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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Why curse weeds? Just eat them

When I got home from work, a visiting neighbor was blocking the driveway, so I pulled my car into the sort-of drive on the far end of the garden. Then I ducked under the deer-defying electric fence and walked through the garden.

The okra is coming back from the deer attack that happened before the electric fence went up. The Italian kale is lovely — long, dark feathery leaves that had also been deer nibbled pre-fence.

I walked along the cabbage row and stopped to pull some purslane hiding under the leaves. Then some goosefoot growing in between the cabbages and beets, then some wild amaranth. Then I put down my work bag, squatted and started culling in earnest.

The neighbor laughed at me. “Just like my wife,” he said. “She can’t walk near a garden without weeding.”

Weeding? I was getting supper.

There are so many different kinds of weeds that pop up in a vegetable garden that are edible, and many are delicious too. You can call it weeding, you can call it foraging, you can consider yourself part of the wild food trend. Or you can call it hunting for supper.

Purslane, I don’t like. It might be that I dislike it as a weed so strongly that I never gave it a chance as a vegetable, but I don’t want to. Purslane is pretty, with succulent rounded leaves that grow on reddish stems that hug the earth and, if you let it go too long, little yellow flowers. You can eat the tender green leaves raw in salads or on sandwiches, or steam it — at least that’s what they say. Don’t steam it. It gets slimy and no one likes slimy food.

Raw it’s OK. But I hate it anyway. I pull it up and feed it to the goats.
The trouble with purslane is that when you drop a leaf, or leave a bit of stem or root in the ground, it grows back up again. If you turn your back on a section of your garden, it will suddenly be covered in purslane. I really should start eating it. As revenge.

(Some people actually buy purslane seeds — on purpose! — and plant them in their gardens. I don’t know why.)

Goosefoot and amaranth are different. Especially when young, the leaves are delicious steamed. When I have a lot I freeze some to enjoy in winter. I make it into a faux-spinach quiche. I make a lot of quiches and freeze them too. I put some in salads, raw.

And when the plants get too big, I feed them to the goats and oxen.

Goosefoot has a lovely name — lambs quarters — and a not-so-lovely one: pigweed. I always get pigweed and pokeweed mixed up, so I stick to calling it goosefoot, which is what the leaf looks like.

Amaranth leaves are less tender and stand up to steaming a little better. If you let the plant go to seed, you can eat the seeds too, steamed or boiled, as a grain.

Then there’s wild mustard, which pops up everywhere. Unless you eat it very young it’s too spicy, at least for us. It’s better mixed in with other greens — a little mustard, a little goosefoot, a little amaranth. It adds a little bite without overwhelming a mixture of steamed greens.

I like to let some of the mustard plants flower, because the plants are tall and pretty and do a great job of attracting pollinators to the garden. Of course, if you don’t want weeds, the rule is don’t let it go to flower. Because right after flowers come seeds, and seeds make next year’s weeds.

I let the mustard flower anyway. And some of the amaranth.

Maybe I’m a better forager than gardener. I’d better learn how to serve purslane.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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