Chickweed Pesto, Milk Thistle Snacks & More

Whew, it is FINALLY feeling like spring – sunshine, clear skies, and no power outages for at least a week! We celebrated the lovely weather by going to down to our friend Bishop’s place in Penn Valley.  He told us he had some Miner’s lettuce for the picking…. “some” was an understatement -it was the biggest concentration that either Matt or I have ever seen! Beautiful, large succulent leaves and stems that our daughter Amara quickly discovered and started grazing on.  The round leaves were so large, she looked like a goat trying to chew down all the green so it would actually fit in her mouth!

Beyond the Miner’s lettuce, there was gobs of chickweed (Stellaria media) in his garden.  Chickweed is one of my favorite spring greens, rich in minerals (including calcium), carotenes (antioxidants), and vitamin C.  It is nutritive, cooling, and emollient, which gives it versatility as a health-promoting edible and also a topical herb for hot and inflammatory conditions (arthritis, diaper rash, wounds, burns).  There’s lots more to chickweed – see if you can find this one is your garden and do some research of your own to get to know this helpful plant!

You have to work pretty fast with chickweed – this plant wilts quickly after picking.   I made a nice batch of chickweed infused olive oil (for use in medicinal salves and also in the kitchen), and still had quite a bit left, so I made a very large batch of a nutritive and tasty chickweed pesto (which I can freeze if we don’t polish it off this week!).  I just substituted chickweed for basil, and used sunflower seeds, garlic, olive oil and a little parmesan cheese.  You can also fold it raw into salads, smoothies, and sandwiches.

More treats in Bishop’s “weedy” garden: milk thistle leaves and horehound.  Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is often thought of for its seeds, which provide an excellent source of support for the liver and is often used to treat liver damage due to disease or exposure to some kinds of toxins.  The beautiful leaves are edible and delicious, if you can negotiate around the sharp and spiky edges.  Bishop’s technique included folding the leaf in half (along the rib) and taking bites from middle.  The taste is surprisingly mild and refreshing!

The horehound (Marrubium vulgare), on the other hand, will make you pucker! Whew, its a strong bitter plant, which I assume is why it makes it a treatment for intestinal parasites.  It is also a commonly used herbal remedy for colds an especially sore throats.  So what do you do with a large abundance of horehound? I thought it would be fun to dry the leaves, ground them up, and make them into cough drops with our CSA this spring.  I collected two very full brown grocery bags of the fresh plant, and I’m curious to see how much powder will come of it (maybe 2 ounces in volume?). I always look forward to the opportunity to make powder from plants I collect myself, because it gives me a renewed appreciation of powdered herbs I buy at the store and how much time, effort, and plant material is needed to create just a few ounces!

For dinner that night, we happily grazed on “weeds” and discovered that the big leaves of miner’s lettuce make great wraps! Check out Amara munching on her green taco…


 

 

 

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