Sunday, March 29, 2020

Harvest your own coronavirus salad

Due to coronavirus concerns, a lot of families will be visiting grocery stores rarely if at all, feasting on caches that they had collected prior to the state’s shutdown of schools, non-essential businesses, and gatherings of any size.

While that may work for foods that can keep in cupboard or freezer, it doesn’t for items that perish quickly. Among those are leafy greens. Sooner or later, shut-in families might develop a serious hankering for a salad.

Abstaining from going out in public shouldn’t deny you of a salad. There are plenty of opportunities in your backyard and local forests and fields to harvest fresh leaves. The veritable lockdown of the Empire State coincides with the finest wild salad harvest of the year as many of the young plants greening now have vibrant flavors.

I encourage you to grab a good field guide or use an app to help you identify some of these plants that will allow you to amass some very tasty and very healthy salads.

Dandelion: Many homeowners tend to look at this wonderful yellow flower as a blight upon their lawns and do everything they can to eradicate it. They don’t know what they are missing. The leaves, with their teeth-like indentations that lend themselves to the lion name, are delicious this time of year and can be eaten raw. Closer to summer, they take on a little bitterness that deserves a good boiling. The greens are chock full of nutrition -- Popeye would hate to hear that they are healthier than spinach and are especially heavy in Vitamin A. The roots can also be collected, diced and boiled, adding something akin to a water chestnut to your salad.

Chickweed: If you look around fields and “waste areas” (naturalist-speak for disturbed sites left to grow back to weeds and greenspace) you will find plenty of chickweed in bloom right now. It grows low to the ground in vast colonies, its heart-shaped leaves augmented by tiny white flowers. Compared to most wild greens, it is quite tender and can be eaten raw or cooked only slightly. You can eat the leaves, stems and flowers, so you need not worry about having to over-manicure the small plants. It’s a healthy plant, too, as it was used by settlers to keep scurvy at bay.

Plantain: Not to be confused with cooking bananas that are also known as plantain, common plantain, like the dandelion, is another plant that’s a bane to those who fuss too much over lawn perfection. You will recognize its sturdy, oval-shaped leaves that, come summer, are joined by their flowers that grow on skinny spikes or stalks. By summer their leaves have too woodsy of a flavor but for the next month and a half they are tasty raw or boiled. They are quite fibrous, and have laxative qualities, so they are best had as augmenters to your salad, not as the base green. These so-called weeds are also high in Vitamins A and C.

Dock: This is another plant that green thumbs despise, as it can quickly take over a garden. Its long leaves are powerful things, having more Vitamin C than oranges and more Vitamin A than carrots. They have a lemony flavor to them, so they can help season a salad. If that flavor proves too bitter, they can be boiled or panfried – unlike most greens they don’t lose their bulk when cooked.

There are many more wild plants that can be eaten. Being able to identify them and understand their uses – and risks – could make for great science study for homebound schoolkids and collecting them could present an interesting pastime for lockdowned families – especially those wanting a salad or looking for creative ways to have the kids weed the garden or lawn.

Just because you can’t get to school or the store doesn’t mean coronavirus should stop us from enriching our minds and bodies.

Savor nature’s bounty – enjoy a salad!

From the 30 March 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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