Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eating weeds

Yellow flowers are mustard
Pinkish ones are red clover
I like to eat weeds.  They're cheap (free!) and very easy to "grow."  Some of the most readily available weeds in Merom HaGalil are mustard, red clover, asparagus and anise.

Mustard belongs to the brassica family, along with broccoli, radish and cabbage.  The older leaves are prickly, but the young ones add a spicy kick to salads and soups or may be steamed and chopped like spinach in lasagna and quiche.  The delicate yellow flowers are edible too and, bearing a similar flavor to broccoli sprouts, are decoratively sprinkled over food or tucked into sandwiches.  Its seeds can also be collected and sprouted in the summer when the pods are dry.

I've heard all kinds of uses for red clover, from fighting cancer and balancing hormones to clearing congestion and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.  At any rate, if you live in northern Israel you don't have to buy expensive bottles of the herbal capsules because it grows wild and makes a wonderful tea.

Coaxing life from the rocky, clay soil
The frost and hail storms destroyed many of the wild plants in my yard.  I was relieved to see that my spinach, though slightly yellowed from the frost, was hanging in there.  It's a very hardy vegetable, tolerating cold much better than the heat of summer when it simply bolts.  We've enjoyed so many salads from our greens, which are high in calcium and iron.

An island of life in
a sea of desolation
There were a few other plants scattered here and there, untouched by the bitter chills of early spring.  I can't help but stare and wonder, why are some spared while others perish?  And I'm not just talking about plants.  My garden gives me so many thought to ponder.

As a preteen, I found my green thumb when I was given a backyard project because no one else in the family could keep the poor plants alive.  I threw myself into it, talking to the plants because I heard they like it and ripping out weeds with a fury to blow off steam (and once planting them in the car of someone who was really bothering me).  The plants became k'ilu my children and I was so proud of them as they grew up and bore their fruit.

Thyme doesn't need seeds to propagate.
Just halfway bury a few shoots and they'll sprout new roots.
Dig up carefully, detaching from the "mother" plant
with sharp, clean scissors, and replant elsewhere.
Later on, I learned about seed-saving and the tragedy of altered plants with infertile seeds.  I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but if genetically modified seeds won't bear a next generation of usable seeds it means a lot of repeat customers for the seed companies.  I've moved too many times to keep all of my seeds (and customs officials have confiscated what I didn't give away), so I am on the lookout for more of what Bereshit (Genesis) 1:12 describes as "vegetation yielding seed after its kind."

I hear there's going to be another big seed swap in Jerusalem this summer.  I went to it in 2005 and traded radish and calendula for yellow pear tomatoes, sweet corn and three types of kale.  Are there seed swaps where you live?

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