Although spring is still three weeks away, according to official measurement, its signs are all around us. Redbuds are just beginning to color the roadsides, wild plums are coming into fragrant bloom, attracting swarms of bees and several tiny, often discounted but beautiful wildflowers are blooming in our lawns. Besides their beauty, many wild plants are edible or have been used for medicinal purposes.
Two of the nicest and most interesting lawn flowers are henbit and spring beauty. Henbit, a square-stemmed member of the mint family, is a purple-flowering plant about 3 to 5 inches tall with blooms that look like tiny snapdragons with small, rounded deep green leaves in pairs that clasp the plant stem at their base. If you closely examine the henbit bloom, you’ll see a tiny Schnauzer staring back at you. Its friendly dog-like face is complete with a fuzzy topnotch, eyes, eyebrows, nose and jowls. You’ll have to get down on your knees because the flowers are only a half-inch long and an eighth of an inch across. Henbit is an early source of nectar and on sunny days honeybees flock to it.
Henbit leaves can be used in salads or boiled briefly and served like spinach with butter and seasoning. Since ancient times has been used to treat arthritis (rheumatism,) to induce sweating and as a stimulant. Like so many herbal remedies, its uses are very broad and include employment as a laxative and a substance to expel intestinal parasites.
Spring Beauty is covering my yard with a fragrant white and pale lavender blanket that bees are finding irresistible. Growing barely above the ground and spreading widely, spring beauty’s produce small five-petaled flowers a little over a quarter of an inch across with pale purple or pinkish veins. These pretty spring wildflowers are a tender and sweet delicacy for our deer, and a plant that’s edible for humans too. Try some in a salad, flowers and all. Spring beauty’s sprout from small brown tubers about the size of the end of your little finger and a couple of inches down in the ground. They taste a little like potatoes and can be eaten raw, boiled or sautéed. Medical uses of the dried, powdered tuber have included convulsion control in children and as a contraceptive. One reference mentions it as a “permanent” contraceptive. But I know a number of people who have eaten the tubers and were still plenty fertile!
In short, spring in the Piney Woods is a wonderful time, a time of awakening and freshening. A time for all things, including us to take on new life. It is a time of rejuvenating – meaning literally to regain lost youth. Perhaps we ought to substitute New Year’s Resolutions with Spring Jubilees, recognizing our potential once again and the many opportunities we have to right wrongs, take a fresh lease on life, shuck off past disappointments and frustrations and move forward with renewed enthusiasm, faith and hope. It is for me an energizing season and hopefully it is for you too.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.