A Spring Seasonal Sampler
Like many of our friends, we enjoy eating wild foods in season. Spring is the time for young greens, "bitters" or tonics, and time to collect leafy herbs for tea or dried storage.
Oregon Grape (pictured, right) is about to bloom. Its flower buds have some of the tangy, unusual flavor that is more pronounced in the berries. The roots and stems have other uses, including medicines and dyes. Herbalist J.J. Purselle (of The Herb Shoppe) recommends a tea of Oregon Grape root as a camper's first-aid against nausea, vomiting, or digestive troubles. (If you suspect poison, please don't experiment: call a doctor or the Oregon Poison Control hotline: 1-800-222-1222)
I can't argue with the idea of planting gardens instead of lawns for the ecological young couple, but some of us like having an open lawn for play, visibility, or ease of maintenance. Not to mention badminton, croquet, frisbee, baseball. Who says you can't have both?
My grandmother's lawn, happily untouched by chemicals for over 20 years, has become a diverse and balanced micro-ecology. It stays green longer, and needs mowing less often, than the grassy lawns of my suburban childhood. Nitrogen-fixing clovers and vetches, mineral-tapping dandelion and plantain, our native hawkweed and scattered patches of violets, sorrel, and other succulent edible plants mingle with various "normal" lawn grasses, and a thick pad of Oregon green mosses in the shade.
(Moss never needs mowing... I'd love to show you a picture of an exquisitely clever border in a local Portland yard, with grass-free moss and moss-free grass separated by little cedar planting strips. Lovely, in an abstract Getty sort of way, with plant textures standing in for color.)
Here are a few of the succulent young plants that we're eating from our lawn this season (late Feb - early April):
Clover: Forbs, rhizomes, and blossoms are edible and faintly sweet. Imported agricultural clover blossoms make a nice herbal tea; our native clover's rhizomes are hefty enough to be boiled up as a snack. Plus, it adds nitrogen to the soil for other plants.
This is a sign that you've really given up on your lawn. Before they start growing new branches for this year, get in there and hack up that invasive Himalaya blackberry. The tender buds and new leaves can be eaten in spring, but I personally think they're better used for an interesting, slightly floral green tea. I'd love to hear of an exciting use for the roots, because they really do need to be uprooted and vigorously suppressed.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for our native trailing blackberry, rubus ursinus. Besides its "trailing habit" (makes me think of errant nuns), rubus ursinus has distinctly "blue" stems due to a powdery white coating. Its berries are delicious -- often more so than the Himalaya -- and as a bonus, it won't leap into your trees when your back is turned. Its shoots are also good for tea, but I leave it alone when I have Himalayas to harass.
Stinging Nettles are also choice for tea, or cooked greens. They're prime now; and the similar but stingless plant Lamb's Quarters will be coming up soon in my garden mulch. Nettle photo courtesy of R & M Vicol at publicphoto.org.
The article above was published in Portland's Village Builder magazine in the May 18-26, 2008 edition. Please note that photos of mustard and chickweed were swapped in that publication; the correct photos are shown above. -The Author
We're working on an edible, useful, native-friendly landscape at the Dana House, under the benevolent dictatorship of resident landlady Emily Dana.
To see a current list of plants I am offering / interested in, please visit: http://www.gardenweb.com/members/exch/ericalady
If you didn't know that buildings and walls can affect your garden growing zones, check out this microclimatology article.
Natural building is a great way to create artificial microclimates -- with a little reconfiguring, the dirt and rocks in your yard can help protect sensitive plants. It's even easier to take advantage of existing structures and zones to grow herbs, vegetables, and rare native plants.