A Bounty of Greens


One rainy morning, I was walking through my neighborhood when I noticed an abundance of tiny flowers growing on the side of the road. Curious as to what they were, I stooped down for a closer look. They were obviously some type of unwanted weed because they followed the cracks in the asphalt. But no doubt the beautiful blossoms had a name. I picked a sprig so I could do a little bit of research. A couple steps later, I came across a different bloom. This one was yellow. I picked that one, too. By the end of my walk, I’d picked quite a handful of little weeds.

It didn’t take much effort to find their names. As I identified them based on their unique characteristics, I also learned some surprising details. Each tidbit piqued my curiosity more and more. Before I knew it, I’d spent a full afternoon compiling copious amounts of information about each of these little weeds.

TABLE OF
CONTENTS —

[ 1 ]
CREEPING WOODSORREL
oxalis corniculata

[ 2 ]
COMMON MALLOW
malva neglecta

[ 3 ]
MINER’S LETTUCE
claytonia perfoliata

[ 4 ]
SHEPHERD’S PURSE
capsella bursa-pastoris

[ 5 ]
WHITESTEM FILAREE
erodium moschatum

[ 6 ]
COMMON CHICKWEED
stellaria media

Creeping Woodsorrel

[ 1 ]

Creeping Woodsorrel

The inconspicuous oxalis corniculata is a European native with dark green leaves. Growing low to the ground, it is often overlooked. Once its yellow flowers appear, however, it seems to appear almost everywhere. This hardy little plant thrives in both sun and shade.

The perennial is characterized by its triad of heart-shaped green leaves. Because of these leaves, creeping woodsorrel is sometimes confused with clover. However, the leaves are much more interesting than those of the clover. The green appendages fold downward and protect the delicate stems during two extreme instances—either in intense sunlight, or during the lightlessness of night. Its delightful flowers each hold five bright yellow petals.

As a food —

The leaves of the creeping woodsorrel are enjoyed for their slightly sour but refreshing flavor. They can be enjoyed in salads along with their flowers. Additionally, the leaves are enjoyed lightly cooked to lend their flavor to other dishes. Nutritional benefits include protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, niacin, vitamin C, and beta carotene. However, care should be taken not to eat too many leaves, because the presence of oxalic acid can inhibit the body’s absorption of calcium.

In traditional medicine —

The liquid of the plant has been extracted to treat skin conditions, burns, and insect bites and stings. Some people also consider the plant to have antibacterial properties. When infused, the leaves of the plant can be made into a tea.

Other usefulness —

The flowers can be used to make dyes of yellow, orange, red, or brown colors.

Common Mallow

[ 2 ]

Common Mallow

The round, tooth-edged leaves of malva neglecta can be found almost anywhere in the world at almost any time of the year. Once native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, this plant has been naturalized in many other countries. It is sometimes known as cheeseweed, named so for its fruits that resemble little wheels of cheese.

The winter annual is characterized by large, crinkly, heart-shaped leaves. On closer examination, each leaf has five to seven shallow lobes, each of which has toothed edges. The leaves grow in alternating pairs on stems that extend from a single tap root. Starting in late spring and lasting until early fall, small white or pale pink flowers can be spotted next to its leaves. The plant is often found in a dense mat of upright, crinkly round leaves. When harvested, however, the leaves are quick to wilt.

As a food —

The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract bees, caterpillars, and some butterflies. However, the entire plant is consumed by humans. Similar to other weeds, the leaves are often made into raw salads. The flowers and fruits may also be consumed. When cooked, the roots become a thickener for soups and stews. The plant is known to be a good source for vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

In traditional medicine —

Common mallow is used to treat inflammation, especially in the respiratory system. It is also ingested as an antioxidant. The plant can also be applied topically to sooth skin irritations, sores, cuts, and insect bites and stings.

Other usefulness —

The plant is sometimes used to create light yellow and green dyes.

Miner's Lettuce

[ 3 ]

Miner’s Lettuce

Claytonia perfoliata is instantly recognizable by its single green, leaf-like structure, which resembles a fairy’s plate serving a delicacy of flowers. Its common name comes from its widespread consumption during the California Gold Rush, when miners ate it to prevent scurvy. These little plants are native to the western coasts and mountains of North America. Today, they can also be found naturalized in Western Europe.

Also a winter annual, this weed appears after the first heavy rains of the year. It produces multiple long stems, each topped with a single leaf-like rosette called a bract. Growing above the bract are numerous tiny white or light pink flowers. On younger plants, the bracts may be a centimeter or smaller in size. On flourishing, mature plants, the bracts can grow to several centimeters in diameter.

