Get Your Greens: Eat Weeds

Make a salad or toss into stir-fry, find nutrients your body needs in freshly-picked weeds.
By Emily Murphy
March 2018

grow food you like in a garden

Grow What You Love: 12 Food Plant Families To Change Your Life by Emily Murphy, not only teaches readers to grow and harvest gardens but to apply this philosophy to life as well. Murphy helps readers to plan out gardens to best suite their space and needs. She shares tips and techniques for growing a successful garden. The following excerpt is from The Plant Directory, “Winter Greens.”

Mizuna

Brassica rapa nipposinica or japonica

I started growing mizuna when I was working in a school garden and looking for winter veggies that were cold tolerant and would thrive even if largely ignored. What I discovered is a plant that thrives in both winter and summer — and that is impossible to ignore, given its spritely and peppery flavor. Often found in mes­clun mixes, mizuna has a hint of bitterness characteristic of mustard greens but is milder and tangier.

mizuna weed, winter and summer tolerant

Sun, Part Shade. Moderate to Regular Water.

Biennial grown as an annual. Prefers rich, well-draining soil. Direct-sow from seed, plant­ing 1/4 inch deep. Heat and frost tolerant. Germinates in temperatures as low as 40°F (4°C). Scatter-sow or plant in rows four to six weeks before the last average frost or as soon as soil can be worked in spring. Seed again in summer and fall for winter harvesting. Thin to 4 to 6 inches apart for cut-and-come-again harvesting, or 8 inches if harvesting whole plants. Grows well in containers.

This is a quick-growing plant with lovely, feather-like leaves that are a particu­larly bright shade of green. Grow with leaf and baby lettuces for your own mesclun mix. A single plant can provide up to two months of harvesting when conditions are right. Sow successionally every three to six weeks to optimize the season.

Pick

Begin harvesting outer leaves once plants are 2 inches or taller. Though mizuna is generally slow to bolt in cooler weather, regular harvesting will help prevent plants from shooting up flowers and prolong the harvest period. You can also wait and harvest entire plants when they’re more mature.

Fix

Eat it fresh or cooked. Braise with other hardy greens, include in stir-fries (adding it late to cooking so it retains its texture), or serve fresh with a light rice wine vinegar or sesame vinaigrette. Try it with quinoa, in risotto, on a grilled cheese or over pasta. Delicious in miso soup, pickled or fermented.

Purslane

Portulaca oleracea

Weed or edible? It’s actually both. Purslane is happy to grow anywhere and has a mild, delicate flavor that’s a little citrus-like. It’s proficient at self-propagating, and I especially love its succulent nature, which gives it a drought-tolerant edge and a tasty crunch. Its bright green leaves are stunning and uniquely shaped. Tend a patch of wild purslane if you find it in your yard or close by, or grow it yourself from seed.

purslane grown in trough

Sun. Occasional to Moderate Water.

Annual. Grows in any soil type, including clay, but most abundant harvests come with worked, well-draining soil. Direct-sow seed without covering or with a light covering — will germinate either way. Scatter-sow or seed in rows, and thin to 6 to 8 inches apart. It’s best to keep seeds evenly moist until germinated. Not frost tolerant. Heat tolerant. Performs well even with periods of drought, but grows best with moderate watering. Wild variety is decumbent, trailing along the ground, while the cultivated variety is upright, growing up to 12 inches tall. Grows well in containers.

It’s possible to get three or more harvests out of a single sowing, but you may find successive sowings provide the most consistent yields. Plant a fresh batch of seeds every four weeks until six to eight weeks before your first fall frost. While purslane is considered an invasive weed, it’s easy to keep under control because its roots are shallow and easily pulled. It grows well in containers and is equally happy in the garden — I’ve never had trouble with it taking over.

Pick

Gather whole stems of leaves, cutting to the ground, or leave two or three sets of leaves above soil level, cutting just above the uppermost leaf.

Fix

Stems, leaves and flowers are edible. My favorite way to fix them is fresh and tossed in a salad or on a sandwich with cucumber, hummus and fresh tomato. Try adding whole stems with leaves to a stir-fry, a summer veggie soup or pesto.

fresh purslane for cooking on quinoa

Red Leaf Amaranth

Amaranthus tricolor

This is a heat-loving, high-yielding plant with stunning foliage. Also known as Chinese spinach, it tastes like a mild kale and can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked like spinach or mustard greens. Amaranthus viridus is a similar species worth try­ing. Both have edible protein-rich seeds that can be cooked like a grain.

edible tricolor amaranth

Sun. Occasional to Moderate Water.

