The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
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Some Useful Winter Salad Greens

Anne Pidcock has compiled this list of salad greens to grow and enjoy during the colder months.

Winter is often seen as a time for tucking into hot, steaming bowls of soups and stews, baked dinners and steamed vegetables. But winter is also a time when our bodies need the vitamins and minerals readily available in raw salad greens.

Centuries ago in Europe, winter and spring were traditionally lean times in the vegie garden, and peasants foraged along hedgerows and fields for fresh, wild edible greens. As well as augmenting their dwindling winter food supplies, these wild winter greens also represented a valuable source of nutrition.

Winter greens, characteristically bitter or sour in taste, are rich in trace elements, vitamins and minerals and confer innumerable benefits to those souls stoic enough to much their way through a winter salad. Improved digestion, blood cleansing and a stronger immune system are just some of the many benefits conferred by the humble weed.

To illustrate the wide variety of winter salad greens available in Australia, here is a random list of some of the more popular plants, both wild and cultivated. The plants listed are suitable for growing in a cool temperate climate, are frost hardy and can be picked on a cut and come again basis.

Serve salad greens by mixing your selection with a light dressing or drizzling with a hot, cheese sauce. You can also parboil your greens by cooking them lightly with two changes of water. Use the cold, cooked leaves, thoroughly chilled and chopped, in your salad. A relatively painless way of gaining the valuable nutrients is to add the leaves to juiced carrot or vegetable juice. For the more adventurous soul, leaves can be salted and fermented, like sauerkraut and served hot, with salt and pepper, lemon juice or yoghurt.

Most wild salad greens are bitter in taste but less so during winter. If the bitter taste is still too hard to bear, you can blanch the plant before harvesting by shielding it from the sun for about a week. Chicory, dandelion and plantain respond well to this technique and become yellow, tender & less bitter.

Before you lurch into hunter-gatherer mode and start scouring the fields for your next meal, a word of warning.  Some wild greens contain nasties such as strychine, cyanide, oxalates, nitrites etc. and should never be eaten raw. Others, such as the much maligned Hemlock (Conium maculatum) have actually been eaten for centuries but only after being processed in such a way as to destroy the toxic elements, in this case the deadly alkaloid coniine.

In order to identify wild weeds correctly you need a field guide, such as Tim Low's excellent Wild Herbs of Australia & New Zealand. As a further measure of protection, avoid roadside verges which may have been sprayed with pesticides and shun polluted streams that are too close to stormwater drains.

Foraging for wild food can become an obsession for some but keep in mind that moderation is the keynote and a balanced diet should include a judicious mix of both bitter and more cultivated food plants. Happy hunting.

Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum Ancestor of the modern celery. Add young leaves & stems to salads for a strong celery-like flavour. Biennial.
Alfalfa sprouts (AKA Lucerne) Medicago sativa Add sprouts to salads, sandwiches or stir-fries. Sprouts & young leaves are high in protein & very rich in vitamins & minerals.
Amaranth (AKA Lamb's Quarters) Amaranthus spp. Young leaves of most species can be eaten raw in salads or steamed. Excellent substitute for spinach. A. spinosus & A. hybridus contain valuable amino acids. 
Bean sprouts Mung bean Vigna radiata; Adzuki bean Vigna angularies; Soya bean Vicia faba Grow indoors in winter & add to salads & other meals. Mung beans & Soya beans are a good source of Vit. C, iron & thiamin.
Beetroot  Beta vulgaris Young leaves add a beetroot like flavour to salads. Self-sowing biennial.
Burdock Arctium spp. Small green shoots of young plants can be eaten raw. Stems picked before flowering can be cooked as a tender vegetable.
Cabbage  Brassica sp. Shred & use raw in salads or steam lightly & serve with salt, pepper, butter & fresh herbs. Excellent source of Vit. A & C & folate.
Savoy cabbage Wrinkled leaves & a milder flavour than smooth-leaved variety.
Red cabbage Best pickled with aromatic spices
Chinese cabbage Brassica rapa Similar to a cos lettuce with curly leaves. Crisp texture & mild flavour with a hint of mustard. Use raw or in stir-fry. Rich in Vit A & C, iron, calcium & potassium.
Pak choi Chinese cabbage Brassica chinensis Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. Does not firm a heart & looks more like spinach than cabbage. Add raw shredded leaves to salads or use in stir-fry. High in Vit. C.
Wild Carrot (AKA Queen Anne's Lace)  Daucus carota Young leaves can be added to salads but older leaves are tough & unpalatable. Common roadside weed.
Catsears (AKA Flatweed) Hypochoeris spp. Young leaves are tender & tasty. Plant is similar in appearance to dandelion but has several stems.
Slender Celery (AKA Wild Carrot) Apium tenuifolium; Ciclospermum leptophyllum Leaves have a strong aroma of parsley & celery. Distant relative to cultivated celery. Add attractive ferny leaves to salads, sandwiches & casseroles or use as a garnish. Common winter weed.
Chervil Anthriscus cereifolium Aniseed & parsley flavoured herb. Add fern-like leaves to salads, sandwiches & meals or use as a garnish. Blanched stems can also be added to green salads. Contains Vit C, carotene, iron & magnesium. Annual.
Chickweed  Stellaria media Soft & succulent foliage ideal for salads & spinach recipes. Young plants taste refreshingly sour but older plants are acidic & fibrous. Harvest before stems become lanky & fibrous. Rich in Vit. C & iron. Medicinal qualities. Flourishes in the depth of winter. Annual.
Chicory (AKA Succory) Cichorium intybus Leaves are generally blanched to be less bitter. Harvest before flowering. Produces small basal rosette in winter. Serve leaves with vinaigrette & hearts as a cooked vegetable. Self-seeding perennial with decorative blue flowers.
Whitlof chicory Cichorium intybus Usually force grown in the dark to reduce bitterness. Red-leaved witlof (Rossa di Verona)  has green leaves with reddish-brown markings which become bright red when blanched.
Belgian witlof  Cichorium intybus A chicory with a compact head similar to a cos lettuce. Usually blanched. Eat raw in salads or cook in a mornay sauce.
Corn salad (AKA Lamb's lettuce) Valerian eriocarpa / Valerianella locusta Leaves have a fresh, nutty flavour. Excellent winter salad green. Self-sowing annual.
Common Bittercress (AKA Splitting jenny)  Cardamine hirsuta Add small, peppery leaves to salads or sandwiches. Young leaves are eaten raw in Japan with vinegar & soy sauce.
Cuckoo Cress  Cardamine hirsuta Add small peppery leaves or flowers to salads & sandwiches. 
Hairy Bittercress (AKA Flickweed) Cardamine hirsuta Leaves have a hot, peppery taste. Add young leaves to a mixed salad. Forms a rosette of rounded, divided dark green leaves. Self-sowing winter garden weed.
Land Cress (AKA Winter Cress) Barbarea vulgaris Adds a hot watercress-like flavour to sandwiches & salads. Rosettes of dark green leaves. Loses pungency when cooked. Hardy winter salad green. Perennial but short-lived.
Lesser Swinecress (AKA Bittercress, Twin cress) Coronopus didymus Add pungent raw leaves to salads & sandwiches. Leaves can be cooked but will be bland in taste. Common garden weed with an offensive odour.
Peppercress (AKA Pepperwort, Field cress)  Lepidium spp. Leaves & seeds have a hot peppery flavour. Add raw leaves to salads & sandwiches.
Cress sprouts Leaves add a hot, peppery taste to salads & sandwiches. Use seedlings or sprouts. Good source of Vit. C.
Watercress  Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum Hot, peppery taste. Wash well & add to salads & sandwiches. Rich in Vit. A & C, calcium, iron, magnesium, thiamin, riboflavin & niacin. Leaves have more Vit. C than oranges (per weight). Frost tender.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale Add finely chopped leaves to salads, soups and meals. Less bitter in winter. To reduce bitterness, the plant can be blanched before harvesting or leaves can be blanched in boiling water before use. High in iron, calcium phosphorous, copper, potassium & Vit. A.  Tends to have a diuretic effect if eaten too frequently.
