Healthy Greens Hurricane WV
St Albans, WV
West Hamlin, WV
Scott Depot, WV
St Albans, WV
St Albans, WV
By Christine Gable
As a child, I grew up loving the outdoors—camping every weekend, cooking over an open fire, and hiking new trails through every state in park in Pennsylvania. But I was well into my adult years before I discovered that the many plants I carelessly called weeds back then were actually delicious nutritional plants in disguise.
Before civilization spread its path of concrete and steel, bringing with it the suburbs (and now exurbs) with their demand for pesticide- and herbicide-laden lawns, wild greens were a diet staple for many people. They were often the first plants to produce edible shoots in spring—a welcome treat after months of root vegetables—and our ancestors instinctively knew the greens were good for them.
“Historically, greens were valued for their abilities to restore energy, increase vitality, and improve the quality of the blood,” says Michael Murray, ND, coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods (Atria, 2005) and one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine. “Greens are also one of the most alkaline-producing foods making them useful in helping to regulate proper body pH,” he adds. Wild greens boast extraordinarily high levels of carotenes, and, according to Murray, “Preliminary and experimental studies suggest that a higher dietary intake of carotenes offers protection against developing certain cancers, heart disease, macular degeneration, cataracts, and other health conditions linked to oxidative or free radical damage.”
So clearly, one person’s weed is another person’s medicine. But exactly how do we identify these wild tidbits and prepare them so we can reap their nutritious benefits? Here’s the low-down on four commonly maligned, yet tasty greens growing in a yard or woodlot near you.
The Mighty Dandelion
A nutritional powerhouse, the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) takes first place in several categories. For example, a 100-gram serving, about half a cup, of this showy yellow-flowered “weed” packs a whopping 14,000 IU of beta carotene. A similar serving of carrots, the presumed carotene champ, contains just 11,000 IU. In addition, research on dandelion root proves that it aids sluggish digestion, supports the liver, helps eliminate gallstones, and normalizes kidney function. From the leaves to the roots, dandelion can be used as a food, as a topical ointment, or in tincture or tea form as a medicinal tonic. Early spring dandelion greens are delicious in salad, either alone or tossed with romaine lettuce or spinach. The crown (near where the leaves grow out of the ground) is a tender, mild delicacy that tastes wonderful when chopped finely and sautéed. Cooking and seasoning helps minimize the herb’s somewhat bitter flavor.
Take a closer look before you pull those mats of low-growing weeds from your garden this spring––they just may be gentle chickweed (Stellaria media). Look for five divided petals, small white starflowers, and a smooth stem accentuate...
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