Harvesting weeds with Mary and Martha

How do we define what a weed is? Some weeds can eaten or used in cooking. Do your research before foraging. — Anna Lisa Gross

I love eating greens. This might be my superpower, since these superfoods are not everyone’s cup of tea. I like arugula or spinach raw without dressing. I’m content to eat kale stems. But many of the people I eat with prefer greens adorned with rich fats and savory seasonings, and I’m glad to eat them that way, too.

Turning them into palak or saag is one of my favorite ways to load up on the nutritious joy of greens. Palak or saag paneer are popular vegetarian dishes in U.S. Indian restaurants. They might look the same, but palak is spinach, and saag will be a mix of greens: mustard, radish/beet/carrot tops, lambsquarter, chard, spinach, etc.

Stepping outside puts saag on the menu. Our yard is full of lambsquarter, plantain, burdock, nettle, dandelion, violet, purslane, sorrel, virginia pepperweed and field mustard.

My shopping list this time of year is short. Yogurt, ginger, garam masala, coconut oil. The rest is in the yard.

How do you define weed? Something you don’t want? Something you didn’t plant? I didn’t plant those yard weeds, but I want them all. Our brains seem designed for dichotomy: either/or. But the truth is usually more interesting than that.

It reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha, and how deeply rooted their dichotomy is planted in our mindsets.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus sets up a dualism, and we hear that spiritual things are more worthy than material things. Learning is more important than doing. And then someone [a woman] asks, “But who else is going to make dinner and wash the dishes while you all talk in the living room?”

That Jesus celebrates focus over distraction and invites Martha to live in the moment makes sense to me. That Jesus celebrates a Mary learning alongside a rabbi excites me. That we would tuck this story into our bookshelf of proof that men do more important things than women annoys me. Jesus turns water into wine, gleans in the fields, grills fish on the beach, catalyzes a sharing miracle of loaves and fishes and breaks and shares bread in a radical, egalitarian way. Jesus teaches about a pinch of yeast and wouldn’t diminish Martha’s domestic work at the expense of Mary’s social, political or religious work.

We write our cultural diminishment of women’s or domestic work back into the story from Luke (I believe), and we can miss the nuanced, universal lesson about focus and distraction. Whatever your work and passion, how can you focus and celebrate the gifts of what you already have? What does Creation already provide us, when we pause long enough to look and learn? Capitalism and consumerism urge us to need, want and buy more and more, but this is a great time of year to resist those distractions, and let simple gifts be enough.

If you don’t have much foraging experience, ask to follow a friend on her walks, look for a community education class or local group, or at least use the internet. I use the iNaturalist app to help identify plants I don’t recognize, then read multiple websites before deciding to eat something new.

Even edible plants may require caution — like harvesting nettle or thistle. Eating a lot of wild edibles suddenly may not be smart if you’re prone to kidney stones (like spinach, many greens in your yard are high in oxalic acid).

I’m not going to claim this is a traditional Punjabi recipe, but it’s my simplified way of dressing up all sorts of greens, including wilted salad leftovers.

Green soup with cubed white cheese in it
Add cubed cheese, chicken, mushrooms, chickpeas or potatoes to your saag. — Kanwardeep Kaur on Unsplash


2 tablespoons oil, butter, lard or ghee
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 diced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon tomato paste, or leftover tomato or ketchup
10 cups greens, rinsed
1 can coconut milk, or 1 cup yogurt, milk or cream
2 teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon salt

Optional:  diced onion
1 serrano or other chili pepper

Possible additions: cubed cheese, chicken, chickpeas, mushrooms, potatoes
Possible accompaniments: Bread or rice

  • Heat 2 T oil or other fat of your choosing. When melted, add 1 T mustard seeds and 1 T cumin seeds.
  • Once you hear the seeds popping, add 4 diced cloves of garlic and at least 1 T minced ginger. Optional: add a diced onion and 1 serrano or other chili pepper, according to your spice preference.
  • Add 1 heaping T tomato paste, a leftover tomato or even some ketchup.
  • When your base is browned, add about 10 cups of rinsed greens. (Optional to steam or microwave them first to wilt them, especially if you’re running out of space in your pot.)
  • Stir the greens into the base. When they’re well coated and cooked down, turn off the heat.
  • Ideally, wait until your concoction has cooled a bit so you don’t curdle any dairy products you may be adding.
  • Then pour in a can of coconut milk, or 1 cup of yogurt, milk or cream (can be a combination), 2 t garam masala and ½ t salt.
  • Mix with an immersion blender, or move into a blender or food processor to smooth out your saag. (You’ll be glad your saag has cooled for this step.)
  • Then add the protein/starch that appeals to you (cubed cheese, chicken, potatoes or chickpeas or chopped mushrooms are favorites) and serve with rice or bread. You can also eat it as a stew, especially if your additions are filling.

Anna Lisa Gross

Anna Lisa Gross grew up on a mini-commune of Christian hippies, who prefer to call themselves the Grosses and the Read More

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