Tag Archives: henbit

Henbit Edible, Prolific, Good for Bees & Hummingbirds

On Monday, on my way to Starkville to attend the Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi board of directors meeting, I saw a giant field of henbit. I immediately pulled over and took a photo, because this often overlooked and unassuming plant is quite important to bees, hummingbirds, and — should be! — humans.

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

Some farmers might look at this field and say, ack, weeds! But for pollinators, this field of henbit is the Promised Land! (Photo by Jim Ewing, ShooFlyFarmBlog)

What a wonderful sight!!! For hungry bees, butterflies and hummingbirds this late winter, early spring “weed” is a godsend for its pollen and nectar.

At this time of year, when bees are foraging for pollen and nectar to stay alive, with their stores of honey from last year often depleted or dangerously low, henbit supplies needed sustenance.

Regular readers of this blog, perhaps, recognize that I’m something of a fanatic on this subject, as every year I urge farmers to please refrain from plowing under their henbit as long as possible, or spraying pre- or post-emerge herbicides. The bees will thank you!

In a few weeks, or now in some parts of the South, hummingbirds are making their way back north from the winter, and henbit provides an abundant supply of nectar for them, too!

It might not be a part of official farm policy to provide food for pollinators, but this humble little purple plant (a member of the mint family that tastes like kale) can be a tremendous food source.

Humans can eat henbit, too. The stem, flowers, and leaves are edible. It’s high in vitamins and you can cook it or eat it raw in salads, or make a tea from it.

According to naturalmedicinalherbs.net it has medicinal uses, including antirheumatic, diaphoretic, excitant, febrifuge, laxative and stimulant.

For more, see: http://www.ediblewildfood.com

So, if you see it growing in your garden and think, ack, what a noxious weed! Think again! This is a beneficial plant for pollinators that can spell the difference between life and death for some.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, and former organic farmer now teaching natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices. His latest book is Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press). Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @EdiblePrayers or @OrganicWriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Soil amendments

March 4, 2011

Greensand, trace minerals offer good soil amendments

The warm weather has people in their yards and it is a good time to work in soil amendments for your 4×8-foot organic “Jim’s plot.”

Lately, for example, we have been working in greensand and lime.

Greensand is mined from deposits of minerals that were originally part of the ocean floor and is used as an organic fertilizer (0-0-3) and soil conditioner.

It contains potash, iron, magnesium, potassium, silica and as many as 30 other trace minerals. It helps loosen heavy, clay soils, soften hard water, improve drought tolerance and boost root growth.

Lime, more specifically for organic gardeners, palletized dolomitic lime, adds calcium and magnesium, helps soil structure (by aiding soil bacteria), raises soil pH (makes it less acidic) and allows plants to utilize soil nutrients more efficiently.

Both are sold locally.

If you have sent for a soil test, the results will tell if you need these ingredients.

I was picking greens in the warm weather and a bee landed next to me. When temps are more than 50 degrees, they forage and the mustard greens are bolting, that is, flowering and going to seed.

Folks may be familiar with the little gentle yellow Italian bees popular with beekeepers in the 1950s-’60s. But this was one of the local dark feral bees, called the European dark bee or German black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera).

These were the first bees brought to America, coming over in the 1700s with the colonists in New England and Spanish friars in the South and Southwest (to provide honey to eat and wax for candles).

I laughed because I read somewhere (probably the Internet) that the dark bee was extinct, wiped out by the varroa mite and colony collapse disorder. Well, whoever wrote that needs to come to Leake County. We have plenty of them!

We also have another bee that’s rarer still: a dark bee with little black veins going through its wings, called Apis mellifera mellifera nigra.

I’ve noticed that our little golden “girls” (Russian hybrids) are interbreeding with the locals and lightening them up some.

I’m glad there are plenty of bees, and lots of variety, to keep us company in the garden.

Speaking of bees, beginning beekeepers may qualify for up to $180 reimbursement state ag grants to get started. For more info, see http://bit.ly/g1kliG ; or write Harry Fulton, Box 5207, Mississippi State MS 39762 or e-mail harry@mdac.state.ms.usn.

Reader response: Remember, when I started this column, I said there were no “dumb” questions. You want to pick your greens by plucking the larger leaves on the outside, using the first finger and thumb in a pinching motion. Don’t twist or pull. By pinching off the leaves, it’s easier for the plant to repair itself. Do not cut the plant from the stalk.

I know that people are used to, for example, seeing organic collards and other greens offered with a cut stalk at the grocery store, but that’s for a reason. Most grocery stores, even with “organic” produce, are supplied by big industrial agriculture conglomerates that plant all their plants at one time and harvest all their plants at one time. They don’t care if they chop down the whole plant because the entire 1,000-acre field is denuded by clipping the plant, then replanted.

But organic gardeners and small farmers pick their plants again and again until the plant’s life cycle is over. That means, going out and taking a few leaves from this plant, a few from that, picking the larger leaves from the outside, so that in a few days, the smaller leaves will have grown larger – ripe for picking – along with producing new baby leaves as the stalk grows taller.

You want to develop a relationship with the plant, so that it keeps producing tender, tasty, healthy leaves. You both benefit: the plant by living out its life cycle; you by harvesting fresh produce again and again.

Back to rural life: When I was lamenting the demise of rural communities in last week’s column, I should have added that one of the greatest treasures lost by depopulation as farmers have gone out of business and farms have become big corporate concerns with only a few owners is the demise of knowledge.

The residual wisdom of rural people is a tremendous asset now largely gone, along with the power of communities as viable, self-sustaining units.

Our civilization is so bombarded with TV images of stereotypes and the promotion of caricatures that few may remember that real, live, living, intelligent, thinking, feeling human beings once populated those now lonely expanses between the population centers.

Rural life was neither Green Acres nor Mississippi Burning, and isn’t still.

If you notice, the fields are covered with tiny purple flowers called henbit. Farmers, if you can wait a bit before you plow again until the flowers are gone, the bees will thank you with more honey!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.