Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Edible Greens of California’s Springlike Winter

It’s cold and it’s rainy, here in the Bay Area, and I’ve just gotten out my down parka. That means it must be winter. Oh wait, it’s sunny and beautiful, open the windows.

On the one hand, seedlings are germinating like crazy, and native and naturalized edible greens are starting to be at their succulent best. That also sounds like spring. On the other hand, most of the deciduous trees and shrubs have dropped their leaves. Sprinter, or Wring, let’s just take it day by day.

A perennial ground-cover that offers glossy-green round leaves and stunning deep pink to light pink flowers (in real spring), it has become my favorite green this year. In the mallow family, Pt. Reyes Checkerbloom, Sidalcea calycosa ssp rhizomata, is endemic to the Pt Reyes peninsula, yet does very well throughout the Bay Area, in full sun at the coast and part-sun or shade elsewhere.

In its natural habitat, it likes seeps and springs, high water tables, even vernal pools. But it is quite adaptable to my regular garden regime of almost no work.

It’s amazing that one plant could have so many virtues. Everybody likes a nice groundcover, one that covers the ground without being obnoxious about it, maintaining a fresh green color most of the year. (It could be all through the year if you water, but why not give it a rest, for the sake of our water supplies, and the joys of accepting California’s seasons). The bright pink flowers are abundant and show up for months.

As if this weren’t enough, as I discovered when casually chopping it up and adding it to a tomato salsa, the leaves are easy to like. No boiling or changing of the waters is needed, for there is no bitter principle. A slight hairiness appears as the season wears on, and perhaps the leaves toughen a bit. But raw in a chopped salad or steamed or boiled, it’s mild, tasty, and requires NO care.

In the garden, I make a point of nibbling on it whenever I pass.

Other mallows, like Sidalcea malviflora, are also edible, but the leaf is less substantial; more will be required, and where I live, I’ve never seen them in enough abundance to feel that I could harvest them. Unlike the Pt Reyes checkerbloom, the upright checkerbloom goes completely dormant and is reappearing with the….spring, winter, December…..anyway, now.

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