Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2019. Updated April 2022.
A member of the mint family, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is a commonly overlooked plant that’s often labeled simply as a weed. Known also as henbit deadnettle, this springtime plant is actually a very nutritious and abundant wild edible.
The bright pink/purple flowers that bloom in late winter are a telltale sign that spring is approaching. And you’ll often see lots of honeybees and insect pollinators visiting the flowers.
Historically used as chicken fodder, today, many people are adding this underrated wild edible into their own diet.
Edibility and culinary use of henbit
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 leaves are really versatile in the kitchen. You can eat them raw, cook them as a potherb, or boil them to make herbal tea. Younger leaves are fantastic in salads, while older ones taste better cooked as a potherb. The flavor of henbit leaves compliments egg and pasta dishes well. Other ingredients that henbit pairs really well with are spinach, soft cheeses, mushrooms, nuts, poultry, pork, and wild game meats.
Nutrition and health benefits of henbit
Low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, henbit is a great ingredient to add to your diet. It also has some amazing natural medicinal qualities too. Henbit has been used in herbal remedies to reduce fever, induce sweating, and treat joint aches.
Some people create henbit green smoothies to aid digestion and boost energy. And henbit herbal tea has stimulant and excitant effects which means it could help relieve stress and anxiety.
Cautions: While henbit is a fantastic food to forage, overeating the leaves or drinking too much henbit tea could produce a laxative effect.
Is henbit invasive?
Even though it’s often considered a weed, henbit can actually be a very valuable plant. Their flowers can add a beautiful splash of color to your garden in early spring. Plus, local wildlife like birds, pollinators, and small mammals will benefit from the seeds, flowers, and ground cover. Moreover, you’ll also have a steady supply of delicious and nutritious edible ready in your backyard.
Remember if you find some, you can 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. Henbit seedlings will usually start to sprout in the fall and they will start blooming by next spring. Once the plant has matured, it will self-sow freely.
Henbit shares several characteristics with dead nettle and ground ivy which are both common species in the mint family. Because of its similarities to dead nettle (plus the common name ‘henbit dead nettle’), many people mistake henbit and dead nettle for the same species. However, both plants have several characteristics that will help you tell them apart. Although lookalikes, both ground ivy and dead nettle are fantastic wild edibles to forage too.
When young, the crinkled leaves of henbit plants can look similar to foxglove. Because of this, it’s recommended to only forage new shoots and leaves on more mature plants when it’s easier to distinguish between them.
Where does henbit grow?
It’s native to Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa, however, it can now be found growing in many temperate regions around the world — especially North America and Canada where it is widely naturalized. It was first brought over to the Americas as chicken fodder which is thought to have inspired the name “henbit”.
You can find henbit growing in varied locations, from natural settings like woodland and forest edges to roadsides and urban settings. It might be growing in your own backyard, so it’s worth a rummage around! It’s especially common in eastern states. 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.
Remember to always follow safe foraging guidelines. Don’t collect henbit from roadsides or parks where plants may have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
Being part of the mint family, henbit has several characteristics that might make us categorize it as a weed. It grows quickly, self-seeds, and has a tendency to take over any area it wishes. However, if you find henbit growing in your garden, don’t be so quick to pull them out. Their growth can be maintained, and in turn, this underrated wild edible can be a wonderful foraged ingredient and source of nutrition.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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