Foraging

“Add this to your sandwich,” she said, pinching off the top of a plant next to the picnic blanket.

His eyes widened as he looked at the sprig she had handed him. “It’s covered in little hearts! Are you casting a love spell on me?”

“Do I need to?” was her reply.

His kiss gave her the answer.

Speaking as a man, there’s a lot of truth in the cliché about the way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach. A good meal is a thing of joy, bringing feelings of happiness and contentment. It doesn’t have to be a big, laborious affair with multiple dishes. Frankly, a picnic basket with some bologna sandwiches, chips and Cokes will be just as well received as a multi-course banquet. Often more so, since the time and stress needed to throw a small picnic together is significantly less than a big feast.

And speaking of picnics and sandwiches, February is a wonderful time for that sort of romantic activity. The East Texas weather is starting to warm up, flowers are beginning to bloom, and most importantly, shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) has sprouted up across fields.

This wild member of the mustard family is a tasty favorite. The most noticeable features are the numerous, small, heart-shaped seed pods that spiral up the plant’s stalk. At the top of the stalk will be a cluster of tiny white flowers, each having four petals. The stalks grow out of a rosette of long, randomly lobed leaves that look kind of like a dandelion. These stalks may branch once or twice with each branch ending in seedpods and flowers. If pulled out of the ground you’ll find a taproot looking like a small, pale carrot.

The flowers and tender, young, green seedpods have a wonderful horseradish-like flavor, which makes them a spicy, hearty addition to a picnic sandwich. The youngest leaves near the center of the base rosette also can be used, but their flavor can be a bit strong. For the truly adventuresome cooks, pureeing the cleaned, peeled root in some mayonnaise makes a fascinating horseradish condiment. Left undisturbed, the stalks can grow to a half-inch in diameter or more and can be cooked like asparagus.

Shepherd’s purse love open, sunny fields. If the location is mowed regularly you’ll probably still be able to find some along fence lines and against buildings, bridges and other structures. The dried, brown seedpods found lower on the stems can be collected to grow this lovely plant in your own garden, making sure you have a constant supply of the spicy hearts.

Nature is love, and nature will help you find and keep love, if you let it.

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