The Salad Days

It’s officially spring and spring means green things. John Kallas’s Edible Wild Plants has been very helpful in identifying a few tasty greens available at this time in the Pacific NW.  The one I eat most often is chickweed, because it’s the most plentiful. I’ve even got a rich patch of chickweed about a block away from my house that I think of as my chickweed patch. I’ve stopped buying salad greens and just eat chickweed instead. It’s more convenient than stopping by the store after work, but less convenient than having a prepackaged bag or tub of greens already in the fridge. Sure, I could plan ahead and harvest for the coming week, but leaves taste much better right off the living plant.

My favorite spring green is miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), so called because it provided vital vitamin C for gold miners, protecting them against scurvy. It’s much harder to find so I get pretty excited whenever I spot a patch. As far as plants go, I think it’s pretty cute. Its leaves are round and sit on top of the stalk like a flying saucer or floating lily pad, with little white flowers that perch on the disk. Unlike many edible plants, it’s actually native to the northwest.

I should leave a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge at work. I inevitably get hungry for snacks. If I just plucked a salad outside, I wouldn’t have to make runs to convenience stores for junk food. Most of the chickweed around the PSU campus is the less desirable mouse-ear chickweed. It’s just as edible, but the fuzziness of the plant isn’t fun to have on my tongue. If it’s raining I’ll just grab some mouse-ear, but if it’s nice out, I feel it’s worth a few more blocks to find the less hairy kind. I found some miner’s lettuce next to the south entrance to my building. It’s between the sidewalk and the road, growing against a tree, so it must get peed on daily by dozens of dogs. But I don’t care. I love that juicy crunch of miner’s lettuce. Anyhow, dog pee can’t be any more dangerous than the pesticides on conventional vegetables we buy at the store.

Spring salad
A spring salad of chickweed, spring onions, and dandelion flowers.

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