Alpine Dock Rumex alpinus Add to winter salads or cook as a spinach substitute. Leaves are less bitter in winter.
Curly Dock  (AKA Yellow Dock) Rumex crispus Has large & tasty leaves that make a good substitute for vine leaves for Greek or Italian recipes. Stalks can be cooked as a rhubarb substitute. Medicinal properties.
Ruby Dock (AKA Turkey rhubarb, Wild hops)Rumex vesicarius Tender young shoots are sour but can be eaten raw. Leaves are also edible.
Wild Dock  Rumex spp. Sour taste but similar in flavour to silverbeet or spinach. Harvest before flowering & add tender steamed leaves to salads, soups or spinach dishes.
Endive Cichorium endivia Closely related to chicory. Winter hardy plant with a dense rosette of curled, fine-cut leaves. Curly endive is the most common variety. Another variety known as Frisee has very finely curled leaves. Usually blanched before harvesting. Add to salads or use as a garnish. Annual.
Fat Hen  (AKA Lamb's quarters, Pigweed or Goosefoot) Chenopodium album Use raw or gently steam before adding to salads. Rich source of Vit. A & C & amino acids cystine & lysine. Annual.
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare Add feathery, aniseed-flavoured leaves to salads or use as a garnish. Stems can be eaten raw or cooked. Has strong medicinal properties. Vigorous self-sowing plant.
Edible Flowers The following flower heads or petals can be added to winter salads for colour & flavour: Broccoli, Calendula, Chicory, Chives, Dandelion, Daylily, Dianthus, Jasmine, Lavender, Lemon, Lilac, Mint, Mustard, Orange, Pansy, Pineapple Sage, Radish, Rocket , Rosemary, Sage, Scented Geranium, Society Garlic, Violet
Everlasting Onion  Allium cepa var. aggregatum Provides a continuous supply of small onions to add to salads & meals. Contains Vit. A, B1, B2, B5, C & E.
Welsh Onion  Allium fistulosum Edible leaf base & strong-flavoured leaves. Available most of the year. Pick like chives. Perennial.
Wild Garlic Allium ursinum Strong & distinctive garlic aroma. Muted pungent flavour ideal for salads, sandwiches & uncooked dishes. Add 3 to 5 times as many bulbs as commercial garlic. Three-cornered garlic (A. triquetrum) is a common winter weed. Do not confuse with Wild Onion (Nothoscordum inodorum),  which is inedible.
Kale Brassica oleracea acephela Loose-leaved brassica & a hardy winter green. Harvest young leaves leaf by leaf or pick the tender leaves from the heart & add to salads or cook like cabbage. Available with purple, red & silver leaves. Curly Kale: Attractive crimped leaves & a great flavour.
Lettuce Lactuca sativa The foundation of most salads. Cut-&-Come-Again varieties include Cos: Crisp, elongated leaves##Butterhead: Loosely packed head & soft leaves##Mignonette: Green or red tinged & loosely packed##Oakleaf: Frilled, soft, loose leaves, either green or red##Red Coral: Finely frilled soft leaves##Lollo rosso: Finely frilled soft leaves##Lollo verde: Pale green version of Lollo rosso##Celtuce: Chinese stem lettuce; Long, thick stalk with leaves similar to spinach. Tastes like a cross between celery & lettuce.##Not all lettuces are winter hardy but they can be grown in a glasshouse or behind a sunny window.
Miner's Lettuce (AKA Winter purslane) Claytonia perfoliata Add small, tender leaves to salads, sandwiches & greens recipes. Rich in Vit. C.  Native to Alaska & Siberia & thrives in cool, moist areas. Self-seeding annual.
Mint  Mentha spp. Aromatic, cleansing taste. Add finely cut leaves to salads, steam with vegetables or use in jellies & sauces. Apple mint is a hardy mint for frost affected areas.
Mizuna  Brassica rapa A Japanese brassica with long, finely dissected leaves that can be added to salads & sandwiches or steamed as a vegetable or stir-fry.
Mustard  Sinapis alba Leaves add a hot, peppery taste to salads & sandwiches. Use seedlings or sprouts. Good source of Vit. C.
Hedge mustard (AKA Wild mustard) Sisymbrium officinale Pungent, peppery flavour. Add young leaves to salads, sauces & stews. Popular Victorian potherb.
Red Mustard Brassica rapa Use this Japanese brassica as a salad green for colour & a mustard flavour. Add leaves to salads, sandwiches, starters & meals.
Stinging nettle Urtica dioica Young leaves are palatable, soft & tender. Add young tops to lettuce in a salad or use as vegetable like spinach. Stinging properties are lost with cooking. Considerable medicinal properties. Once a must in every English country garden as they were the first green vegetable to appear in late winter.
Orach (AKA Mountain spinach) Add young leaves to salads or cook like spinach. Grow rapidly & harvest before flowering. Tolerates extremes of heat & cold.
Wild Flat Leaf Parsley Petroselinum crispum Wild parsley has a stronger flavour than curly leaf parsley.. Add young leaves to salads, sandwiches, meals &  soups or use as a garnish. Use in tabouleh & felafel. Pick before flowering.
Pea sprouts Pisum sativum Add young green tops of pea plants to salads or stir-fries, Sprout snow peas indoors in winter to use fresh young shoots in salads or as a garnish.
