Henbit, High-Five ~ Another Weed-Eating Episode

A small chipmunk poked her head out of the rain gutter and eyed me warily.  A blue jay stopped, squawked loudly.  Woodchucks and rabbits grazed, grey squirrels hopped.  We were, all of us, emerging from cozy wintering places, stepping outside on one of the first warm days of Spring, and all doing pretty much the same thing—rummaging for fresh, free, wild, healthy, easy, and abundant food (i.e., weeds).

My little neighbors, expert foragers, probably pegged me easily as an amateur.  They get right down to business.  I hesitate, inspect, Google, try a tiny leaf.  I high-five (Yes!) when I make a simple discovery.  This time, in two of my patio containers, it was a lovely ruffled green called henbit.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) is a winter annual from the mint family.  It has a square stem and heavily lobed, scalloped and rounded leaves that extend on petioles near the base of the stem, but attach to the stem forming little umbrellas near the top.  In the springtime, henbit produces gorgeous tiny purple flowers.

My henbit appeared in March and is still growing well in April, but it probably won’t last past June, so I get down to business.

The stem, flowers, and leaves of henbit are edible, and it tastes a little like raw kale, not like mint, more like grass.  OK, so it is not dill or basil, but you can add raw henbit to wraps, spring rolls, salads, or green smoothies.  I’ve eaten it several times on this simple cucumber sandwich.

Henbit and cucumber sandwich

Wash an organic cucumber and slice it as thinly as possible with a serrated knife (or a mandoline slicer, if you have one).  Lay the cucumber slices on a piece of your favorite fresh bakery bread.  Add some henbit, your favorite dressing, another slice of bread, cut into squares, et voilà.  Too simple.  (If you don’t have henbit, use dill leaf or other fresh greens instead.)

Henbit nutrition

It’s hard to find nutritional information on henbit.  (If you have it, please share it.)  As a wild leafy green, picked fresh and eaten raw, it is likely much more nutritious than its cultivated cousins.  The health benefits of edible wild greens, in general, make henbit well worth a try.

Henbit is also used as an herbal remedy, as an anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic (sweat inducer), excitant, febrifuge (fever reducer), laxative and stimulant, according to naturalmedicinalherbs.net.

Henbit tips

If you find henbit, or any other new wild green, start small.  Be absolutely sure of the plant’s identification, and eat just a bit at first.   I don’t venture farther than my garden and patio containers—areas free of pesticides, car emissions, or other unsavory dressings (as far as I know).  Then again, I live in the urban fringe of Philadelphia.  If you live in the wilderness, well, then you probably already know.

Plants that look similar to henbit are Lamium purpureum, known as red or purple deadnettle or archangel, and Glechoma hederacea, known as ground ivy or creeping Charlie.  If the leaves near the top of each stem are not attached directly to the stem, then the plant is not henbit.  These three plants are often confused.  Nonetheless, you can eat them all, in moderation.

So please don’t poison your edible weeds.  How about a nice big salad or a sandwich instead?  If you’ve got a lot, invite the neighbors.  Happy Spring.

Come forth into the light of things.  Let nature be your teacher. ~ William Wordsworth

© Copyright 2011, Laura J. Rongé, Ciel Bleu Media, healthiveg.com.  All rights reserved.

Disclaimer—The articles here are not intended as medical, nutritional, or other professional advice.  The ideas presented are my own, unless otherwise noted, and are for informational purposes only.  Please use this information with discretion.


This entry was posted in Foraging, Herbs, vegan, Wild Edibles and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Henbit, High-Five ~ Another Weed-Eating Episode

  1. Beautiful photos. Thanks for the good info!

  2. Stephanie says:

    I love the way that you describe the process of picking and eating a weed. I can picture you peering at and researching each little green plant before tasting it. I absolutely love the idea of foraging! I’m impressed that you’re brave enough to actually try it.

    Keep enjoying the Spring!

