Spring Greens

Flowering and seeding Pepper Grass

Spring has  not yet sprung, but it is time for spring greens. This time of year, when there is little in the garden, the visiting wild weeds are a welcome sight. Here are a few of them that are quite common in a variety of environments and they often arrive before spring does.

Chickweed is A Spring Green That Is Everywhere

Common chickweed is a spring green that grows in many parts of the world. It is found in temperate climates and is abundant in the spring. It makes a nice protective blanket for bare soil in my garden each spring. This herbaceous mat protects the soil from being damaged by the continuous spring rain in our region. Although it can be found growing all through-out the year, pre-spring is when it really shines, and as one of the first flowering plants is much  appreciated by myself and the bees. This is when you get lush mats of it covering the bare soil.
Herbal Medicine: This plant is soothing and cooling. The aerial parts are used internally as a demulcent to soothe the gastrointestinal system and as a diuretic. Externally it is crushed or chewed to make a spit poultice for wounds, burns, insect bites, hemorrhoids, and other various skin irritations. Some herbalists have found chickweed will decrease the size of cysts.
Chickweed photo in the spring when plant is fresh, green and succulent.
Chickweed plant sprawling
A photo of chickweed, showing leaves, and flowers.
Chickweed Flowering

Spicy Spring Greens

This is a Cardamine spp. It is in the mustard family, or in latin called the brassicaceae family. I have not keyed it out so I am unsure of the species. It is called by many common names around here. Peppergrass, Pepper cress, Pepper weed etc. It is abundant and edible.  You can find this plant all over your garden and yard this time of year. It is a spicy spring green that I add to my salad.
It tastes similar to watercress and can be used as such. In the Willamette Valley it is most abundant in the early spring. The leaves, flowers and seeds can all be eaten. They are spicy and add a nice bite to your salad, scrambled eggs or other dishes where you want a peppery addition.
When the new leaves first appear (now), it is mildly spicy. As the season proceeds it gets more spicy. In the early spring is when the leaves are the most tender, and I enjoy them as I would arugula in my salad, sandwich or thrown on top of a pasta dish etc.
Photo of Peppergrass
Flowering and seeding Pepper Grass
Pepper Grass In Flower And Seed

Bitter Spring Greens

Dandelion is a plant almost everyone knows. These greens are available in most of our lawns and gardens as well as everywhere else. They are bitter and as with all bitters are great for stimulating the digestion. The greens are a nice bitter to add to your salad as are the flower peteals, or the greens can be stir fried and mixed with a little home-made vinegar or lemon juice. Yum.

Herbal Medicine: As a medicine, Dandelion is a mild laxative, diuretic (especially the leaf) choloagogue, choleretic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has been used in arthritis, gout,  edema, gastric headaches and a variety of liver ailments. The whole plant, especially the root, is beneficial to the liver. Autumn roots are roasted and used as a coffee substitute. The high inulin content, especially in the autumn makes dandelion root a good food source for beneficial gut bacteria.

A photo of a new Dandelion flower opening up.
Dandelion Flower
Dandelion leaves and flowers
Dandelion leaves and flowers.

My Favorite Spring Greens Will Be Here Soon

One of my favorite spring greens is Stinging Nettle. Stinging Nettle is usually ready to harvest after Pepper Grass is getting long in the tooth. As a food both the roots/rhizomes and the aerial leafy parts can be eaten. Although the roots are fine as soup stock, I mostly eat the tops of the nettles, and I prefer the early, supple, spring greens best. The most choice part is the top 4-6 inches.

I usually stir fry Stinging Nettle or cook it in soups. I think it tastes like spinach with an attitude. It is much tastier than spinach. I have also eaten it as a pesto made by a lovely student (warning fresh pesto probably won't sting you if you grind it down really good, but no promises), as a side with fish and a nice sauce, in casseroles, and as a substitute for spinach in any recipe that is cooked.

A few words of caution for those of you unacquainted with Stinging Nettle; treat this plant with utmost care or she will sting you. Wear gloves when harvesting and processing nettles. I have more than once, been on a hike and been surprised by a patch of nettles. In my overwhelming glee at finding the first spring nettles, I have temporarily lost my mind and decided to collect them without gloves. Each time I have nursed my wounds, questioning such a crazy decision. No matter how carefully I harvest this tasty plant, she reminds me that she is protecting herself and she is to be respected. Luckily, once the plant is cooked the sting disappears and you can savor this delicacy without concern.

Herbal Medicine: Don't miss the extensive details on Stinging Nettle as food and medicine.

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A photo of Stinging Nettles As Far As The Eye Can See
urtica by Mari Subb https- www.flickr.com photos 54496854@N08
A close up of Stinging Nettles starting to flower.
Urtica by J Brew https- www.flickr.com photos brewbooks 2544110170