Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Summer "Greens" - Start Planning for Lettuce Replacements.

Dear Folks,

I've been enjoying sweet potato greens from early Summer to late Fall for several years but wanted to have a greater selection. 

Last summer I actively tried to make sure I had a variety of lettuce replacement greens in my gardens.

The beauty of growing sweet potatoes (the one pictured is one of the purple varieties) is the multiple uses of this edible plant.  Happy sweet potatoes can produce yards and yards of vines and leaves, so you can harvest some leaves all summer long, then harvest the tubers in the fall.  A win/win for foodies.  The leaves and stems can be cooked as you would spinach.  The cut vines and leaves have a bit of a sap which can be irritating to some folks.  Just rinse in cool water.  I love them raw too.

Plant sweet potato slips May through the beginning of July.  You can use the same bed as your regular potatoes after harvesting the regular ones in late April through early June.  The two types of potatoes grow in opposite temperature ranges.  NOTE:  Only the sweet potato leaves are edible the Irish/Russet plants (Solano family) have toxic leaves.

Last Spring, a friend gifted me some Egyptian Spinach seeds (aka Molokia --Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis)  and I fell in love with the leaves.  The plant is a type of jute (yes the "rope" fiber made from the long stems) but the edible leaves are:

 "a very popular green vegetable in Egypt, where it is considered a 'national dish' and a very ancient one. Legend has it that an early Pharaoh who had become seriously ill consulted a healer who told him to begin a diet of Molokia in order to be cured. The Pharaoh did so, and ever after the herb has been held in high esteem. It is most commonly known in the West by its original Egyptian name, or by the term 'Jews' Mallow.'" --

Sow Egyptian Spinach seeds near the end of April.

The next lettuce substitute is another multi-edible plant "Roselle" the Hibiscus variety most known for its Vitamin C rich, cranberry-tangy flower calyxIf you have enjoyed "red hibiscus" or "hibiscus" in tea you have had the calyx "Roselle."

But I want to point out the lovely leaves, which also have a milder tangy flavor and are delicious.  Also known as Sorrell or Flor de Jamaica, Hibiscus Sabdariffa LOVES our summer heat and full sun and can be a 6+ foot wide bush by the end of the summer.  The flower calyx are ready in late fall, but the leaves can be enjoyed all summer long.  (Sow the seeds around the end of April.)

Lastly the ubiquitous purslane (Portulaca oleracea), the weed usually hated by gardeners, but a heat loving vegetable.  There are some "domestic" types of purslane propagated specifically for home edible garden use.

Known in Spanish as "Verdolagas" it is most known as a pot herb and used in stir-fry type dishes.

Purslane has a succulent, slightly tangy tasting leaf and is high in Vitamin A, C and Potassium.  It is frequently prepared with pork using the entire tender stem and leaf.

Using These Leaves

All of the leaves of these plants can be used in salads and on sandwiches in place of common lettuce.

When I make soups or stews I like to sliver the leaves and add directly to the soup or stew just before removing from the heat.

Or, I will place a portion (1/2 cup or more)  of all of the mixed greens in the bowl and ladle over OR top the soup / stew in the bowl with the mixture.

Speaking of Weeds - look into using other common weeds like mallow (mild lettuce flavor) and wild mustard (spicy mustard taste).

NOTE:  You should always try small amounts of plants which are new to you and your family to determine allergic issues.

Over at The Desert Kitchen Facebook page, they post on using the wild edible plants found all over the Valley along with recipes for things growing in our backyards.  Instead of Kale Chips, how about "Mallow Chips"?

Mallow -- the picture is of the Common Mallow (cheese weed named for the shape of the edible seed) and Hollyhock (bottom photo) for visual comparison.  The shape of the leaves is similar but the mallow has a more deeply scalloped edge.  They are from the same plant family (Malva).  The mallow leaf has a mild flavor.

Wild Mustard is a member of the broccoli family.  The young plant pictured has a nice mildish spicy bite and can be used in any number of ways:  salads, as a herb mix "pesto" type sauce in soups and stews.  
And a picture of a more mature plant where the tiny yellow flower is more visible.  These older plants can be quite spicy-mustardy-hot.
A new to me edible weed is one that is a pest in the gardens.  A trailing weed that can be very invasive the Hoary (Hairy) Bowlesia Incana is from the Parsley/Carrot family.  While visiting the Desert Kitchen FB page (link above) there was a question on this plant and I recognized the name, but then learned it is edible.  Hey, if you have a pest plant in the garden rather than compost, eat it!  The taste is mild. 


If you missed my blog post on April Planting - here is the link. 

The beauty of edible landscaping are the fun options through the various seasons using all of the bounty available, whether intentionally planted or volunteer!


My PDF for planting times on 48 culinary herbs is just $5, click here for more information and a preview.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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