Tag Archives: pollinators

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.

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Natural, organic, edible yards

March 11, 2011

Maybe chef will say ‘bee-YOU-tee-ful’ over edible yards

I guess I’ve been watching Emeril Green too much on TV, as I found myself hearing the popular chef’s voice in my head while out picking greens in the field: “Ah, bee-YOU-tee-ful!”

After the frosts, we got a beautiful new crop of collards which, when picked fresh, are so sweet and tender they can be eaten raw – which I was doing: pick one, eat one, pick two, eat one, pick three, eat one …. and so on. (Kind’a reduces your yield that way!)

Collards, when fresh, can be lightly steamed, as well.

I love watching chef Emeril Lagasse’s show when he actually goes to a farm or farmer’s market and talks with the farmers, and then cooks what they provide, often right there adjacent to their farm fields. It certainly shows folks who think food comes from the grocery store where their food actually originates, and that there are real people involved.

Organic lawns

Lately, I’ve been rather overwhelmed by “pre-emerge” poisons being sprayed all over the countryside.

There’s not much that can be done about poisons in farm country (until people start buying organic en masse!), but you can control your own property. The safe lawn movement promotes chemically free, organic lawns.

One method is what’s called an “edible lawn,” that is, not composed of turf grasses, but instead, plants that can be prepared or eaten raw. It also includes traditional lawns but without the use of herbicides or pesticides and only natural fertilizers, so that children, pets and the environment are not harmed. For more information, visit http://www.safelawns.org.

Natural alternatives

If you are one who abhors traditional lawns, you might consider natural alternatives to the monoculture turf grasses. For example, Peaceful Valley (www.groworganic.com) offers a variety of lawn and meadow mixes, such as its herbal lawn seed mix: Roman Chamomile, English Daisy, Snow-in-Summer, Sweet Alyssum, Creeping Daisy, Blue Pimpernel, Creeping Thyme, and others.

Or, how about the Kaleidoscope Meadow Mix, composed of various colored fescues, Forget-Me-Nots, Strawberry Clover and other wildflowers?

Local garden stores offer wildflower mixes, as well. Then, again, you could just plant your yard in vegetables as an edible foodscape!

Now is the time to plan how you want your garden.

Edible flowers

Try Nasturtiums. They are beautiful flowers, offered in various colors, that not only work to deter pests, such as cucumber beetles, squash bugs and caterpillars, but they can be eaten, used as garnish to brighten up salads or as a side for standard fare (and conversation starter!).

The flowers are spicy flavored with a peppery taste. Since you are growing organic, without poisons, you can nibble them right in the garden (I do!).

Pollinators

Another idea is to plant flowers that attract pollinators. Here’s a list:

Wild lupine, smooth penstemon, Ohio spiderwort, wild bergamot, purple prairie clover, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, butterfly milkweed, prairie blazing star, purple giant hyssop, New England aster and giant sunflower.

These suggestions are from a new book that’s chock full of interesting info titled Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting America’s Bees and Butterflies by The Xerces Society (Storey Publishing; $29.95).

Another good book on bees for beginners (and foodies!) is just out in paperback: Honeybee: Lessons From an Accidental Beekeeper by C. Marina Marchese (Black Dog & Leventhall Publishers; $14.95).

It details a woman’s education from knowing nothing about bees to becoming a master “beek,” with lots of eye-opening culinary and medicinal lore learned along the way.

I should have mentioned last week that the henbit (little purple flowers growing everywhere right now) is also an edible wild plant. Here’s a photo and salad recipe: http://bit.ly/ePSri4

Websites

A great column in The New York Times by Mark Bittman, exposing the inequities of the agricultural subsidy system: http://nyti.ms/gos66i.

A primer on subsidies, explaining types and purposes by the Environmental Working Group. (Also, you can enter your zip code and see who in your neighborhood is receiving a USDA farm subsidy and how much): http://bit.ly/fqor64.

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.