Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eating Your Weeds

Originally published in Oakland Local on March 15, 2011.

Sow thistle in  my planter.

I feel guilty about all the weeds in my yard right now.

Encouraged by the rains and periodic bouts of sun, our yard is lush and green and full of flowers, but unfortunately a good amount of that vegetation could be classified as weeds. 

Their flowers bob on thin stems, but I can't see them as pretty.  They are the beady yellow eyes of Oxalis, that persistent clover-like invasive that is everywhere in the Bay Area, which follow me around and dare me to go get a trowel and just try to get them out.  “We'll be back,” they whisper.

Maybe I just gained an edge, though, in my never ending battle of attrition – by eating them.  Recently I discovered that many of the “weeds” in my yard are edible, even my old nemesis, Oxalis.  I haven't yet figured out how to transform its sourness, but I did have positive results with another of my weeds, the sow thistle. 

The sow thistle, Sonchus oleraceus, is often mistaken for the dandelion.  It has arrow shaped leaf tips and a spiky yellow flower, and when you break off pieces, a thick milky sap appears, similar to the dandelion.  However, the leaves spiral off from a thick central stem, often five-sided, with the flowers at the top of the stem.  Both the sow thistle and the dandelion are edible, so mistaking them is not that big a deal.
A closer look.

According to wild food expert John Kallas, author of Edible Wild Plants, the sow thistle is one of the most commonly used wild foods in the Mediterranean, and “is actually higher in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and manganese than any of our domesticated greens.” It has also been shown to have a high level of antioxidant activity in laboratory tests. 

Four stalks of sow thistle had taken over a few planters across from my office window, and were fat and happy, a deep green. I decided to start there. I cut off the leaves, then harvested the stalks.  In my kitchen, I washed and chopped them, then threw the stems into a pot of boiling water.  After two minutes, I threw in the leaves, and boiled it all for an additional three minutes.  The boiling water removes any bitterness in the plant, which then gets strained off.  I decided to make a sow thistle, mushroom and green onion quiche. 

When we sat down to eat, I asked my husband what he thought was in the quiche.  “Beet greens?  Chard?” he guessed.  To me, it tasted like a cross between chard and spinach, with the stem adding texture without being stringy or crunchy.  There was no bitterness at all.  Sow thistle quiche was pronounced a success.

Perhaps the categories between “bad” plants – weeds – and “good” garden plants don't have to be quite so hard and fast in our minds.  So instead of guilt, maybe I should feel pride when I look out at all my weedy margins, full of antioxidant-rich leafy greens.  I must be a weed farmer.

Sow Thistle & Mushroom Quiche

4 tall stalks of Sow Thistle
6 mushrooms
2 green onions
Cheese (I used Gouda)
3 eggs
1 cup milk or yogurt
Spices to taste – I used oregano, thyme, cayenne and paprika
A pie crust of your choice

Chop the sow thistle leaves and stems separately.  Remove flowers, but buds are fine to include.  Boil stems for 5 minutes, leaves for 3 minutes.  Drain.

Stir fry mushrooms and green onions in olive oil. Add spices, then mix in the sow thistle after heat is off. 

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, then add in the milk to prepare the custard for the quiche.

Prepare pie crust, and grate enough cheese to cover the bottom of the crust.  Place the vegetables over the cheese.  Pour the egg & dairy mixture over the top, then sprinkle with paprika.  Bake in an oven  preheated to 375 for 30 to 40 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. I made Sow Thistle Quiche for the second time in 10 days tonight. I did have some Miner's Lettuce in it also. The deal is I haven't told my family what they are eating! I had a dickens of a time trying to find the name of the dandy-lion look-a-like that is such a common weed. Finally 2 weeks ago- victory! Sow Thistle. And then to find out it IS so nutritious. Tonight on a whim, after I pulled the quiche from the oven, I looked it up on the internet and here you have it. I used red pepper, yellow onion,and cheddar cheese.