Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

All around the hillside is all spring: wild mustard, clusters of henbit, rabbits, my footprints, and the sounds I make are the sounds I hear, the ringing of pulse in the ear, the swish of grass, my footsteps. --- Nathaniel Perry, "Vision" Common Names: Henbit, Deadnettle, Giraffe Head Scientific Name: Lamium amplexicaule


A member of the mint family. Stems droop, turning upward, growing to as tall as 16 inches. Stems are square, green to purplish and can be smooth or hairy. Leaves are up to 1-inch long, opposite, dark green and hairy above, lighter below. Lower leaves have petioles and the upper leaves attach directly to the stem. Leaves are triangular to circular with palmate venation. Leaf edges have rounded teeth, crinkled at the edges. Flowers are tubular, pink to red to purple, up to 3/4 inch long. [1] Amplexicaule means clasping; Lamium is probably from the Greek Lamia, meaning female man-eater, a grotesque creature in Greek mythology. This image is echoed in one of the common names for henbit: giraffe head. The common name, Henbit, like chickweed, comes from watching chickens eating it. [2] Henbit is closely related to purple dead nettle, which is also edible. Henbit leaves are heart-shaped, with scalloped edges, growing along the entire length of the stem. Purple dead nettle has triangular-shaped leaves growing in clumps. "Dead" in this case means non-stinging. Both are nutritious, high in iron, vitamins, fiber and anti-oxidants. [2]


The young shoots, leaves and flowers of this plant are edible and, once washed, can be simply cooked by adding to frying pan with a knob of butter some spring onions and plenty of seasoning. When sautéed for ten minutes they are ready to consume. Ideally, finish with a twist of fresh nutmeg and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. The tops of young plants can also be used in salads or can be stir-fried as a spring vegetable. The flavour is best when the plant is in flower as it can be very insipid when young. [3] To harvest henbit for food, pick and wash the ascending tips. Jan Phillips, author of "Wild Edibles of Missouri," recommends cooking the henbit tips "slowly in no more water than is necessary, then add a dab of butter and season. Spring onions will give a neat touch." Henbit harvested in early spring will also add a nice mint flavor and pretty color to jazz up your salads. [4]

Seven Herbs of Spring

  • hotokenoza (henbit)
  • seri (dropwort, similar to watercress)
  • baby daikon
  • hakobe (chickweed)
  • nazuna (Shepard's purse)
  • suzuna (turnip)
  • gogyo (cudweed)
On January 7th it is customary to eat nanakusa-gayu (seven herb rice porridge). This is o-kayu (rice porridge, Japan's version of congee) cooked with haru no nanakusa (the seven herbs of spring). These herbs were traditionally foraged for in the fields, and being wild and fresh were very nutritious. Being so healthy, it was thought that eating nanakusa-gayu will prevent illness in the coming year. [5] From left to right: suzuna (turnip); hakobera (chickweed); gogyou (cudweed); hotokenoza (henbit); nazuna (shepard's purse); seri (watercress); suzushiro (daikon radish) [5] [1] [2] [3] href=" [4] [5]