Saturday, July 16, 2011

Galinsoga (Galinsoga ciliata): Hidden in Plain Sight

I remember seeing this plant as a b0y. It grew as a weed in my mother's garden. It was one of those plants that I just never got around to keying out because, frankly, it looked boring. No big seed pods, no funky growth patterns, no sexy fruits or seeds. I often thought that I'd get around to keying that one out someday. Then I'd go do something important.

Our foraging friend, Arena, (a familiar name, no doubt, to foraging family readers) gave us some greens last year that she called galinsoga. We'd never heard of it and were having such a good time eating some of the exotic mushrooms that she'd gotten us that we forgot about it until it had wilted beyond recognition and any hope of culinary redemption. The other day, Arena gifted Ooga with some more.

Meanwhile, a good look at this plant while foraging for purslane in my mother's garden had reminded me of my oft-procrastinated resolution to key it out--a resolution that I promptly procrastinated because the purslane was so mouth-wateringly distracting.

So today when I found this patch of it growing in our very own meadow, I finally went in to get my dog-eared copy of Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (affectionately called The Duke after Duke Nukem from G. I. Joe). Well wouldn't you know it. Galinsoga. I ran back in to the refrigerator and looked in the goody bag from Arena. Sure enough. There it was.

Tonight we submerged it in boiling water for about five minutes, drained, and served as a side to a chicken dinner. It tasted very much like spinach or lamb's-quarters. We loved it.

Galinsoga might grow in your garden too. It has a cluster of composite flowers which means that each flower head contians a disc of lots of little individual reproductive bodies. The disc is yellow and is surrounded by five, widely spaced white petal that have three distinct lobes. These suckers are small so look carefully.
The leaves are opposite and coarsely toothed and the stems are hairy.

The can be easily distinguished from some asters that bloom at a similar time by their size and their distinctive three-lobed petals.

I know that in addition to being a great new edible for us, galinsoga will be a reminder that even the most plain-looking plants have worthwhile secrets for the enterprising naturalist.


  1. Glad you guys liked it. Galinsoga/quickweed has got to be one of the most common unnoticed edible plants. It took me many tries before I liked it. I didn’t like it raw or very lightly cooked. The flavor reminds me of artichokes.

    Ooga will definitely have to try making Ajiaco Bogotano, the stew from Columbia made with chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob. Guascas (Galinsoga) is the main seasoning for the soup. The pictures and recipes online look amazingly delicious. I just read that galinsoga can be dried and used as a seasoning. I’m going to try that.

    I’m excited about our black walnut pickle experiments. The young, not yet hard walnuts look so cool in the large jars of salt brine.

    I tried once again to get some honey locust pulp. The pods were tender and pliable and did not have seeds, but there was no pulp or sweetness to them. I think that I’m too early. Usually I’m too late.

  2. Arena, Thanks so much for sharing this new plant with us. We hope to try the ajiaco this season. Congratulations on the walnut pickles. Can't wait to see them. As for the honey locust, it's a familiar story. It seems that anything with a really short season gets missed by us. I think of cattail pollen, and wild rice.

  3. That is definitely what took over our garden last year. AND, it turns out the weed that we're battling this year is actually purslane, not spurge. I still would like it to get out of my onion bed, but at least it's edible.

    P.S. If those pickled black walnuts turn out okay, please post about it. We have thousands of black walnuts that rain down on our lawns every year that mostly go to waste as I can't figure out how to crack them well. Our friend is British and loves pickled walnuts, but I thought black walnuts would be too bitter for pickling. So your experiment can be mine, too. :-)

  4. Kristin,
    Congratulations on having a garden full of purslane! It's one of our favorite greens. You are also blessed to have black walnuts. They are not bitter. They are wonderful--better I think than the English walnut sold in stores. They just take time. The trick is to get the husks off before they leach tannins through the shell into the nutmeat.
    We gathered nearly a bushel last year, let the husks rot a little bit, dried them in our basement over the winter and crack them with a sledgehammer on a rock. We'll post about this soon if we get the chance.

  5. Hi Thag!

    I was just keying out Galinsoga, went online to see if it was used for anything in particular, and your website gave me a wealth of information! Thanks so much! I love the crunchy stems raw.
    I also saw your caveman blog. I read your last post, about being inspired by Tom Brown (I was too) and then starting to wonder if perhaps things weren't romanticized a little =) I went through a similar journey, and now run ReWild University, helping people re-connect with their "caveperson" selves. It might be fun to open an email dialog about what you've experienced, how your caveman quest has unfolded, and to discuss some of what we've both experienced. We could then publish the back-and-forth on our respective blogs as a study for others who are moving down similar paths. If you're interested, you can write me at rewildu (at) yahoo (dot) com!

    Thanks again for the quickweed information! Yum!

    1. Hi Kenton,
      I'm so glad that this was helpful. It sounds like we've got a lot in common. I'd love to hear about your work at ReWilding. I'll send you a message soon. Also, my Ooga and I have a bumper crop of galinsoga in our fallow garden this year. We'll be making a Columbian dish with it over the coming week. So stay tuned.