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From the book, Honey from a Weed

Lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) has to be my first choice. If it were not for this weed, my family would not have survived the last days of World War II, when we had nothing to eat except what we could find growing in ditches and along roadsides. My mother just dipped the leaves in hot water, but they taste just as good raw. I add this ingredient to all my summer salads. It tastes exactly the same as spinach. Germans have bred a variety which I call Giant German Spinach. It ordinarily grows to be 5 feet tall, but in my rich organic garden, everything gets to be twice the regular size. I allow a few plants to go to seed so that they can self-seed for the following summer's crop. Unlike spinach, lamb's quarters stays tender all summer long, even in drought, and it does not go to seed until late in the season.

Redrooted pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) can be recognized by its dark red stems. Its tender leaves make a good substitute for lettuce. In its mature state, it can be steamed or stir-fried like spinach. It is more palatable in damp conditions than in our dry prairie summers.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is more delicate in taste and texture than most weeds and can be used raw at any stage of maturity. If the tiny stems become stringy, they can by cut with scissors.

To add something spicy to a salad instead of radish or cress, the mustard family weeds come in handy. Wild mustards (brassicas) tend to be too coarse and bitter except for small quantities of the flowers and the very young leaves, but the seeds and tender tops of shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris or Thlaspi bursa-pastoris) and pennygrass (Thlaspi arvense) have been eaten by most children if only because of the interesting shapes of their seedpods.

The mucilaginous weeds are my favorite and the most common one is mallow (Malva neglecta or parviflora). The tender leaves are edible early in the season. Later on, the flowers and immature seedpods are most delicious. The seedpods are tiny replicas of those of hollyhocks and both are delicacies when eaten raw.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) makes a rather juicy salad ingredient, but it completely disappeared from my garden within a couple of years of cultivation. Apparently it does not like to be disturbed in its natural environment.

The new shoots of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) are popular in European spring salads, but in our prairie climate, the leaves tend to be too dry for my liking. I much prefer to eat the flowers. Besides being juicier, they are sweet with nectar. I do not mix dandelion with other salad ingredients, but prefer to eat them alone. They taste exactly the same as cocoa beans. Many people, especially women, have a craving for chocolate. Eating dandelion or other bitter herbs satisfies that craving.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca serriola or scariola) and sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) are taller and more slender than dandelion but the taste is similar. The flowers are also yellow except for those of the blue sow thistle (Sonchus alpinus). Wild lettuce can be used exactly the same as dandelion. Here, too, I prefer the flowers.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis corniculata) is not a sorrel (Rumex). Its flavor is more delicate, sweet and sour. Its light green clover-shaped leaves are enhanced by showy yellow flowers. It is one of the most attractive weeds at the edge of many gardens. Warmer climates grow wood sorrel with white of purple flowers (Oxalis acetosella).

Dock (Rumex crispus), however, is a true sorrel (Rumex). This perennial weed pest grows profusely in swampy sections of fields, but seeds often find their way into gardens. In small quantities, the young leaves can enhance a salad. No one, however, has ever been able to talk me into enjoying any kind of cooked sorrel. The brown color alone is sufficient to turn me off.

If your property has swampy spots, you may be lucky enough to have access to cattails (Typha latifolia or angustifolia). Try to catch the young shoots early in the season. They pull out easily and you can bite off the tender bottom end, one of the favorite delicacies of my childhood.

In early summer, you might want to be more adventurous and experiment with the tender new shoots of needle trees just as they lose their brown wrapping. They have a delicate, slightly sour taste.

Hairy Weeds, too? Of Course!

Almost any green weed which can be found early in the season might end up in a salad. If it is too hairy, you can steam or stir-fry it for 4 or 5 minutes to eliminate the discomfort without minimizing the nutrient content.