Sunday, April 22, 2012

Don't Waste those Weeds - Eat Them!

Dandelion leaves are at their best just
before the plant blooms.
   Well, maybe not all of them.  But lots of the weeds that invade your dahlia garden might just as well invade your salad bowl or your soup pot.

   Consider the dandelion, that bane of every lawn and garden across the country. In the spring, in a well-fertilized flower bed, dandelions produce bright green, deeply toothed leaves that add a zesty tang to green salads. (You can use the petals, too; just don't include the sepals, which are a bit tough and bitter for most palates.)

Garden cress is a fast-growing,
fast-seeding invader with a lovely
peppery flavor.
   After the dandelions have bloomed for a while, their leaves toughen and exude a white sap when cut. At that point, they're more bitter, but they still add lots of nutrients and flavor to soups. We like to use them, along with green-onion tops or chives, sage, rosemary, and thyme, to stuffing for poultry, or simply fill the cavity in a roasting chicken with them.  And of course, dandelion blossoms make a simply splendid wine.

   One note of warning: don't use dandelions from your lawn in cookery unless your lawn-tending practices are strictly organic. Systemic pesticides, even if the dandelions survive, aren't good for your own insides. But the dandelions that invade the beds you've prepared for your dahlia tubers — those are the ones to devour!

Garden cress makes a perfect garnish
for any cream soup, hot or cold.
   Another spring garden invader is garden cress, a round mound of bright green compound leaves with a central flower stem that goes from blossom to ripe seed faster than it seems possible. In a well-fertilized garden, such as you've likely prepared for growing beautiful dahlias, these produce beautiful, thriving rosettes of leaves with a spicy zing like that of watercress or pricey arugula. They make another fine addition to salads and a great garnish for soups or casseroles.

   Later in the season, the crew at Lynch Creek Farm will find another invader in the fields: lambs-quarter. That succulent herb also has its culinary uses; we'll be back with photos and a recipe when it starts to appear.


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