3 Herb Mamas


on April 28, 2014


Stone steps leading to my little greenhouse…perfect spot for a weed walk!

Probably my favorite herbal activity is sharing “weed walks” and teaching about wild edible and medicinal plants. A weed walk is simply a little nature trek ranging anywhere from a few steps to a few miles with the goal of identifying the green life all around us and gaining a greater appreciation for plants that are undervalued and overlooked. Although there are certainly an abundance of valuable plants throughout the deep woods and hills, I find that my main passion in sharing about these primary food plants lies closer to home. Sometimes folks show up for my weed walks decked out as if we are headed into the wilderness for a week. It is a surprise when they discover that we often never lose sight of my home. In fact, we’re often right outside my door.

This little stone step area is a perfect example. I could easily do an entire weed walk on just the plants in the photo…Photo Frame Weed Walks, now there’s a fresh idea! And so I think I will. Join me as we explore the food and medicine of my greenhouse steps and see how simple integrating the wild can be.


 Stonecrop (Sedum album, S. Rosea. & other species throughout our region)

A lovely and delicious wild edible, this formed the basis of my morning salad pictured at the end of this post. The flavor is lemony and fresh and the texture is crunchy like celery without ribs or like a fresh, crisp cucumber. It grows abundantly all around these stones, coming back year after  year. It started from a gifted 2 inch homemade cloth pot from a friend’s garden nearly two decades ago but it can be found growing wild, along with other Stonecrops around many of our favorite hiking spots nearby.  This small succulent plant is from the same plant family as the popular nursery plant ‘Hens & Chicks’ (Sempervivum).  White Stonecrop can be eaten raw or cooked and can be used medicinally for its mildly astringent and mucilaginous qualities for minor burns, abrasions or insect bites.  Thomas Elpel (Botany in a Day) says it is a safe laxative for children.

Stonecrop makes an excellent no maintenance planting for around stony, difficult, poor soil areas.

Young Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

When I do weed walks I always slow way down when we come to this plant. Many people excitedly exclaim, “Oh, that’s Wild Carrot!” and are eagerly ready to start digging up the delicious roots. This plant is one that highlights the importance of accurate and absolute identification before consuming. The root is the wild ancestor of all cultivated carrots like you buy in the grocery store but there are distinct differences. The long taproot is white rather than the more familiar orange. Unlike the garden varieties, it contains a woody center that needs to be removed before cooking…unless you have beaver teeth. The scent when you dig the root is sweet and absolutely carrot-like. Another challenge is that you will want to gather first year roots of this biennial plant to get optimum size on the edible part of the root and it can be tricky to tell first year from second year plants, especially early in the season. It can grow lushly to a couple of feet tall or taller and forms lovely white umbels (think
umbrella-shaped) of flowers. These can be pressed and dried to use to decorate holiday evergreen trees and gift packages and cards, looking, as they do, like starry snowflakes.  *EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!* There is a poison look-alike for Wild Carrot. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is also a biennial plant with a white, carrot-scented taproot that grows at least a couple of feet and up to 6 feet tall with feathery leaves and umbels of white flowers. Eating even small amounts can result in paralysis and death. There are distinct differences between the two plants, which highlights the importance of paying attention to details. Wild Carrot has fine hairs along the stems, whereas Poison Hemlock has smooth, stout stems that are hollow and grooved and have purple spots or blotches along them. Wild Carrot often has a red or purple flower at the very center of the umbel of white ones while Poison Hemlock does not.

Here is a useful, short video that shows the differences between the two. Because both plants are young in the video you cannot see the splotches along the stem yet. I like his identification tip: “The Queen has hairy legs!”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5mLUG9cnaM

poison hemlock stem

Wild Carrot stem

Top photo: Poison Hemlock stem

Bottom photo: Wild Carrot stem

Wild Carrot flower

Wild Carrot flowering umbel (note the one red flower in the center)

Poison Hemlock flower

Poison Hemlock flowering

Although I would personally consume this plant I caution everyone, including myself, to be absolutely certain of identification of any plant before ingesting, especially Wild Carrot/Queen Anne’s Lace.