    • Laura says:

      Hi Stephanie! Haha, yes, I am a cautious forager, especially when encouraging others to try it. Honestly, though, I’m much more afraid of eating the chemically-processed “foods” that line the grocery shelves. I took a walk in the woods yesterday, and the forest floor was covered in edible green, and violet, too. I found henbit (of course) as well as red deadnettle, violet flowers, wild chives, chickweed, mallow, and a few other things. Nature is so generous, and I love learning about how to accept the gift. I laugh to think that I have been missing it for so long. Happy Spring!

  3. Laura: Such wonderful photos, I love learning about all of the edibles lurking in our gardens.

    • Laura says:

      Aww, thanks, Evelyn! Isn’t it fun? Weeds are a lot easier to grow than the rest of the things in my garden. 😉 I am looking forward to sowing seeds, too, in the next week or two. Happy gardening! <3 Laura

  4. Cal says:

    Hi, we had henbit show up in our yard all over the place in Dec. After reading up on it, we added it to our green smoothies where we add fruit, whey protein, a little stevia, and a green too. Has a refreshing taste. Also going to use as mulch and some for compost. With our Texas heat it won’t last till summer so using now.

    • Laura says:

      Hi Cal! Great idea to throw it in your green smoothie. Interesting that it appears there so early. We have to wait until March to see it here. Enjoy it while it lasts. 🙂

  5. Ms. Mary says:

    I didn’t know henbit was edible! I’ve always thought it was beautiful and I’m the bane of my neighbors for refusing to spray my yard for it (its incredibly prolific in this part of Kansas) Now I have an excuse! Thanks for this.

    • Laura says:

      Hi Mary! It is a beautiful plant and it’s great that you appreciate it. Thank you for not spraying & thanks for your comment. xo

  6. Bonnie says:

    This is a very appropriately named weed since I have found that not only my hens love eating it, but it also increases their egg production! Thank you so much for posting these great photos to help people like me identify useful plants!

  7. Jim says:

    I just identified Henbit today! It’s growing all over my garden. I’ve been puling it up as a weed for years, but finally decided to let it grow, even before I knew what it was, this year. The flowers are small, but when there is a lot of it growing in a patch, it is barely visible and is a nice addition to my Wild Garden.

    I will be drying as much Henbit as I can and storing for future use as Medicinal Tea. I’m also growing lots of Stinging Nettle, Calendulas and trying to establish Dandelions, all for Herbal Teas.

    I’ve also recently started eating Chickweed, which grows all over my garden, but doesn’t last very long.

    • Laura says:

      Good for you, Jim! I’m just starting to see henbit again here. It is such a lovely, hopeful sign of springtime on its way. Be well and happy. 🙂

  8. Sonuahua Compton says:

    I was too looking for the nutritional and medicinal info on henbit/deadnettle it grows nearly year round in the shade in Missouri and often the winter or summer heat leave it unscathed, but here in southern mo we have irratic weather mostly mild, which might have something to do with it, it will likely only disappear for august/sept heat wave and pop right back out to great the fall.. I’m particularly interested in drying it for teas, and potherbs, and the medicinal, nutritional value…

  9. Colleen says:

    I found a bunch of this growing in my Earthbox. It’s a nice added “gift” plant as it’s been too cold to plant tomatos just yet.

    Botanical.com lists it’s health benefits as being similar to Nettles.

    Scroll down the page and there’s an entry for it there under purple dead nettles.

  10. Nikki says:

    I was excited to finally realize henbit is edible since we have (well, had) it in our yard. The my husband mowed the lawn a couple of days ago. Bye bye beautiful henbit, dead nettle, wood sorrel, and wild onions.

    • Laura says:

      I hear you, Nikki! Such is modern life, but it will likely grow back, or you could seed it into some containers that won’t get mowed. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  11. Autumn Eaton says:

    Hello, how are you? I was curious to know where I could get the seeds of the henbit plant?

  12. Pingback: Botany, Biology | alexdawn

  13. MichaelKr says:

    I use garden weeds as a teaching tool for my young son and me. He seems to embrace what s good and what s not in terms of what s yummy and what to stay away from. Our fav is wild violets, as they are high in nutrients while adding a bit of color to salads. Or you can just eat em on their own. He likes to find things in the yard and I ll look up the different things we can do with his findings.

  14. debbie says:

    Nice article on a lovely little “weed”!
    Thank you 🙂

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