Eatin' Wild Series: Henbit
Have you ever considered learning about food that grows wild all around you? You don't have to be living off the grid to learn about wild edibles and incorporate them into your daily life. There are many benefits to foraging for wild, edible plants:
Foraging for Henbit
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is a very nutritious, plentifully growing wild edible that is easy to recognize, and has few toxic lookalikes, making it an ideal plant to start your wild edibles journey with. It is very likely growing right in your backyard! Henbit is known as a winter annual because little clumps of henbit can start to show in midwinter, especially in milder climates, like my home state of Texas, where winters are usually neither long nor severe. By spring you can find henbit popping up in backyards, fields, forest edges, roadsides, pastures, and more. I have seen henbit growing all over the country, from field to forest, sun to part shade, clay soil to sandier soils. It's just not a fussy plant.
How to Recognize Henbit
Henbit has a low growing, sprawling habit, rarely getting higher than 12". Look for:
Henbit has a characteristic growth pattern. The heart-shaped leaves clasp the stems, growing opposite each other with long internodes. In lay speak that means that the leaves grow next to each other on either side of the stem with a good amount of stem showing in between what look like whorls of leaf growth.
According to Green Deane of Eat the Weeds, the rule of thumb in determining if a plant in the mint family is edible is that the plant must look like a mint AND smell like a mint. [1.] Henbit breaks that rule. It certainly looks like a mint, but it doesn't smell minty. It is still safe to eat.
How to Use Henbit
The aerial parts of the plant (leaf, stem, flower, seeds) are edible, though you may find the stems a bit tough if they aren't young. The leaves have a slightly dry texture. The flavor is a bit like a strong spinach. Some find it peppery. You can eat henbit raw or cooked.
Specific nutrition breakdown on henbit is hard to come by. It isn't a well studied plant. Like most mint family plants, however, you can probably expect henbit to be rich in antioxidants and minerals.
Henbit, also called giraffe head, has a few lookalikes, though none to my knowledge are toxic. Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) and other dead nettles are the easiest to confuse with henbit. Look closely at the leaves to tell them apart. The leaves of the dead nettles (also edible) often have triangular shaped leaves. Henbit will always have heart-shaped, hairy leaves that clasp the stem.
Henbit is usually gone by summer. It reseeds easily, so unless it's poisoned (Tragedy!) it will pop up each year and spread readily.
Legend has it that henbit is so named because chickens like to eat it. Ironically, I have never observed my own chickens eating this prolific "weed." That simply leaves more for us humans! Before you leave, let's talk about foraging responsibly.
Humans are meant to be Earth's stewards.
The Rules of Foraging
Before you head outside with your clippers and a basket, let's discuss wild foraging etiquette. Responsible foragers always adhere to a few rules when they go out to collect wild edibles or medicinals.
Health Disclaimer: You own yourself. Always do your research when trying out new foods, especially if you have a health condition, and/or are on prescription medications. Wild edibles are nutrient dense. Most of us are not used to that. Go slowly, not only to test for reaction, but also to give your body a chance to accustom to the richness of wild edibles. No information on this website should be considered medical advice, nor should the information here be considered a complete listing of all possible plant components or dangers. Neither Prairie Hawk Botanica nor Jennifer Capestany will be responsible for injury.
Author: Jennifer Capestany
Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.
I'm Jennifer Capestany, a clinical herbalist and freelance writer with a practice in North Texas. Helping people deal as naturally as possible with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness and other chronic conditions is my calling.