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Salads

    Everyone makes different salads. Some cookbooks are devoted exclusively to salads. My kind has not been publicized widely, so the principles, motives and recipe are here introduced.
    The goal is as many fresh ingredients as possible, with minimal dressing. Fresh means picked the day the salad will be eaten, or as soon as possible before. The ingredients include leaves, flowers, fruits, sprouts, nuts, even roots.
    Such salads are intended to contain all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, trace nutrients and "stimulating bitters" that the body needs. Another attribute is a delightful sequence of differently flavored bites. Chewing through the bowl becomes a thrilling sensory experience. One mouthful may be chiefly onion, the next biting, crunching radish, the next hot sage or cool corn salad. The rich mixture of leaf colors, sizes and textures is reflected in the flavors. The salads have normally at least 30 ingredients; 70 is the usual limit; over 125 the record. I've used more than 255 plants in my salads.
    Though highly nutritious and delicious to eat, the salads are usually time-consuming. Gathering, washing and rendering into bite-size pieces takes at least half an hour. The antithesis salad is to shred a store-bought iceberg lettuce, add some watery tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. -- for a plain, quick salad of relatively little nutritive value.
    On a strictly personal level, a spiritual connection also accompanies my kind of salad. Ideally, the eater is also the grower, and raised the vegetables or most of them. When then, eating them, he or she "reincarnates" the plant cells into human ones; life goes to life. This is a comforting thought. Yet even if only store-bought produce is available, and it originated from a largescale farm, grown by way of mechanized, chemical agriculture, it can make a vital, nutritious and good salad for the eater. It depends partly on our attitude -- how we eat as well as what we eat. Home grown organically produced food is ideal, but we must do the best we can.
    I not only eat the obvious, familiar crops, but also many culinary herbs, wild plants, and some fresh tree leaves. I include some ingredients which taste bitter or acrid, or are fuzzy or slimy -- knowing that though they may be less than gratifying to the tongue, they are healthy for the body. And what may be repulsive by itself can be acceptable in a mixed salad. So bitter dandelion and chicory, acrid dame's violet and rough comfrey are eaten. Many ingredients are used only in minute amounts, however. The chef needs to select according to 1) the available kinds; 2) the mixture of flavors and textures to be palatable. Within these limits the goal is as many kinds as possible. At any given time there will be a strong supply of some plants and precious little of others; the available plant parts ebb and flow. Late January and February are poor, lean months, as can be a dry September.
    A critical note: some of us are allergic to certain plants. I may have a reaction to peas. If you don't know whether you're allergic to a plant, it is prudent to sample a small amount at first, before eating a full serving.
    Another word of caution: don't eat plants if you are not sure of their identity and edibility. When learning about wild edible plants I more than once misidentified weeds and wildflowers, and ate some that I later learned were poisonous. Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) I mistook for chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). I also called truly edible herbs by the wrong names.
    Salads can be ruined by too much dressing. Indeed it is easily and commonly done. Some salads require no dressing at all to be delicious. If fuzzy leaves and astringent herbs are used, a salad needs dressing. If it is high in crunch, mucilage and succulent textures easy on the tongue, it will be okay with little or no dressing. A superbly flavored dressing can improve greatly a plain mess of greens.
    The first time after eating a salad of dozens of strikingly different fresh plants, people often report new digestive sensations. The herbs I use are frequently tonic, stimulating and mildly active medicinally. At the very least a few flavorful burps often result. A clear-headed, light-bodied, transitory euphoria is also sometimes noted.

Below are 21 example plants:

Allium 'Elephant Garlic'
Elephant Garlic
Eat the leaves and flowers; intense garlic flavor (unlike the bulbs)

Begonia spp. and hybrids
Begonia
Eat the flowers; they're delicious, sorrel-like

Bellis perennis
Lawn or English Daisy
Eat the flowers; mildly sweet

Cardamine hirsuta
Wild cress or Shotweed
Eat the tips of the stems and the flowers; peppery flavored

Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel
Eat the whole plant; licorice flavor on a robust weedy plant

Mahonia or Berberis nervosa
Low Oregon-Grape
Eat the flowers and tender young leaves; sour

Mentha x piperita
Peppermint
Eat the leaves; all mints are edible, this is choice

Polygonum odoratum
Vietnamese Cilantro or Rau Ram
Eat the young tender leaves; spicy, hot

Portulaca oleracea
Purslane
Eat the leaves, stems and flowers; mild lemony flavored; slimy summer weed

Pseudosasa japonica
Arrow or Yadake Bamboo
Peel and eat the shoots in spring and summer; mild anise flavor

Raphanus sativus
Radish
The leaves, flowers, and seedpods are all edible and radish-flavored

Rumex scutatus
French Sorrel
Eat the leaves; the best sorrel; pretty and easily grown; sour flavor

Satureja montana
Winter Savory
Eat the leaves; hot spicy flavor available all year

Sedum sarmentosum
Stonecrop
Eat the leaves and yellow flowers; succulent, of little flavor with a pleasing crunch

Solidago odora
Sweet or Anise Goldenrod
Eat the tender young leaves; warm, rich flavor like tarragon

Sonchus oleraceus
Sow-thistle
Eat the tender young leaves, stems and flowerbuds; mildly bitter dandelion cousin

Stellaria media
Chickweed
Eat the whole plant except the roots; mild flavored weed of gardens

Toona or Cedrela sinensis
Chinese Toon or Chop Suey Tree
Eat the young tender leaves; taste oniony

Tropæolum majus
Nasturtium
Hot zesty flavor, eat both the both leaves and flowers

Viola tricolor
Johnny Jump Up or Heart's-ease
The flowers taste like wintergreen candy

Vitis spp.
Grape
Eat young tendrils and shoot tips

(originally written for Seattle Tilth in 1997, and published in an edited version in The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide (1998), page 25)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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