, with the possible exception of Dandelion. I can remember, as a child, going across the fields with my Great-Grandmother to gather Poke. Surprisingly, however, it is one of the most dangerous food plants unless handled properly. In early spring, the plant pushes up asparagus-like spears, and these make quite a good potherb. It’s still OK to use as the new leaves are unrolling, but the older the plat gets, the ore of a poisonous compound it draws up from the root. The old plants, the immature berries, and the huge taproots are all quite poisonous. Poke needs a bit of seasoning meat and salt, and should be cooked until tender. Some folks prefer to parboil it, pour off one water, then cook it again. This is probably the safest method. Serve Poke with pork chops and peas. It’s good.

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Two Plants of the Barnyard

Lamb’s Quarter (Chenopodium album)

One of America’s best wild greens is Lamb’s Quarter. It is a rather large, open-branched plan with grayish-silver leaves. If the uncooked leaves are pushed under water, they will come up dry, because of an oily surface. The tender tips of even the larger plans are a darn good potherb. This plant and the next are found in rich old barnyards and untended gardens.

Careless weed (Amaranthus sp.)

Amaranthus has both stickery and thornless species, but even the spiny ones can be gathered and cooked when very young. The thorns on plants a few inches high will relax and become tender with boiling. Boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Careless weed is sure to come up in great numbers in any rich and sunny location where the ground has been disturbed. The above two plants are good in combination.

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Remember that any wild potherb is helped by seasoning meat, salt, and other spices, just like cultivated potherbs. Experiment with your own seasonings, and you’ll find what your family likes.

 

 

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Some wild plants, I believe, hold much promise as cultivated vegetables, and Dock is one of them. I put two plants in our garden once, to see what they would do under cultivation. They made great mounds of dark, green foliage, and we gathered greens from them all winter long. I think some further experimentation is warranted with Rumex species. They flourish right through the winter in the South, and, like turnip greens, improve their flavor with the frosts. Other plants which might be tested in the garden are: Lamb’s quarters, Careless Weed, Woundwort, Poke, Peppergrass, Lamb’s Lettuce, and Ground-Cherry.

 

 

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Always gather your greens from clean places, where no dangerous insecticides or herbicides have been used, and where there is no sewage or chemical pollution.

 

 

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Many herbaceous plants are available as greens in the spring. At one place where we lived, we ate 11 species of plants from our yard before the first spring mowing!

 

 

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So many plants that have thorns, stickers, spines, and ornery outsides have very succulent insides. The good Lord knew everything would try to eat ‘em – that’s why he gave them stickers.  

 

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When I was a youngster, we boys would dig the brier roots out of creekbanks and carve pipes from them. Most of the fine brier pipes today come from Greece. A South American Smilax root yields a basic ingredient of root beer. So the next time you get caught in a brier thicket, don’t cuss. Many are the uses of these prickly plants.

 

 

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Some poisonous compounds are driven off by boiling or baking, but others are not. Know each plant and its properties before you pop it into your ‘tater trap.

 

 

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Speaking of poisonous plants, please note that certain parts of some plants are poisonous, others edible. Thus, tomato and potato plants, closely related, are poisonous, but the fruits and tubers are good. The leaves and bark of cherry, peach, plum trees are very dangerous.

 

 

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Poke

 

 


Chenopodium and Amaranthus  

 

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