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Backyard Salad Bar

How to graze from your lawn

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There's a free spring salad bar scattered among the overgrown tufts of damp grass in our backyard. Over the past few weeks, we've plucked handfuls of lightly bitter dandelion greens, crisp chickweed and mild miner's lettuce, then tossed the greens with olive oil, lemon juice and a few shards of pecorino. Though most mow over these pesky "weeds," we have a new yard management technique: eat the lawn.

Hank Shaw, author of the book Hunt, Gather, Cook, also lives by this mantra.

"I admit it. I am a lawn-eater. Or to be more specific, I am an eater of those plants that live among the grasses which most people call 'weeds.' Hurumph. A weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it to," Shaw wrote on his website, honest-food.net.

Shaw contends that right now is the perfect time to forage your back yard.

"The ideal time to collect yard greens is after a series of cool rains followed by some sunshine. Nights should still be cold, and days not beyond 70 degrees," she wrote.

But Alyson Burleigh-Schisel, a certified nursery professional and greenhouse manager at North End Organic Nursery, said there are still a few weeks left to collect edible backyard ruffage.

"You get another month and a half, a lot of them haven't germinated yet. But most of them by June/July, they're going to be huge and gnarly, bitter and gross," said Burleigh-Schisel. "You want to eat them, get them tender."

Some of Burleigh-Schisel's favorite edible varieties commonly found in Boise yards include prickly lettuce, claytonia greens (miner's lettuce), curly dock and purslane.

"Prickly lettuce is awesome; you can eat the greens," said Burleigh-Schisel. "It'll have this big chute that comes up with a little flower on it, and if you catch it before it flowers, you can use it as an asparagus substitute. It tastes like asparagus and there will be a stalk."

Both Shaw and Burleigh-Schisel recommend sauteing the greens in oil, as you might prepare chard or collard greens.

"Most of them you can saute in garlic and olive oil, loosen them up a bit like kale and get them a little more tender," said Burleigh-Schisel.

If you're hesitant about what's edible in your yard and what isn't, follow Eat The Weeds author Green Deane's main rule: "Never, ever eat a wild plant without checking with a local expert." Visit Deane's website, eattheweeds.com, or check out his YouTube channel covering common edible plants, for more information.