Greater Plantain (AKA Broad-leaved plantain) Plantago major Young leaves are edible & high in Vit. A but are fibrous & not very palatable.
Prickly lettuce (AKA Compass plant, Wild lettuce) Lactuca serriola Useful late winter source of greens. Young leaves are high in Vit. A.
Purslane(AKA Pigweed, Wild Portulaca) Portulaca oleracea Succulent, fleshy shoots can be eaten either raw or steamed. Raw leaves tend to taste slimy but flavour & texture improves with steaming. Slightly bitter taste can be modified with a light vinaigrette dressing. Leaf tips can be blanched & frozen to use later in soups & stews.  Medicinal properties. Contains omega-3 fatty acids . Popular Middle eastern ingredient in fattoush, a salad of tomatoes and cucumber. Annual. Plant in summer.
Pink-stemmed purslane Montia sibirica Add young leaves & flowers to salads. In Spring, leaves will need to be quickly  parboiled to restore tenderness & maintain crispness. Fairly bland flavour but less bitter in winter. Hardy short-lived perennial, native to Alaska & Siberia.
Radicchio Cichorium intybus Belongs to the chicory family. A popular salad vegetable and a decorative garden plant. The variety Alouette has red & pink leaves in the heart & fine white ribs.
Wild Radish Raphanus raphanistrum Common winter weed. Leaves, flowers & seeds are edible although leaves are bristly. Flowers can be tossed in salads for a radish-like flavour or steamed for a broccoli-like flavour.
Salad Rocket  (AKA Arugula, Roquette) Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa Has a unique tangy, peppery flavour. Add young leaves & flowers, to salads & sandwiches or cook lightly like spinach. Less bitter in winter. Biennial. Wild Rocket has a stronger flavour than salad rocket & grows for longer. Use leaves & flowers in salads, sandwiches, starters & meals. Perennial.
Salad burnet Sanguisorba minor Leaves have a mild cucumber taste. Pick the young shoots and remove leaves from stem. Evergreen
Salsify Trapopogon porrifolius Usually grown for the root but young leaves can be steamed as a tender vegetable or added to salads.
Shepherd's purse Capsella bursa-pastoris Edible leaves rich in Vit. A & C. Harvest before flowering. Common winter weed.
Silverbeet (AKA Swiss chard) Beta vulgaris cicla Closely related to beetroot & sugar beet but grown for its leaves. Excellent winter vegetable, eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Rich in Vit A & C, iron & sodium.
Sheep Sorrel  Rumex acetosella Sharp, sour flavour adds a zesty tang to salads & other dishes. Raw leaves are high in Vit C. Frost hardy.
Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa Sharp, acidic, lemon-like flavour. Add fresh or blanched leaves to salads. Adds a piquancy to blander food & makes richer ones more palatable. Puree for sauces. Contains oxalic acid so eat in moderation.
Wood Sorrel (AKA Oxalis, Shamrock, Soursob) Oxalis spp. Leaves have a lemony taste. Add to salads or soups for a pungent bite. Common garden weed. NB Soursob is a declared noxious weed.
Common Sowthistle (AKA Milk thistle, Puha, Smooth sowthistle) Sonchus oleraceus Young, tender leaves &  shoots have a taste similar to endive & can be added to salads or steamed like spinach. Squeeze a little of the milk from the stalks to remove the bitter taste.
Prickly Sowthistle Sonchus asper Similar properties to Common Sowthistle.
Spear Thistle (AKA Scotch thistle) Cirsium vulgare Peeled stems have a flavour similar to choko. Harvest before flowers appear, remove the outer fibrous layer, & steam or boil the stalk. Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) has edible stalks, leaves & flowerheads,
English spinach Spinacia oleracea Use in salads or stir-fries. Baby spinach leaves are often added to mesclun salad. Goes well with lemon & nutmeg. Excellent source of iron & most vitamins.
Spiny Emex (AKA Cape spinach, Prickly jack) Emex australis Steamed leaves have similar flavour to silverbeet. Young plants produce large crops of tender leaves. Avoid spiny seedpods.
Wild Indian Strawberry Duchesnea indica Characterised by yellow flowers & small insipid fruit. Add young leaves and raw shoots to salads & sandwiches. Young leaves contain 58% more Vit C (per weight) than oranges.
Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata Adds a delightful aniseed flavour to mixed salads.
Garden Thyme Thymus vulgaris Adds a delightful fragrance to salads. Thyme is reputed to extend active life if eaten daily.
Sweet violet Viola odorata Leaves are bland but are an excellent source of Vit. A & C. Use like lettuce in sandwiches or add leaves & flowers to winter salads.
Warrigal Green (AKA New Zealand Spinach) Tetragonia tetragonioides Excellent green vegetable.  Add to salads or serve with fetta cheese & olives. Leaves can be lightly steamed like spinach. Rich source of Vit C. Used by Captain Cook to treat scurvy. Marginal winter crop in frost affected areas.  
Yarrow Achillea millefolium Young leaves taste unpleasant raw but are improved by boiling. Feathery leaves were added to salads in 17th C. England. Numerous medicinal qualities.


J38 Winter 2002