Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sidewalk Flower Finds
August is houseguest season at our house, and since not all guests are up for prowling the woods and the waterways with me, strolls around Saratoga Springs become my way to get my nature fix. And you know what? All kinds of cool little flowers pop up from the cracks in the sidewalk or along back alleyways.
Abundant clumps of this Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grow just outside Bailey's Tavern on Phila Street, a couple of blocks from my home. If it weren't for my fear that too many dogs (or drunks) had peed on it, I would pick it and bring it home for supper. Not only does it taste good either raw or cooked, it's among the most nutritious of plants, containing more Omega 3 fatty acids than any other leafy greens. It's also really pretty, leaves so plump and glossy green on sprawling reddish stems. The tiny yellow flowers open for about five minutes each summer (so it seems!) so I felt pretty lucky to find it in bloom.
Another tasty -- and beautiful -- sidewalk weed is Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis). There is a native dayflower (C. virginica) that grows further south, but this introduced species from China is the one I find here and there all over Saratoga. On morning walks only, though. It closes those radiant blue petals by early afternoon. The young leaves are sweet and crisp eaten raw, while the older ones can be cooked like any green. The flowers make colorful additions to salads and dips, and even the seeds taste good. I'm waiting for some to ripen so I can see if they taste the way I heard they do: like raw sweet corn.
Some people say Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea) is edible, but I tasted a flower once and found it bitter. It smelled good, though, quite a bit like pineapple. I guess the leaves make good tea. Or insect repellent. Just crush the leaves and flowers and rub it on. Smells better than DEET and doesn't melt your glasses. This clump was growing around a STOP sign at the bottom of Caroline Street.
Don't try to eat Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis). It will give you a bad stomach ache. It's pretty to look at though, if you can find it in bloom. It closes up if the sun stops shining, or even if the barometric pressure drops in anticipation of rain, which explains one other of its common names: Poor Man's Weatherglass (or Barometer). The only place in town I find this plant is in a little garden patch in front of the Adelphi Hotel on Broadway. The gardener keeps weeding it out but it keeps coming back. Hooray for weeds!