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Eating the Lawn

05/16/02 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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I'm a gardener, so when friends come to my house they expect to see beautiful flowers, productive vegetables, and a lush green lawn. I do well on two out of the three, but the fact is I'm happy if my lawn stays green, whether it be from grass, weeds, or even moss. However, this time of year I do show a lot of interest in my grass. Not just for it's greenness, but also for the bounty of edibles it produces. Yes, I eat my lawn.

Actually, it's not the lawn grass I eat, but the weeds. With a little study you can find a whole salad of tender, tasty, and nutritious greens growing in your lawn and gardens, all for free. Here are two of my favorites.

The first and foremost has to be the dandelion. Much maligned by the "Weed N Seed" companies of the world, dandelions are survivors. All parts are edible, but it's the young leaves I crave this time of year. They're most tender and mild flavored if picked before the flowers open, but I've harvested from young plants in shady spots and on the north side of our house well into the summer. I eat them in salads or sauteed with an onion and olive oil. I still remember my grandmother Lucia picking bushels of dandelions (or as she called them, chioggti) to be cooked and served with fresh Italian bread and pasta. Ah a spring meal fit for a king.

When I tire of the lawn, I can just stroll into the perennial garden to snip some nettles. Yes, these are the stinging nettles that you may remember from hiking in the woods. But if you pick nettles when they are young, they're tender, juicy, and when cooked, have none of the notorious stinging quality. I pick the top few inches of the nettle shoots and my wife Barbara makes a delicious nettle soup which includes potatoes and onions. It's a rite of spring to have nettle or "green" soup as my daughter calls it.

Lest you think it's all picking and eating and no hazards, there are some precautions you must take before grazing across the lawn. The obvious is don't harvest plants from any lawns treated with chemicals. Ask neighbors before foraging in their lawn. Don't forage along roadsides, or near potentially polluted areas, and be sure you know what you're harvesting. Harvest with a knowledgeable friend or guidebook in hand to help you correctly identify your greens.

Even an experienced forager needs to be cautious. For example, I found out this spring that young dandelion and wild lettuce leaves look an awful lot alike, but the lettuce has an extremely bitter taste. But if I mix them with some chickweed, which is another edible weed that starts growing a little later in the vegetable garden, it might make an interesting pesto.

Happy eating.

This is Charlie Nardozzi from Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.
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