As a food —

The leaves, flowers, and roots of Miner’s Lettuce are rich in vitamin C and are also a source of beta carotene, protein, vitamin A, and iron. Birds and grazing mammals have developed a taste for the weed. While the leaves are prepared in various culinary styles, care must be taken to ensure that the leaves do not contain soluble oxalates. The oxalates form in certain soil conditions and are toxic to humans when ingested.

In traditional medicine —

The leaves may be used to form a poultice that treats joint pain and inflammation. They may also be steeped for tonics.

Shepherd's Purse

[ 4 ]

Shepherd’s Purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris is so named for the tiny heart-shaped pods or capsules, often mistaken as tiny leaves, that grow like little pastoral shepherds’ purses on its long, spindly stem. The native of Europe and Asia Minor flourishes in cool habitats worldwide. It is a winter annual, but may be found growing year round in cooler climates.

The stems of Shepherd’s Purse extend from a single rosette of leaves that grow on the surface of the ground. The bottom of the stem has several pointed leaves and sometimes produce flowers. However, those parts of the plant are often obscured by the showy tops of the plants. The majority of the stem is covered in tiny pods that contain numerous seeds. At the very tip of the stalk are spherical bunches of tiny white flowers.

As a food —

The weed can be eaten as a source of vitamins A, C, and K, protein, sulfur, calcium, iron, potassium, and sodium. The leaves are often found in Asian cuisine. The seeds are used as a spice, though when consumed in large amounts, they may cause digestive irritation for some people. The roots are sometimes used as a substitute for ginger root. Insects and grazing animals have also taken a liking to the plant.

In traditional medicine —

The weed can be used to make a tea or tincture to address circulatory problems. As an ointment, it can treat skin disorders and bleeding wounds.

Other usefulness —

The extract of this plant is used to make some cosmetics.

Whitestem Filaree

[ 5 ]

Whitestem Filaree

Erodium moschatum, sometimes known as Musk Stork’s Bill, is a winter annual native to Eurasia and North Africa. It is commonly found throughout the world. In warmer climates, the plant is considered a biennial.

The young plant grows in rosettes that extend over the surface of the ground. Its leaves, round-toothed at the edges, grow in pairs on a hairy stem. The leaves near the outer tips of the stems have very defined lobes, some of which may be fully divided. The leaves at the base of the stem have less defined lobes. It can be distinguished from other Filaree plants because of its pale stem, hence its common name. The name Musk Stork’s Bill comes from the shape of its pointed, needle-like, elongated fruits that resemble a stork’s beak.

As a food —

Like many other common weeds, the filaree is edible. Its leaves are often found raw in salads, though sometimes it can be found lightly cooked. Less commonly, the whole plant is eaten. Cattle and some small mammals have developed a tasted for it as well.

In traditional medicine —

The leaves can be used to sooth sores and rashes. When ingested, the plant is believed to aid in treated bleeding disorders. It is also commonly used to induce sweating and break fevers.

Other usefulness —

The plant is sometimes used to create green dyes.

Common Chickweed

[ 6 ]

Common Chickweed

The winter annual stellaria media has a high tolerance for a variety of climates and habitats. Hence, this European native can be found all over the world. Look for small white flowers on stems with pairs of pointed, oval leaves, usually only inches from the ground, growing in a dense, sprawling carpet.

The green stems of this little plant are noteworthy—tiny white hairs grow up and down its length, but only in a single line on the stem. The hairs appear on one side, then alternate to the other side at the node of each leaf pair. Equally worth examining are its peculiar flowers. While the blooms appear to have ten petals each, there are actually only five petals per flower. The petals have deeps clefts running down the middle to form a rounded V-like shape. Take time to observe these flowers during nighttime. The long leaves will furl around the flower buds to protect them from the cold.

As a food —

Chickweed is an edible weed. Chickens have a taste for them (hence its common name), but so do humans. Leaves can be found raw in salads or lightly cooked as a side dish. The flowers, stems, and seeds can also be consumed. The plant is known to provide nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, zinc, and copper. The weed also plays an important role in the diet of certain butterflies, moths, birds, and small mammals. Because other plants are often dormant in the earliest months of the year, these creatures depend on chickweed to survive until spring.

In traditional medicine —

A poultice made from chickweed treats skin irritation and diseases as well as pain. The leaves are also used to make herbal teas.

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