Henbit, The Elegant and Nutritious Wild Edible

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Field of henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Field of henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
(Source: Gaming4JC/Wikimedia Commons)

Another member of the mint family, the common henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is more than just a pesky weed. Known also as henbit deadnettle, this plant is, in‌ ‌fact, very nutritious wild edible. This plant is native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa days, henbit grows in numerous areas with a temperate climate, including the US and Canada. It was first brought over to the Americas as a chicken fodder. In fact, the name “henbit” came from the fact that chickens love eating this plant., but it was later introduced to other parts of the world. Now, henbit grows in regions with a temperate climate all around the world, including in North America. 

Henbit was first brought over to the Americas as chicken fodder. In fact, the name “henbit” came from the fact that chickens love eating the leaves of this plant. Today, many foragers have realized the nutritional value of this wild edible. Aside from being used as fodder, nowadays many people are adding this underrated edible into their own diet. 

Edibility and culinary use

All above-ground parts of henbit – the stems, flowers, and leaves –  are edible. But, like other early spring plants, the stems get tougher as they mature. So, you might want to stick to younger plants. Despite being in the mint family, henbit tastes nothing like regular mint. In fact, most people describe this plant as having a sweet and slightly peppery flavor. Depending on who you ask, some may say it tastes almost like raw kale or celery. This plant doesn’t have a strong aroma, just a pleasant and mild earthy smell with a light minty note on top.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) Leaves
(Source: F. D. Richards/Flickr)

Henbit leaves are especially versatile. You can eat them raw, cook them as a potherb, or boil them to make herbal tea. Younger leaves taste especially delicious in salads while older ones taste better cooked as a potherb. The flavor of henbit leaves compliment egg and pasta dishes really well. Other ingredients that will taste amazing with this edible include spinach, soft cheeses, mushrooms, nuts, poultry, pork, and wild game meats.

Health benefits

This wild edible is very nutritious. It’s low in calories as well as rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Henbit is a great ingredient to add to your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. It will make you feel fuller for longer and reduce mid-day cravings.

Aside from that, this plant also has some amazing natural medicinal qualities. It can help reduce fever, induce sweating, and treat joint aches. Drinking a henbit green smoothie can also help relieve constipation and promote a healthy bowel function. Lastly, henbit herbal tea has stimulant and excitant effects which means it will help relieve stress and anxiety.

Cultivation

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) Flowers
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) Flowers
(Source: Masaki Ikeda/Wikimedia Commons)

Even though it’s often considered as a weed, henbit can actually be a really elegant addition to any garden. As long as you keep them in control, they will add a beautiful splash of color to your garden every spring when its flowers bloom. Moreover, you’ll also have a steady supply of delicious and nutritious edible ready in your backyard.

Cultivating this plant is quite easy. It’s not a fussy plant and only requires a minimum amount of attention. This plant thrives best on light dry soil, but it’s not very picky and can grow pretty much on any soil type. It also prefers full sun exposure, but can also tolerate some shade. 

If you want to grow henbit in your garden, sow the seeds directly in your garden. It’s preferable to sow the seeds in spring, but most of the time, they can germinate at any time of the year. Henbit seedlings will usually start to sprout in the fall and it will start blooming by next spring. Once the plant has matured, it will self-sow freely and don’t require human intervention. Remember to control the plant to prevent it from taking over your entire garden. The best way you can do this is by pulling young plants or mulching the soil. 

Cautions

There are no known hazards from consuming henbit, both in culinary and medicinal amounts. But, this plant does look quite similar to some other wild edibles, namely the purple deadnettle and ground ivy. But, both are non-toxic when consumed in moderation. So, you don’t have to worry about any toxic look-alikes.

Conclusion

Being part of the mint family, it’s natural for henbit to be considered a weed. It grows quickly, self-seeds, and has a tendency to take over any area it wishes. However, when you find henbit growing in your garden, don’t be so quick to pull them out. With the right treatment, you can control their growth and in turn, this underrated plant can be a wonderful source of a healthy and delicious wild edible.


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Writen by Cornelia Tjandra
Cornelia is a freelance writer with a passion for bringing words to life and sharing useful information with the world. Her educational background in natural science and social issues has given her a broad base to approach various topics with ease. Learn more about her writing services on Upwork.com or contact her directly by email at cornelia.tjandra@gmail.com



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