For the better part of the year, we live on salads. They are so easy to grow, good for us, and simple to prepare that they have been staples of our homestead diet for ages.
I have to admit… a while ago, I ran out of good ideas for making our endless array of salads unique.
So, I decided to up my salad spinning and start growing some alternative greens to add to the mix. Not only did this improve the flavor and nutrition of my salad repertoire, but it also extended my tasty green growing season.
Where I live, we get scorching, humid summers. In spring, we also get lots of ups and downs – it feels like winter one day and summer the next – which tends to send some of my traditional lettuces bolting towards bitter.
In case you too have grown bored of basic mescalin and big head lettuces, or want ways to add more greens to your regular diet year round, then consider these tasty, nutritious alternatives in your garden!
Big, beautiful, bring on the bees borage – that lovely flowering plant every gardener usually grows anyhow — is also a delectable edible.
As the companion plant that every vegetable garden deserves, it grows best in well-prepared garden soil. I usually plant a few borage plants about every 15 feet to attract pollinators and use later as a green matter for my compost pile.
As an edible, I start a few extra seeds when I plant borage. As the plants emerge, I harvest the young leaves from the additional plants for several weeks. Then, mince or ribbon those leaves and mix them into salads.
Borage can get prickly. If you don’t enjoy that texture, wilt them as you would spinach and serve them as a cooked green.
When my main borage plants grow bigger, I cut my extra plants off at the ground, and chop them up to use in soups.
2. Stinging Nettle
You may want to be careful where you plant this one. Stinging nettle is aptly named. Grab the fresh greens with your bare hands, and you might regret it. Harvest this edible while wearing gloves.
Luckily, once you cook or dry nettle, the formic acid that causes the stinging sensation is disabled.
I like to cut bunches of nettle, tie them with string, and hang them to dry on a laundry line on my porch. Once dry, crush the leaves and use these like you would dried nori flakes or oregano.
Dried nettle tastes great. So I also like to add a tablespoon or two of the dried flakes to my favorite salad dressing recipes.
It feels like a breath of fresh air for my body. Perhaps this is why stinging nettles have long been used as a folk remedy to treat asthma and allergies.
3. Land Cress
I had heard of watercress before I moved to the South. That incredible edible had long been a feature on the menus of some of my favorite fine dining restaurants.
Now, as a North Carolina resident, “creasy greens” have become a staple of my gardening vocabulary and my early spring salads.
Creasy greens are a land cress related to watercress. They grow naturally in many parts of the world in early spring. The greens are terrific both raw in salads and cooked up with a bit of bacon grease and vinegar.
Though they are mostly wild-foraged in my area, you can also grow these in your early spring or late fall garden on purpose. Use the Latin name, Barbarea verna, to search for seeds for home garden cultivation.