Calendula (Calendula officinale) seedlings among the sprouting Wild Carrot

These little Calendula seedlings are volunteers. Although Calendula  is both edible and medicinal I will wait to share about this plant later in the season when it is in full, blooming glory. I included it here because it is a member of the little stone stairway plant “tribe.” Here is a lovely image of it’s sunny brightness to come later in the season:

calendula-flower-openCalendula blossom

DandelionDandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

There is so much to say about this plant that it deserves a post all its own. Check back this Wednesday when it will be highlighted in Wednesday’s Weeds to learn all about her healing charms and delicious delights!

Purple Dead NettlePurple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

Both edible and medicinal, this plant is abundantly available right now. I threw some leaves in my salad but later I found this video recipe for Mushroom Onion Dead Nettle soup…I think a search for Morrel mushrooms and gathering some Wild Onions is order while the Dead Nettle is on. I might even make it a little creamy with some fresh goat milk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xYivHjW49I

Red CloverRed Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Red Clover, like Dandelion, deserves its own post and will certainly get it as the season progresses. Gather the blossoms throughout spring and later in the fall. It tends to go dormant during the high heat of summer. You can identify it by the pale chevron at the center of each of its three leaves. The blossoms and top leaves are rich in B vitamins and have a long history of use as a tea for treating various tumors and abnormal cell growth. The blossoms are sweet and delicious sprinkled over a salad, eaten raw hand-to-mouth, or brewed into a tea. Bees love the lovely blossoms, too, so leave plenty for their good work. This is an expensive herb to buy dried and I have found the quality to be generally low commercially. Mountain Rose Herbs carries excellent quality when you can get it but why not gather your own locally? Here is what it will look like in bloom:

Red Clover

Red Clover blossom


Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea)

I am sure this plant needs a blog post of her own as well. What a beautiful sight to come upon a sweep of these is  shady spot in the spring. It prefers quiet, shady damp spots but years of tromping back and forth to our favorite violet-gathering spot, “Violet Valley” (named by my kids many years ago) has resulted in it growing abundantly right up to our door step. The flowers are sweet and tasty eaten like candies or sprinkled over a salad. They can be made into a syrup for homemade sodas or made into a lovely violet colored jelly. The heart-shaped leaves are edible as well. Both leaves and flowers make an excellent tea for sore throat.

So there is a mini weed walk that took less than half a dozen steps from my door and resulted in a wonderful breakfast as I move into the Eat-Something-Wild-Everyday season. This is what my breakfast bowl gathering basket looked like from the gleanings of the greenhouse stone steps:

Wild primary foods (“weeds”) in the gathering bowl and rinsed and ready for chopping.

Breakfast Wild Salad

Wild Breakfast Salad with Goat Milk Yogurt & Honey Dressing

Yes, I eat salad for breakfast, especially when the wild greens are on. What better way to start the day than with a little barefoot walk  and a gathering basket. I used Stonecrop, Dandelion leaves and flowers, Violet leaves and flowers, and Purple Dead Nettle…about a heaping cup. To this I added some garbonzo beans for some protein and made a dressing by combining a couple of tablespoons of homemade goat milk yogurt, a spoon of local raw honey, and a dash of stone ground mustard. Later in the season I would have added fresh raw sweet peas from the garden and maybe some wild or cultivated berries. Tossed it all together and topped with a few more Violet blossoms. Scrumptious! ~Leenie



  1. tiffibug says:

    What a delightfully, delicious looking salad! I have almost all of the ingredients in my yard too. Perhaps this will be on our lunch menu.

  2. Ruth Martin says:

    Beautiful! Love your vivid descriptions and pictures. Thank you 🙂

  3. Toni Crate says:

    Great information, Leenie. Thanks.

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