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!


Squirrel said...

How brave you are. I have seen purslane in my yard during spring but I have not tried it yet. Maybe I will next time. On my trip to Cranesville swamp I tried Partridge Berry and Wintergreen, they didn't tast as good as they smelled but oh what a wonderful smell. I enjoy your post and look forward to reading them each week.

suep said...

Yes, then there was the day you tried to get me to taste sweet flag - only thing is, it's tastier BEFORE it flowers, not after ...
As a fellow Squatting Photographer, I can just imagine you hunkering down to get these great photos, on the sidewalks of Saratoga in the height of tourist season !

Ellen Rathbone said...

The dayflower looks like a funny alien face: two bright yellow eyes, large purple ears (or forehead?), and the long white mouthparts!

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, my friends, for your comments. How I look forward to them.

Squirrel: Purslane is actually quite tasty, crisp and lemony, which makes it quite good in mixed green salads. I buy bunches of it at the farmers' market (no pee, they promise) and it's really delicious if you add just a little to a vinegar/oil potato salad.

suep: I laughed so hard while imagining the image I make squatting down on public streets that my family came running in to share the joke. Ha Ha!

Ellen: I agree the dayflower has an amusing bloom. It's also radiantly iridescent, which doesn't quite come over in the photo.

Lindsey said...

Ooo, I swear I saw some purslane growing near my front door, in a pee-free spot! I hope I can find it again, for a sample, I love lemony flavored things. I'm also impatiently awaiting the jewelweed to go to seed, I guess the seeds have a walnut-y flavor? I'd love to taste that flavor again, I became allergic to walnuts a few years ago.

Scarlet Pimpernel is so beautiful! I'm quite certain I have never seen it before in person.

Patti said...

Beautiful! I've marked this on my favorites.

Bird said...

Gorgeous finds! Oh and let me add myself to the squatting photographer brigade... I know I get funny looks, but I'm past caring :D