Spring is coming fast here in the southeast, and healthy plants are popping up all over our yard! Three of my favorite free spring edibles are violets, chickweed, and dandelion. Sometimes I wonder why we bother growing lettuce when we have lovely greens all around us which are far more nutritious and fun to eat (at least in my opinion)! Let’s take these plants (which some people mistake for weeds) one at a time.
Violets- It’s easy to identify the delicate violet colored flowers and heart shaped leaves of the common violet plant, and both have a mild flavor and are chock full of vitamin C and vitamin A. They are anti-inflammatory and support the immune system as well. They are so tasty that I prefer to eat them raw, but they can also be cooked or made into tea. Candied violets (leaves and flowers rinsed and then dipped in raw sugar and set out to dry to a crunchy treat) are my children’s favorite way to consume them. Violets are also wonderful for your skin, and this is the perfect time of year to gather some to make Violet-chickweed Boo-boo Balm!
You may be a little less familiar with chickweed, but it’s a great plant to get to know! The three photos above show the leaf shape, the tiny flower heads, and the growth habit of chickweed to help you identify it more easily. Think of it as the “star of spring” – it has two sets of opposite leaves at the ends of the stems before it flowers, which remind me of a little star, and then the flowers are tiny white star shapes in clusters. The whole plant grows outward from the center as you can see in the third photo. Some chickweed plants are more creeping, and some have a more upright growth habit. I’ve noticed that the leaves of plants growing in fertile soil are also much larger than those on plants in poor soil, but the leaves always grow in pairs, as shown in the second photo.
Chickweed is extremely nutritious! Vitamin C, Niacin, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus, Selenium, and Silica are just a few of the vitamins and minerals found in this little powerhouse plant. It’s deliciously crunchy raw, and reminds me a little of butter crunch lettuce, only so much better. I literally crave this stuff in the spring! You can also chop it up and add it to soups, stews, spaghetti sauce, or any other dish that could use a touch of green. Just make sure you chop up the stems finely if you have picky eaters, and it easily passes for something like parsley. You can also use chickweed externally to treat rashes and eczema.
Dandelions are one of the most under-appreciated and vilified plants in America. It makes me sad to see people digging up or spraying poison on the very plant that could help their body flush poisons out. Another nutritional power plant- dandelions are high in Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, and Potassium. Fluffy yellow dandelion flowers are slightly sweet and fun to eat. The leaves are toothed and range from tender and slightly bitter when they are young, to tough and bitter when they are old, but that bitterness actually helps your liver to work more effectively at removing toxins from your body, and stimulates your digestive system to work more efficiently. If you feel sluggish, especially after meals, you probably need more dandelion in your life! =) You can add dandelion to salads, soups, sautés, teas, or eat it straight. You can also use dandelion roots to make a kind of coffee substitute.
I hope this encourages you to enjoy the bounty growing (hopefully) in your yard! If you have any questions or thoughts on wild edibles, please comment below!