Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wild Ancestors of Garden Plants

You can find the ancestors of many common garden plants growing wild in yards and fields. Yesterday I found large amounts of wild mustard in an abandoned barnyard. There are several varieties of wild mustard and its relatives (like cress). I don't know what kind of this is, maybe field cress, but there's a lot of it. The young leaves are spicy and have that distinctive mustard green flavor.

Wild Mustard
The Mustard Family

There's so much mustard in this lot that I'm going to try freezing some. The time when many of these wild greens are abundant and tender is short, so freezing or canning some seems like a good strategy. Then the other 10 months of the year when you can't find goosegrass or succulent chickweed, you can still get the unique tastes and nutritional profile of some of these plants.

Wild Lettuce
Young Wild Lettuce

The wild lettuce is also up and coming. Wild lettuce produces a milky latex when you break off a leaf. It tastes bitter even when young. That's why I like to cook it instead of having it raw in salads. It blends in well with the mustard greens, so a mix of these two cooked together can be pretty good.

Oh! While weeding my mom's flower beds, I dug up a six-inch thick bundle of wild onions. This is the best way to get wild greens, since the weeding has to be done anyway. The extra food is just a side benefit. It's a bountiful harvest without having had to plant or cultivate, my favorite kind of gardening.

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