Wild Greens

There's a world of tasty, free-for-the-picking edible wild greens in fields, in vacant lots, alongside streams, and even shooting up among your own garden crops!

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    [PHOTO 1] Curled dock has slender, wavy-edged leaves that can reach over two feet in length, but such older blades should be boiled in two changes of water to remove any bitterness. [PHOTO 2] The Latin name for lamb's-quarters, Chenopodium album or "white goosefoot," refers to the leaf's shape and light undercoating. [PHOTO 3] Amaranth is sometimes grown for its seeds rather than its greens. [PHOTO 4] Even Henry David Thoreau liked purslane!
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    [PHOTO 5] Be sure to pick dandelion greens before the flower appears. [PHOTO 6] Plantain leaves are so common in disturbed soil that American Indians nicknamed the plant "white man's footsteps." [PHOTO 7] Winter cress was sometimes called "scurvy grass" by prospectors and homesteaders who ate the vitamin-rich food. [PHOTO 8] The willowlike leaves of fireweed (which thrives in burned-over areas) make a tasty green, but its young stems are a fine ""wild asparagus""!

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In past articles I've described a number of scrumptious domesticated pot-herbs that you can raise easily in your vegetable garden. But whether or not you're already growing rows of kale, tendergreen, New Zealand spinach, and the like, you sure shouldn't miss out on some of the best leafy munchables of all: wild greens!

Some folks, it seems, call every plant that didn't get its pedigree from a seed company a weed, but the fact is that a lot of very delectable leaf crops spring up, spontaneously, just about everywhere ... through cracks in cement, in agribiz cornfields, upon well-manicured lawns, and—quite probably—in your own vegetable garden! Wild greens have at least as much flavor and nutrition as do the cultivated varieties and—best of all—don't need to be sown, watered ... or even weeded. (Remember? They are the "weeds.")


One of the finest—and most common—of the "untamed leafers" is lamb's-quarters (Chenopodium album ). This spinach relative (which, incidentally, holds its texture when canned or frozen much better than does "real" spinach) grows so widely that it's earned a large collection of local names ... such as goosefoot and pigweed. You ought to be able to recognize lamb's-quarters by the jagged diamond-shaped leaves with powdery-feeling, white-dusted undersides. Remember, though, that you should never eat goosefoot—or any wild plant—until you have positively identified it as edible.

The young tender leaves of lamb's-quarters are tastiest, so either harvest your "wild spinach" from plants no more than a foot high, or pick the youngest (uppermost) blades from more mature specimens. The delicately flavored leaves can be served up in salads, steamed, added to egg and cheese casseroles, or prepared in most any recipe calling for spinach.

Amaranth Leaves and Seeds

Another wild green that's earned a lot of names (including careless weed, redroot, and—once again—pigweed) is amaranth ( Amaranthus retroflexus and hybridus ). This extremely common plant has rough, oval-but-pointed leaves that are borne on long stalks ... a stout, hairy main stem . . . and a crimson-colored root. The fast-growing potherb doesn't have as distinctive a flavor as lamb's-quarters ... and its relative blandness makes amaranth a good choice to mix in with any especially tangy greens that you want to "tone down." Amaranthus —like so many other leaf crops—can be harvested either by collecting the entire young plant, or by continually pruning new growth from the stems to keep a local redroot population productive for months.

An excellent hunting ground for amaranth is the space between rows of cultivated crops. Of course, you should always ask a farmer's permission before you go tromping through his cornfields, but believe me, most folks will gladly let you gather their amaranth plants ... all summer long!

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