Backyard foraging!

Spring has been in full swing here in sunny Southern California. And as promised, it was a wet one this year. El Niño? Remains to be seen. But I am never one to not take advantage when such beautiful, abundant, nutritious resources are right in my back yard!

Ever wonder what these prickly sticky plants are? If you’ve spotted some, you’ve got yourself a Stinging Nettle colony! They are fast growing, lush, green, and filled with a ton of nutrients. The only thing is — wear some thick rubber gloves! Touching stinging nettle is an unpleasant thing. The fuzzy hairs on stinging nettle leaves can inject several pain producing chemicals into your skin, including histamine, acetylcholine, and formic acid! Yikes.

And before you ask, yes, I deliberately stung myself with these little babies to experience the sensation. It was definitely painful, as if I got bit by a fire ant. But there was no bump, no hive, and the stinging went away after about 15 minutes. Still… wear gloves people!

So why would you want to ingest such a “thorny” plant? Well stinging nettle can contain up to 25% protein–a huge amount for a leafy vegetable. In addition, it’s packed with Vitamin A, B, Calcium, Iron, and magnesium. In other words, eating your nettles is kind of like taking a multivitamin in whole food form. 🙂 After they have been cooked, the sting is gone, and you can feel free to enjoy in soups, purees, stir fries, even pesto!


This little bunch of goodness is a bunch of Chickweeds! These plants are common almost everywhere you go in California. I always knew they were edible, but what I didn’t know were the nutritional and medicinal benefits of Chickweeds. Thank you google!

Chickweed has apparently been used in herbal medicine for menstrual issues, post partum healing/milk production, and even respiratory conditions. Who knew that you have almost an arsenal of medicine right in your backyard? Chickweed can be eaten raw in a salad, or cooked, and it tastes mildly like spinach, without the grittiness that spinach can sometimes add to your teeth. It also is an apparently great source for vitamin A and beta-carotene, and very rich in multiple minerals like magnesium, manganese and zinc.


And finally, and my personal favorite–Marshmallow! Or I should say just Mallow, the close cousin of the marshmallow plant.

These hardy plants are so versatile,they can survive in soil devoid of nutrients and water, they can exist as ground cover, as low bush like aggregates, or even reach heights of 5-6 feet with leaves that span up to 6 or 7 inches. ALL parts of the mallow plant is edible. People used to use the viscous extract of the marshmallow root to make, you guessed it, marshmallows! Regular mallow root can be boiled to create a viscous fluid that can be substituted for egg whites. The sprouts of marshmallows cook up just like pea-sprouts. The stems and mature leaves when cooked are a great leafy green side dish. Mallow does give off a slightly slippery feel when cooked, similar to Okra, and thus can be used as a thickening agent

I have used the leaves like grape leaves for Dolmadas, stuffed them with minced meat and herbs, used them in soups, or simply blanched and seasoned them for a delicious veggie sidedish.

So the next time it rains, check out your back yard and see if you can find some treasure. In southern California, I suppose there is always next Spring. 🙂



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