Yarb Tales
April 18, 2016

The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants

I woke up this morning hungry for greens and scrambled eggs. My winter stores of fat are weighing me down. There is more work in the garden than I can shake a hoe at and I just need to lighten up, both in body and spirit.

 The chickweed, dock, dandelion and poke are right outside my kitchen door, free for the taking. Low-growing chickweed is sprawling all over everything, making some gardeners mad. The tips are covered in tiny, star-shaped, white flowers and the leaves are yellowing in the patches that get the most sun. I go to the north side of the house or look under the porch for some that are still bright green. With scissors, I snip the tips into a colander, leaving most of the gritty leaves on the plant. Left to its own devices, chickweed will decay down into mineral-rich mulch as the heat of summer sets in. For those who are keeping up neat appearances, chickweed can be removed to the compost heap, where it will decay and return its minerals to the garden next season in the form of brown humus. We humans do make things harder than they really have to be.

Speaking of minerals, consider how many of these necessary nutrients are collected by the deep tap root of dock. The plants grow long, dull green leaves that are easy to identify and prepare. Right now dock is still tender, though the colonies are stretching upward, preparing to flower and make their brown seeds. After the seeds form, the leaves will be pretty tough, though even now, the tender part of the leaf is stripped away from the tough mid-rib before cooking. My friend, Dr. John, told me his job was to collect wild spring greens when he was a child. His mother would get on to him if he came back with too many dock leaves in the mix. I don’t know if it was because the family did not prefer the mildly astringent flavor or if she just didn’t want him to be taking the easy and fast way in life’s work.

Dandelion greens are mighty bitter now that the plants are focused on making millions of yellow flowers. At this stage I prefer to gather only a few leaves for the pot and pick the flowers instead. The petals will increase the already golden hue of yard eggs and the yellow pigment will chase free radicals from my body. I felt so enlightened when I learned that egg yolks get their color from dandelion petals and other carotenoid-rich chicken feed.

I just now drained the first cooking water from my mess of poke sallet, and then covered the hot greens in cold water to stop the cooking so I can keep the emerald color. Next I’ll drain most of the water out of the poke pot; add the rest of the wild greens and bring them to a quick boil.

Meanwhile I beat some eggs and heat some olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Next, the greens will go in the skillet to sizzle out most of the remaining water, and then the eggs will be poured on top. With some gentle stirring followed by seasoning with some habanero pepper sauce, I’ll soon have a tonic breakfast to lift me into this gorgeous Ozark spring morning. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.