Henbit, Plant of the Week

henbitWe’re slightly over a month into Winter and already, here in Southern California, we are seeing wild greens popping up. And one of the most noticeable early bloomers, amongst many, is henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). And certainly yesterday, during my wild plants class, this little mint was making its appearance in a grand way. It was growing so rampant, it was difficult getting around it without trampling it. Fortunately, this abundance just provided more pickings for a wild green salad.

Henbit often goes unnoticed, as it blends into the background of growing grasses and other wild plants. But this small low growing European native is found throughout North America and its mild sweet taste makes a welcome addition to any wild salad. And once recognized, you will notice this plant growing in a lot of places you may frequent. It prefers light dry soil as well as cultivated soil. It is often found along roadsides, in pastures, yards and gardens. In my case, it grows rampant in my backyard, but is just as easily found in areas I hike.

Henbit is in the mint family and shares the typical mint characteristics—square stem and opposite leaves. It is often confused for purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), but is indeed different. While henbit’s upper growing leaves appear to lack a petiole and look to be growing directly onto the central stem, purple dead nettle has a visible petiole that grows and connects the blades of the small leaves to the stem. Henbit is small with the average height reaching about six to eight inches. It isn’t entirely uncommon to see them reaching a height of about a foot. As the season progresses, small purple flowers begin appearing from the uppermost part of the plant, which is probably why it is often confused with purple dead nettle.

Though in the mint family, henbit lacks both the minty smell and taste. Regardless, it is a pleasant addition to any salad, which some describe as a sort of Kale flavor. Very little nutritional information can be found on henbit, but it is said to be high in iron and fiber. In addition, while I use it solely for food purposes, others claim it is anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic, an excitant, febrifuge, a laxative and a stimulant.

So, next time you’re taking a stroll through the park, or even your own backyard, start looking out for this early season food. Not only is it an important early season source of nectar for honeybees but you can use to kick up the flavor profile of your salad, or maybe you want to use it as a garnish for your next meal.

 

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