February 18, 2011

Lettuce Think About Some Substitues

It's Summertime here and sometimes a fresh green salad is nice on a hot day. So when I went to the supermarket I thought I might buy a lettuce, until I saw the price. At $4.00 for a small loose head, I decided to pass on it and that got me thinking about other salad greens that I could cultivate for summer consumption.

Edible green salad of Mesculin, Baby Spinach, Mint, Flat-leaf Parsley and Nasturtium

Growing lettuces is pretty much out of the question here because even the youngest baby lettuce can shoot to seed if we get a hot spell. This pretty much counts out rocket as well as it is heat sensitive too. So I got to thinking about what other salad greens I might have on hand in the garden and what else I might be able to grow for that purpose.

The herb garden is a great source for some leafy salad vegetables and I do grow basil and make a very nice Italian salad from ripe tomato, basil leaves and buffalo mozarella cheese, with a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. That's a taste sensation if you haven't tried it yet.
I also like to have mint, chives and parsley growing for cooking and they can all be added to a mixed green salad, along with angelica leaves and baby spinach. Nasturtium leaves, flowers and the new flower buds can all be added to a salad and it's an easy plant to grow and propagate. The newer leaves have the best texture. With all herb leaves, it's best to harvest them as fresh as possible for the best flavour and texture.

Herb gardens can be both ornamental and a great source of salad greens

Edible Herb Beds can be quite adaptable and can even be designed  as formal garden features.

I also raise some sprouts at home to eat. I don't eat much alfalfa anymore but I do like cress and mustard greens and some others such as pea sprouts, some bean sprouts and  red cabbage sprouts. Sprouts are one of the fastest ways of producing food at home and because the dry seed can be stored easily for extended periods, they are a great addition to the larder. You can even sprout seeds on plastic trays such as those that come from the supermarket as packaging for some things. I line the base of the tray with absorbent paper towels and spread the seed evenly over the surface. Then I use a small spray bottle to thoroughly wet the towels and the seed. I like to store the trays in a dark vented space until the sprouts start to appear and then bring them out to the window-sill to grow and green up. If you like some of these sprouts, it's quite easy to grow a patch of the plant in the garden and harvest and store the seeds for a lot of the sprout plants. I don't do that for mustard as the seed is very readily available from the supermarket herb and spices section for not much money. In fact, there are a few sprout seeeds that you can get from supermarkets at reasonable prices, such as chick peas and some other legumes. A word of caution here. Never use seeds from a garden seed package for sprouting as they have been treated with fungicides. Only buy seed that is packaged for food consumption. Also, make sure that all of your containers are thoroughly cleaned for both storage and sprouting as there have been some cases of people getting ill from bacteria such as salmonella and e-coli but that is all about kitchen hygene and sourcing good clean seed.

Red Cabbage and Cress sprouts on recycled trays

Pottage salad Greens
When I started researching this post, I came to realise that there are a thousand edible leaves available and pottage is another alternative food source.  Pottage is a term that refers to a mixture of edible greens that is traditionally eaten as a soup, but many pottage leaves can also be eaten as salad. Pottage really means edible weeds. The best example of an edible weed is the Dandelion. The younger leaves are very nice in a salad with a good crunch and a slightly bitter taste. In the wild, Dandelions can be confused with another common weed that is known as false dandelion or spotted ceasar or other common names. Here is the easy method to identify true Dandelion. It's in the name, Dandelion is from the french name Dente de'Lion or Tooth of the Lion. So look at the shape of the leaf and you will see that it is deeply lobed with sharp icised curves, giving a tooth-like shape.

Dandelions are easy to identify if you remeber the meaning of their name.

There are many more edible wild plants that we don't utilise, such as wild turnip greens, dill and wild mustard greens. If you go collecting wild greens it pays to avoid roadsides and farmed areas as there is a risk of chemical residue on the leaves from those areas. All wild greens should be thoroughly rinsed before eating in any case.

There are so many edible greens for salads that with a bit of  thought and planning, you can have an edible garden that is also visually pleasing and presentable to the world which you can step out into and harvest at any time. Really, now that I've had a bit of a think about it, I will probably never buy another lettuce again.

An Edible Garden can be beautiful if it is well designed.

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  1. I found this to be such an interesting post. Lots of information and links. I live in a sub-tropical climate in Brisbane and there are months of the year when I find it a struggle, or impossible, for me to grow a decent lettuce. So thanks.

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