Edible leaves are part of nutritious meals
Third-graders in Jen Janik's class at Big Hollow Elementary School in Ingleside want to know, "Are leaves edible? Why or why not?"
A delicious meal might include many edible leaves -- a green, leafy arugula salad; a side of sautéed spinach leaves; roast chicken spiced with rosemary and basil leaves; and sweet iced tea, also made from leaves.
Gardens and groceries are filled with many edible leaves, and now is the perfect time to plant seeds or starter plants so you can enjoy homegrown fresh, leafy greens or herbs from your own garden in a little over a month.
"One of the benefits of edible leaves is that it's the part of the plant that has nutrition, like iron. All dark green edible leaves have high iron content," said Michael Sands, agriculture expert and senior associate at the Liberty Prairie Foundation in Grayslake.
His favorite leafy recipe? Kale salad, including chopped young kale, asparagus and almonds dressed with balsamic vinegar.
"Leaves are an important part of the vegetables we offer -- lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy," Sands said as he described the types of produce grown at Grayslake's 100-acre Prairie Crossing Farm.
The facility includes the Educational Learning Farm, a nationally-recognized farm business development center with seven independent farm enterprises, and Sandhill Family Farms. These farms produce certified organic vegetables, free-range eggs and other farm bounties.
Nothing beats fresh, ripe produce picked from your own backyard, and starting your own garden is easier than you think.
"Leafy vegetables are some of the easiest vegetables to grow," Sands said.
You can plant them in the yard or in a container, he added, although kale tends to be too finicky for a pot. Seeds for salad vegetables can be planted now and harvested into the middle of the summer. Start all over again in late summer and enjoy the new crop of greens by October.
Herbs like basil, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and thyme -- all spices that come from leaves -- can be started from seed or from small starter plants.
Get started on your own garden and take a look at chickens, baby goats and farm tractors at the Prairie Crossing Farm open house and plant sale Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Organic plants will be available for purchase, including tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, bok choy, cucumber, eggplant, kale, lettuce, squash, tomatillo, herbs, and edible flowers like viola, nasturtium, marigold and calendula.
Try your skill at a farm scavenger hunt and learn about farm-themed youth programming and camps from Prairie Crossing's Learning Farm. Find out about purchasing Community Sponsored Agriculture shares that provide the share owner with seasonal vegetables, free range eggs and more from Prairie Crossing's farmers.
Look for the Yellow Farmhouse at Prairie Crossing Farm, 32400 N. Harris Road in Grayslake. Despite what Internet maps indicate, Harris Road does not connect to the farm from Route 120. Enter Prairie Crossing via Route 45 at Jones Point Road and follow the signs to the farm. Event parking will be along the side of Harris Road. For the safety of the farm animals, please leave pets at home.
Check it outThe Vernon Area Library in Lincolnshire suggests these titles on edible leaves and tips on farming them:
Ÿ "The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices & Flavorings" by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz
Ÿ "Cool Leaf Lettuce: From Garden to Table" by Katherine Hengel
Ÿ "The Biography of Tea" by Carrie Gleason
Ÿ "Eat Your Yard" by Nan K. Chase
Ÿ "Plants & Plant Life Vol. 5: Plants Used by People" by Michael Allaby
Ÿ "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" by Elizabeth Schneider