Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sowthistle - Sonchus asper

Spiny Sowthistle - Sonchus asper is by far the most widespread of the Sonchus clan growing across the entire United States including Hawaii and Alaska and all of southern Canada. Of the five or so Sonchus species here in the states, its range is only second to Common Sowthistle - Sonchus Oleraceus whose growth range reaches further into northern Canada and also Greenland.

A Cool Weather Lettuce Like Plant

Spiny Sowthistle is one of at least four edible Sonchus in the southeast, all of which grow here in Alabama and have similar edible qualities about them.

The Yellow Flowers (Partially unopened) of Sowthistle
This genus' edibility goes way back to the Native Americans in this country even though they are supposedly originally native of Europe with some saying the genus was used for food there for over a thousand years.  Being in the Aster (Asteraceae) Family, sowthistles have edible and inedible relatives ranging from coneflowers to daiseys to cockleburrs.

The Spiny Sowthistle Leaves and Stalk

This is the time of year that Spiny Sowthistle likes to grow because it is considered a cool-season annual herb. That being the case, if you run across a sowthistle this time of year it's more likely to be S. Asper than S. Oleraceus which although a more common sowthistle (hence the name Common Sowthistle), it tends to grow more in warmer weather. You'll see them both growing usually in mid to moderate sunlight along roadsides, yards, cultivated areas, gardens etc. It is hard to miss this time of year once the stalk emerges above the dead plants of winter and the bright yellow flowers open up.

Mixed Sonchus Veggies

As the name Spiny Sowthistle suggests, it is probably the spiniest of the sowthistles.  The larger leaves are bitter and also have the sharpest spines, so handle with care.  You can take a pair of scissors and cut off the spines.  They are not an issue if the leaves are young and tender but don't be affraid to include a few of the older leaves as cooking also helps with the bitterness.

Back & Front of the Spiny Sowthistle

Don't confuse the Sowthistles (Sonchus) with the Wild Lettuces (Lactuca) although they both have almost the same edible uses.

Adding Washed Leaves into a Pan with Butter & Oil

It is considered high in vitamins according to some sources.  The tender leaves can be eaten raw and actually do resemble lettuce in looks and in taste.  Older leaves can be cooked and made more palatable by removing the spines mechanically or sometimes cooking breaks them down.  The stalks can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked like asparagus.  Flowers and flower buds are also edible.  Even the roots can be eaten raw or cooked when young by processing them to remove the fibers.

Notice the White Milky Sap coming out of the Stem

At least one source I’ve read says to clean the milky substance (latex) before eating, but good luck with that because it seems like an impossible task to me.  There are other sources that do not say you have to do that before eating however.  I will mention that the author of that source may have been scared of the white sap because in most cases the white is considered poisonous in other species and typically we stay away from them.  In this case, it isn’t that big of a deal.  If you’re sensitive, then you might be careful and sample in small pieces at first.

Cooking the Sowthistle Down - Add Flour as a Thickener, Salt & Pepper if Desired

Personally I tried the peeled stalk and it was a little bitter to me, but I’ve never been a celery type individual.  If it were cooked in a stew or something, I’m sure it would have been just fine, but I tried it raw (without peanut butter).

Meal Ready to Eat
One last note, it may be preferred to cut the spines off of the Spiny Sowthistle leaves. This takes time I know. The leaves I ate were young, but even cooked, the thistles were noticeable. I didn't say not edible. However, older leaves could cause mechanical injury if the thistles are left on. In simple terms, they could get stuck in your throat, to be cautious with this plant. The "stickers" are not near as noticeable with the other sowthistles.

Bon Appetite


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Henbit - Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule & Lamium Purpureum

Sometimes going by the name Henbit, but also going by the name Deadnettle, both Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule and Purple Deadnettle - Lamium Purpureum grow all across the entire United States.  Henbit (L. Amplexicaule) covers the entire U.S. and in our local area is far more common than the Purple Deadnettle (L. Purpureum) which is also called Archangel Red Dead-Nettle. 

Henbit is most certainly also called deadnettle because it is just one species of at least five (5) in the Deadnettle (Lamium) genus growing in the United States.  They fall under a large family of plants called the Mint (Lamiaceae) Family.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule grows in mats or clusters
Henbit usually grows in great clusters, clumps or what some would call matts, anywhere from an inch or so tall to five or more inches.  Here you see it growing between the cracks in these brick outside of my garage.  You'll see it many times in disturbed planters, roadsides or other areas.  Its shape makes it hard to miss.

Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule  
Both species that grow in the southeast, the L. Amplexicaule and the L. Purpureum are both completely edible and can be eaten raw or cooked in salads or in anyway you might cook a vegetable.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule
(Notice the "purple dots" that later mature into purple flowers)
Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule
(Notice the "purple dots" are now mature flowers)
Young Purple Deadnettle - Lamium Purpureum
Above you will see some of the differences between Henbit Deadnettle and Purple Deadnettle.
It seems to tolerate cold weather quite well.  You will see it mostly in the late fall, winter and spring but especially in the winter months and spring when there are less plants competing with it.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule in pan with oil and butter (and wild garlic)
Right now there are plenty of wild onions and garlics visible growing in the yard.  All of them fall into the category of the "onion" (Allium) genus, which covers well over 100 different species ranging from onions to garlics to leeks and ramps.  We have to be very careful not to get it confused with other members of the Lily (Liliaceae) Family however because many of them are toxic or even poisonous.  A good rule of thumb is that if it has a bulb AND smells like an onion or a garlic then it is edible.  If it is a bulb and you can't really smell a strong onion or garlic smell when you bruise the leaves, bulbs or individual cloves, then it is not an onion or garlic and you should not eat it.  I just happened to be lucky enough to find what I know to be some wild garlic based on the smell and taste outside of my well house.  After cleaning it well, I cut up the leaves and the bulb and placed it all in a pan with some butter and olive oil.

 Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule Cooking Down
Turning the gas burner on "medium" it did not take long for the butter to melt and the henbit greens to cook down.  I did not have to add either salt or pepper.  Even the stems were tender cooking it this way.  The thing about henbit however is that prior to cooking the leaves are sort of rough, sort of like mustard greens, so a thorough washing in water is required to remove any sand or grit.  Doing so will make your experience much more pleasant. 

Henbit Deadnettle - Lamium Amplexicaule - only Fragments of Wild Garlic Left
I did add quite a bit of garlic as you can see above.  The funny thing is that I do not like to eat onions or garlic straight out.  I enjoy the flavor of onions and garlic, but not the onions themselves.  This much garlic might be a little strong for some tastes, but as you can see, the henbit didn't even make it into a plate because I ate it right out of the pan as I was cooking it.  Last year I boiled some and it tastes rather good that way, but not near as good as the way I cooked it tonight.  Maybe it was the butter or the garlic or both, but whatever the case it competes successfully with any green.

Henbit can be eaten raw on salads as well, but it certainly is not my favorite that way.  It has a course texture when raw, which disappears when cooked above.  Boiling still leaves a little texture but helps tremendously.

This "weed" grows in great abundance around these parts and is popping up everywhere now (January) so it should not be difficult for you to find some if you are in a mood to try something different and experiment.  Good luck to improving your foraging and cooking skills.