By Pat Foster-Turley
August 11, 2022
I have been a Florida gardener for decades but I still don’t have much success with growing vegetables. I can, however, grow flowers for cutting, and herbs for the pot, and I try to make the most of these gifts from my garden. On my own Facebook page I often post photos of the flower arrangements I create with some Oasis foam, a sturdy base, and zinnia, salvias, and other flowers mixed with greenery from my shrubs.
But recently I got inspired to create an arrangement from the herbs in my garden, accented by really hot peppers I am also growing successfully. And this arrangement encouraged me to actually use these products. What do you do with three types of basil, lemongrass, parsley, mint, and hot peppers, besides making flower arrangements? You make Vietnamese pho.
I have travelled often to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and thereabouts and have a taste for Southeast Asian food and I know a good pho when I taste it. But the authentic process of creating this soup starts with pounds of beef and beef marrow bones in a long simmering process with lots of particular herbs added in along the way, some of which I do not have. Well, to fast forward and based on ingredients on hand I started with Better-than-Bullion beef base and added water, herbs and aromatics (lemongrass, basil, garlic, ginger, onions, a little bit of hot pepper) and Chinese five-spices seasoning—which already contains the cinnamon, star anise, fennel, peppercorns and cloves I was missing. I tossed all this in my crockpot. Perfect.
After carefree hours in the crockpot, the broth was perfect. I scooped out the solids and had a very tasty clear broth to which I added thin sliced mushrooms, beef pieces and a small handful of the only beans yet to be seen in my vegetable garden to cook for a bit more. To make the pho, all I needed was to put uncooked rice noodles in a bowl, ladle the crockpot mixture into it, cover it for three minutes to cook the noodles and I was all set. I served it with an offering of fresh mint, parsley and basil, and some cut up hot peppers from my garden to add at will, and some sesame oil, fish sauce and sweet chili sauce, just in case the hot peppers weren’t hot enough. Well I thought it was great! Bucko avoided the addition of fresh greens and more hot sauces, but raved about it too. Hip hip hurray, a dinner with herbs from my garden accomplished!
So then, with this accomplishment behind me I scanned my garden for more edibles. I spied the large patch of dollar weed growing in our wet side yard, untainted by lawn chemicals. In a recent post from my friend Betsy Harris I learned that dollar weed is edible. I sent her a photo of my “crop” just to be sure, then consulted the internet for ideas. Supposedly you can cook the leaves just like spinach. Wonderful. So I tried it.
One of my favorite uses for spinach is a “Joe’s special” made with ground beef, eggs and spinach, seasoned with onions and garlic—a main course in a pinch. So, I made a “Pat’s special” using dollar weed instead of spinach. Don’t do it!
I ended up with a meal that may have been safe to eat, but who wants to. Bucko gave it a try, but before long I noticed that he had pulled out all the dollar weed and set it on the side of his plate uneaten. “It is like eating vinyl” was his comment. I soldiered on, and ate my entire plate full. It was chewy but tasted ok. But for hours my stomach felt like I was trying to digest a sofa.
Dollar weed is also known as pennywort with supposed useful benefits that reduce anxiety, lessens pain and has anti-inflammatory properties. Some varieties of pennywort find their way into nutritional supplements, capsules and other products available at health food stores. Next time I am in search of such remedies I’m taking a capsule. Forget these chewy tough leaves! “Pat’s special” is very un-special, for sure. If you decide to try some yourself, try a different recipe, make sure the dollar weed is nowhere near a lawn that gets chemical treatment, and maybe pick only tiny young leaves, a project for sure.
So, one success and one failure from my garden edibles. But hey, you only learn from your mistakes, right?
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. firstname.lastname@example.org