Growing Wild Greens
by National Gardening Association Editors
Not all greens are tame in flavor. Here are some "wild" ones to try.
Arugula is also called roquette and rocket. The young leaves of this annual green are rough and slender, with a taste all their own: hot, with a hint of bean or nut flavor. Chopped into a salad, rocket leaves can sure keep people guessing about the ingredients!
Cold weather is a must for a good crop of rocket. Sow seeds early in the spring, or in late summer or fall for a late fall or winter harvest, depending on your climate. Harvest leaves when they're no larger than six inches.
Dandelion greens are more popular in Europe than in this country. Several dandelion varieties have been developed in Europe to produce larger and curlier leaves. 'Montmagny' is one such variety available in this country.
European gardeners make a habit of blanching the plants to reduce bitterness. If you want to blanch some local dandelions - on your lawn, for instance - turn flower pots over them in early spring, wait a week and then harvest the leaves. Be sure no herbicides have been used on the lawn you're harvesting from. Once dandelions begin to flower the leaves turn very bitter.
Corn Salad (Mache)
This spring and fall green, much prized in Europe, is also called lamb's lettuce, mache or fetticus. Its leaves have a subtle taste and mix well in a salad with more sharply flavored greens.
One of the nice things about corn salad is its cold hardiness. It's one of the last crops to quit in the fall and early winter. Start plants indoors in early spring for a late spring crop; in mid- to late summer for a fall harvest. In mild climates seeds can be sown in late fall for an early spring harvest.
Sow seeds fairly thickly in a 15-inch-wide row simply by broadcasting the seed over the seedbed. Thin so plants stand several inches apart. You can harvest the young leaves any time after the seedling stage, or you can wait to harvest the entire head in 45 to 60 days.
Celtuce was introduced to U.S. gardeners more than 20 years ago from China. It was first called "celery lettuce." That's because you can harvest the young leaves of the plants in early spring like leaf lettuce, and then later as the plants get taller, cut the stems, pick off the leaves, peel the stems and use them like celery, raw or cooked.
Celtuce is a cool-weather plant for the most part. Plant it as early as you'd plant lettuce, but spaced a little farther apart. Harvest the leaves as they reach eating size.
The late spring warm weather will cause the leaves to become bitter, so let them go. When the plant gets a foot or two high, cut the stalk for the "celery" harvest. Trim the leaves off and be sure to peel the stem before eating raw or cooked.
Curlicress or Peppergrass
This zesty, fast-growing green is low to the ground, frizzy and adds a curly look to the salad garden. It's often advertised as the plant you can start harvesting in seven to 10 days.
Curlicress will grow just about anywhere. Probably the best place for it would be in an indoor flat near the kitchen where you could snip leaves anytime for garnishing salads or sandwiches.
Chew a few leaves before you decide to use a lot of it in any one dish, though. Curlicress has a fiery taste.
Plant it in short, wide rows early in the year and add more seeds every couple of weeks. Harvest early because it will produce little flower stalks in a month or so and the quality of the sprigs will go down.
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