One of my favorite foraging areas is my friend's plot at the local community garden. Not only did she give me permission to forage there but sometimes, if I ask her, she will even let certain wild vegetables grow for me.
High on my "shopping" list are shaggy soldiers, a rather inconspicuous annual member in the daisy family.
It somewhat resembles a miniature daisy with a yellow disk that's smaller than 1/4-inch wide, carrying five small spaced petals with indented tips. The leaves are opposite, toothed, and can grow 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. While they can grow up to 2 feet tall when in large groups, I find them mostly in small clusters or alone and less than 1 feet tall, hiding under the leaves of other plants. It likes to grow in gardens but also in waste areas and along roadsides.
Shaggy soldiers originate from Central and South America. The plant was introduced to Kew gardens in England in the 1700s and from there it escaped to the rest of Europe, Asia, North America and to my friend's garden, where they tend to grow prolifically.
Today, however, I find a tidy vegetable garden, stripped from all wild vegetables! I guess I should have asked her to leave some for me. Luckily, there are some other, less tidy plots where I'm also allowed to forage and I manage to fill up half a bag.
My friend doesn't forage but she's always interested in the wild vegetables I find so I often stop by with my "loot" on my way home.
"That's actually pretty good!" she said when she tasted a shaggy soldier leaf. "I had a lot of it but I pulled it all out yesterday!"
Yes, I noticed, but I'm not too disappointed because with a production of 7,500 seeds per plant, soon, many new shaggy soldiers will appear, especially now that the soil is disturbed.
Its Latin name is Galinsoga, named after Mariano Martinez Galinsoga, a Spanish Botanist. Someone mistakenly heard "gallant soldier" instead of Galinsoga. If this plant were a soldier, it would be described as shaggy, judging by the hair covered stems and leaves and so the plant was dubbed "shaggy soldier." Other common names are Peruvian daisy and quickweed. It's also known as French weed, supposedly because it was introduced by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars.
While shaggy soldiers are safe for humans, it's considered toxic to goats. Shaggy soldiers' poisonous look alike is Tridax procumbens, also a member in the daisy family. Its flower stems are very long and its leaves are deeply toothed but fortunately, so far, it's only found only in Florida.
To me the flavor of shaggy soldiers most resembles that of Jerusalem artichokes but if you don't know that flavor, "nutty" is how my friend would describe it. The leaves can be eaten raw and cooked, and add a great flavor to fried potatoes, salads, soups and stews. It cooks down quite a bit, so you'll need a lot.
In China, the whole plant - except for the roots - is used as a common leafy green. In Columbia, dried and packaged "Guascas" (shaggy soldiers) can be bought at the grocery store. I've also found it available online, which is very convenient if my friend keeps her garden clean this summer.
Coming in August: Jerusalem artichokes, the sunflower with edible tubers.