Annual. Prefers well-draining soil of moderate to rich quality. Drought tolerant. Plant from seed; does not transplant well. Sow seeds one to two weeks after your last spring frost, covering with 1/8 to 1/4 inch of soil. Plant three seeds every 6 inches, and thin to one plant per 6 inches. Grows best with summer heat.

If you haven’t grown red leaf amaranth, it could soon be your new favorite plant. It’s summer hardy, relatively pest free and easy to grow.

Pick

Begin gathering leaves as you need them, starting four weeks after sowing. Harvest continually until it bolts. Plant a fall crop in its place, or let it go to seed. To harvest seeds, simply pull up the entire plant once seeds become dry. Hang it upside down out of the sun and in a warm location. Once entirely dry, place a paper bag over the top of the plant and shake the seeds into the bag.

Fix

Its deep red, streaked leaves stand out in a tossed salad. Try sistering it with other cut-and-come-again greens or in place of kale or spinach. It’s perfect with a squeeze of lemon, other summer greens and herbs. Braise or sauté. Add to lasagna, pasta dishes, stir-fries or rice. Pair with cheese and basil or parsley, or use it as a fresh addition to your favorite sandwich.

tricolor amaranth simalr to spinach leaf

More Summer Salad Greens

Chicories and endives, Cichorium intybus and C. endivia. Varieties within these groups grow well in mild summer climates. See Radicchio to learn more.

Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum. Toss it in a salad or use as a tender herb.

Malabar spinach, Basella alba. Both shade and heat tolerant, Malabar spinach is a climbing vine with edible leaves. Pick leaves as needed, and be careful it doesn’t become weedy when growing in mild climates.

Nasturtium, Tropaeolum spp. Its leaves are hot and peppery, much like its flowers, adding a welcome punch to a tossed salad.

‘Perpetual Spinach,’ Beta vulgaris. Not a true spinach but a type of chard, this is a high-yielding, nutritious plant that may become your new favorite edible.

Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris. Grow this incredibly hardy and tenacious variety for a continual supply of greens.

‘Yukina Savoy,’ Brassica rapa. This is a delicious loose-leaf Chinese cabbage that is quick to mature and easy to grow.

summer salad green varieties


Summer Salad with Meyer Lemon & Chive Vinaigrette

I’m a fan of letting fresh, just-harvested veggies speak for themselves. Why compete with their fabulous, forthright nature by coating them with sticky-sweet, stifling dressings? It’s best to stick to complementary, or sometimes contrasting, flavors that heighten the qualities of the indi­vidual ingredients, making the finished product downright lovely. Basically, it all comes back to great ingredients. I also think giving greens, whether leafy greens or herbs, a good long soak in cold water adds an extra bit of oomph.

With this particular dressing, there are no exact amounts because I make dressings in ratios and always make extra for another day or meal.

The ratio of my most basic, everyday dressing is 1/3 vinegar or citrus juice to 2/3 extra-virgin olive oil (the better the olive oil, the better the dressing) combined with freshly ground salt and pepper. Stir or shake and you’re done! Adding fresh herbs takes this basic dressing up a level and is the perfect excuse to pick and eat from the garden.

summer salad with greens flowers and lemon chive vinaigrette

What You Need

Fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice (other types of lemons are fine, but Meyers tend to be fuller and sweeter than Eurekas and others)

Olive oil

Fresh herbs, such as chives, mint, basil, cilantro, finely chopped (2 tbsp. for every cup of dressing)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 small garlic clove, finely minced *optional

What You Do

1. Squeeze the lemon(s) into a bowl or jar. Size up how much juice you have, and this is your 1/3.

2. Now add 2/3 olive oil and stir in your fresh herbs and freshly ground salt and pepper; if you’re adding garlic, add it now. I find chives and Meyer lemon pair nicely, but so too do lemon and basil. For a tangier twist, lime and cilantro are also fabulous. If you don’t have citrus on hand, use vinegar instead.

3. If you’re making dressing in a jar, give it a good shake so the salt dissolves and it’s ready to serve.

Serving size depends on proportions.


Grow What You Love: 12 Food Plant Families To Change Your Life by Emily Murphy
Copyright © 2018 Firefly Books Ltd.
Photographs copyright  © 2018 Emily Murphy & Josh Murphy




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