Henbit is a Hit!

by Sue Ann Kendall

It pays to pay attention to your Facebook groups, because you never know what treasures you will find hiding in there. Yesterday, I saw a post In Milam County Veggie and Plant Exchange by one of our group, Larry Kocian, that talked about one of the predominant blooming plants around my ranch this time of year, henbit deadnettle Lamium amplexicaule. I have to admit I knew little about this little purple bloomer, other than the fact that I can ID it on iNaturalist. Now, thanks to the fascinating article Larry linked to, I know a lot more, and think you should, too!

What a beauty!

This plant can be so abundant in fields that it turns them purple with its tiny orchid-like blooms. I was surprised to learn that it’s not a native plant but was brought over by European settlers as food for, you guessed it, hens (and roosters). Now you’ll never forget the name of this plant! I have taken lots of pictures of it, as you can see here, because there’s little to take pictures of this time of year.

Henbit festival

That’s right, it’s edible. The article told me it was quite good in salads and with eggs, so after feeding my hens some henbit, I picked some for myself and ate it with a fresh scrambled egg. It was quite good, as you’d expect from most members of the mint family (Lamiaceae). How did I know it was a mint? I felt its stem, which is quite square, like a member of its family.

Square stem

Although henbit is originally a plant from the Mediterranean and North Africa, it’s useful here, since it provides nectar to the honeybees and early butterflies at a time when little else is flowering (here at my house, its fellow bloomers are mostly dandelions and crow poison). My horses like it, too, judging from the lack of it in the pastures, and sure enough, the hens gobble it down.

Early spring field near my henhouse.

From what I read, it’s not dangerously invasive. Mowing can keep it under control, though I find it too pretty to mow and have noticed that when it’s done, the other plants have no trouble taking it over (sadly, that includes bur clover).

Here’s a pretty pale one.

As for me, I thought it tasted pretty good, for a green. It’s sort of like a peppery celery. It perked up my scrambled eggs quite well.

MMM, lunch.

So, go out and harvest yourself some free greens. You can cook them, too! Just be sure to harvest them in a place where it hasn’t had chemicals on it. I avoided my septic field, though I’m not sure that would have been a problem.

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