Wild Edibles vs. Organic Gardening

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a daily lesson gleaned from our extensive yard and my intensive gardens, namely, that wild edibles are infinitely easier and more naturally prolific than fussy annuals or even some intentionally planted perennial vegetables. I have gathered bags and bags of dandelion greens this Spring, given them away to friends, blended them into smoothies, happily fed guests and ourselves on Goji Dandelion Red Lentil Curry, sauteed them, and even wrapped them around slices of raw Manchego.

I’ve made gorgeous salads of wild violets, and yesterday, I harvested a huge bag of lambsquarters and garlic mustard for an almond butter veggie curry dish served over millet. (Sorry, no recipe for that one … it’s basically just blended garlic mustard and lambsquarters with water, then two packets of frozen organic veggies mixed with the green water, almond butter, some red curry paste, homegrown dehydrated tomatoes, and fresh garlic. I toasted the millet in coconut oil for a few minutes before boiling it.) In 2012, stinging nettles were “my best crop,” and this year I even purchased some nettle plants from a local farmer. I put them in crates, because I feel bad introducing another “weed” to this already very wild yard:

Nettles in Crates

Nettles in Crates

Nettles in their prized spot in the shady Madison garden

Nettles in their prized spot in the shady Madison garden

The point is, we have been enjoying some prolific harvests (er, weeds) for months now, even though gardening season has only just begun. By leaving a portion of our yard wild, we also seem to have kept the rabbits less interested in our garden. Wish I could say the same thing for leaf hoppers: those things are voracious! They amplify the contrast between the wild edibles and organic gardening, although I visited an Amish friend the other day and was heartened to see her dwarf kale covered in Diatomaceous Earth just like mine below:

Diatomaceous Earth on tomato, dwarf Siberian kale, a very tiny Swiss chard, and oregano

Diatomaceous Earth on tomato, dwarf Siberian kale, a very tiny Swiss chard, and oregano

Note the heavy handed powder necessary to keep these plants somewhat uneaten. Note the heavy mulch necessary to keep the soil from drying out too fast and becoming overrun with never-ending dandelion fuzz. And now take a look at this lush spread of lambsquarters, first year garlic mustard (the second year’s the one you really want to tug out right away), dandelion greens, and soon-to-be-flowering edible daisies:

Wild Edibles

Our gnomes like this arrangement, too:

Wild Edibles and Gnomes

That photo actually includes three gnomes, but one is hiding behind the ash stump that now believes it’s 100 ash trees! We’ll need to trim it back, but faeries do enjoy the ash, even more than Stars and Moon Gazing Balls … although, apparently, they are quite pleased with the faery bling David and I procured on Tuesday. (I’ll save the rest of that for another post.)

Lambsquarters are quite pretty and pack a nutritional wallop:

Lambsquarters

Some people purposely plant these in their gardens. I did when we lived in Madison, but then I learned that lambsquarters grow pretty much everywhere. No need to plant! We have them in several pockets around our yard. High in calcium, copper and iron, superfood lambsquarters have 11 days worth of vitamin K in one cup! They are also very high in oxalic acid, so they require cooking. I learned that the hard way in Madison. I spent a few weeks blending them into fresh green smoothies and wound up passing a kidney stone one night. Holy Mother of God and Nature … never again!

I actually hadn’t eaten lambsquarters again until last night. Cooking them does break down the oxalic acid and release the nutrients. I’m not sure how to describe the taste — kind of like an earthy spinach or chard? They enrich everything you add them to, just please do remember to cook those guys.

One of our local friends recently suggested a wild foraging book called Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market, with 88 Recipes. I knew there was something else I wanted to check for at the library! Anyway, you can find lots of recipes online, but according to our friend, this book’s a keeper.

According to my back, the Faery Realm, and my would-be Lazy Gardener Self, wild edibles are also keepers — at least in the backyard. Out front, I pretend to exert at least a little influence with loads and loads of mulch and a few carefully nurtured herbs. I dream of the day when they, too, explore their invasive natures and take more active participation in the Mad Scientist’s Garden. Until then, my bags of greens keep me feeling it’s all worthwhile, even if I gather four to five times more wild greens than collards and kale. 😉

3 responses to this post.

  1. A lovely video on stinging nettles: http://youtu.be/6GMQoG4BRm8

    Thanks, Bill!

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  2. […] gathering. Seriously. You want to talk about sustainable? Try eliminating the middle man and the need for fussy gardens, forgetting monocrops and bee killing BigAg; try consuming and celebrating weeds instead of […]

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