Wild Salad Season

By Amy Crowell

It’s salad season in Central Texas. While many gardens and farms in this country are buried under snow right now, a stroll through our local farmers markets reveals an array of fresh lettuces, arugula, kale, mustards, spinach and other salad greens to brighten our tables. One of my favorite things to do on the walk home from winter markets is peruse the fence lines and vacant fields for any wild additions to my salads.
Winter and early spring are the best times to find wild greens, and those in season right now include:

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) Young, tender dandelion greens add a bittersweet flavor to salads. Dandelions tend to populate disturbed soil around gardens and fields, and often grow in patches. While dandelions are easiest to identify by their flowers, the young plants that have not yet flowered yield the tastiest greens. Look for jagged-edged leaves that grow from a center or basal rosette, as dandelion leaves do not grow off a visible stem.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) Wood sorrel’s leaves, stems, flowers and seedpods add a unique, tangy flavor to salads. Like dandelions, wood sorrel grows close to the ground and tends to be found in disturbed soil and in chemical-free lawns. Sometimes mistaken for clover, wood sorrel actually has heart-shaped leaves and a distinctly sour taste very different from clover’s.

Plantain (Plantago major, Plantago lanceolata) I first learned of plantain being used as a medicinal herb—its crushed leaves provide some relief from insect bites and poison ivy. Years later, I discovered the leaves were edible, and they quickly became one of my wild salad staples. Slightly chewy (though some would say mucilaginous), the young leaves add fabulous nutrition and texture to a salad. The low-growing plantain leaves also radiate out from a basal rosette and have several veins running the length of the leaf. I’ve seen plantain growing in mowed areas around greenbelts and parks in Austin.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) This member of the mint family is easy to identify by its square stem and wavy-edged, opposite leaves. From above, the leaves appear like green flowers spaced every few inches all the way up the stem. Henbit’s elongated flowers are purple or pink and, like the stem and leaves, are edible.

Wild lamb’s-quarter, amaranth, purslane and dayflower are also great additions to winter salads. When harvesting wild greens, be sure to avoid areas that have been sprayed with chemicals or polluted in other ways. And remember that most edible wild greens contain higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than their cultivated cousins, so you’ll not only be adding interesting tastes and textures to your salad, but also some fabulous raw nutrition.