Wwoofing in North Carolina was my first substantial introduction to farming and gardening. Now that it has come to an end, I’d like to honor some of my favorite plants and herbs I learned about and ate on a regular basis at Blue Heron Farm. The best thing about these plants is they can withstand the cold winters and they love to grow easily in abundance! Read about these beautiful foods, their nutrition benefits, and how to use ’em!
Growing up, dandelion was considered a pesky invasive weed to most suburban folk. It wasn’t until Blue Heron that I learned it was edible, the flower, leaves, and root. Now I’ve heard of dandelion wine and tea and herbal extract.
Dandelion is filled with vitamin C, fiber, potassium, iron, and calcium. It has more protein than spinach, and has been used as a medicine to treat anemia, scurvy, skin problems, blood disorders, and depression. It’s also a mild laxative that promotes digestion.
The dandelion root has been used to help liver and gallbladder problems. Ground up, it can be a tea, especially good for female organs!
Dandelion leaves have a slight bitter taste that can be minimized by harvesting in the spring and fall. To make a yummy dandelion salad, I cut up the leaves small and mixed them with other greens and veggies.
Rutabaga is a root vegetable, resembling an overgrown turnip. It’s a starchy, cool weather crop, part white and part purple. Rutabaga has anti-cancer compounds and is high in anti-oxidants.
I liked to slice rutabaga and toss it in a skillet with oil, garlic, onion, a little salt, and collard greens. They add a sweet crunch to a warm, tasty veggie meal.
Collard greens are everywhere in the south, but being from Rhode Island, I had never heard of them. They are a leafy, cool weather crop that can withstand temperatures in the teens, turning sweeter after the first frost.
Collard greens have anti-cancer compounds, calcium, copper, and plenty of vitamins including, A, C, and K.
Collards became my favorite side dish for dinner and lunch. I’d throw them in a skillet with oil, garlic, onion, a dash of vinegar and salt, wait for them to soften up and shrink, and v’wallah! Delicious.
I had never heard of chickweed before Blue Heron. It’s a little leafy plant that sort of looks like clovers from a distant, but they have tiny white flower in the center. It has a sweet spinachy taste, great in salads. Or, get more creative with it by making chickweed pesto!
Chickweed is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, has anti-cancer compounds, and can serve as a mild laxative, diuretic, and anti-histamine. It is sold as a dietary supplement in small bottles for a price between $10-20. Or it could grow happily in your backyard for free!
I always knew about rosemary and knew people named Rosemary, but I never grew close with it before Blue Heron. Rosemary can take over a garden fast. But thankfully, there are plenty of uses! As an aromatic herb in mint family, it makes wonderful air fresheners and aromatherapy mixes. As a food, it pairs well with meats like chicken and lamb. My favorite rosemary dish I learned was chicken marinated in rosemary and Trader Joe’s Italian and Shiitake salad dressing.
A strong infusion of rosemary and nettle lead is an excellent herbal rinse, reducing dandruff and promoting hair growth. When used externally, it helps with skin irritants and stomach cramps. It is also said that rosemary helps ward off mice and rats if you put a few stocks in the back of your cabinets.
At a grocery store, one third of an ounce of rosemary can cost $4. That’s $182 per pound! But with a little effort and not even the best soil, a gardener can grow enough rosemary to feed everyone in the community.