Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Little Bit of Henbit

It's edible, supports wildlife, and is good for erosion control. So, why is henbit considered by most Americans a nasty weed? I'll admit that I thought of it as a nuisance winter weed for a long time because that is what I was taught. Sometimes it takes a little time to be educated in the right way. Let's just say my eyes have been opened.

Most American homeowners don't want "weeds" in their lawn because they are going for the perfectly manicured, weed-free, golf course look, but the truth of the matter is that henbit is a plant that you want in your garden, especially if you are trying to support wildlife. (and if you don't want weeds in your lawn the best way to avoid them is to grow thick, healthy grass au naturel.)

henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Although henbit is native to Eurasia and North Africa it has naturalized in most of the United States. It is a member of the mint family and like many members it too likes to spread, especially in disturbed areas. I find it around our garden in sunny spots where there is lack of ground cover.



To homesteaders and wildcrafters henbit is a good weed. It gets its name from the fact that chickens like to eat the seeds. Beyond that, the stems, leaves and flowers are all edible. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Add it to salads, soups, wraps, spring rolls, green smoothies or make a tea. Have you ever eaten it? Be brave and try it. You might just like it. It doesn't have a minty flavor as one would assume being in the mint family. It actually tastes a bit like kale. Best of all it is extremely nutritious. It is high in iron, full of vitamins and lots of fiber. (But, be smart when foraging and only harvest henbit from locations you know are not sprayed with chemicals!)


Now if you are a wildlife gardener, like me, henbit is important because it is a winter bloomer and supports early pollinators that come out on our warm winter days. Bees are foraging for pollen and nectar to stay alive and henbit supplies them with much needed substance. It continues to bloom into spring and will support bumble bees, honey bees, long-tongued bees, butterflies as well as those early hummingbirds that show up in our garden mid-March. The foliage is also eaten by voles and box turtles. Now, that's quite a variety of wildlife supported by this purple "weed"!

So, next time you see this humble, little purple plant in your lawn and garden remember its benefits. The early pollinators will thank you!

12 comments:

  1. Looks a lot like creeping charlie, a weed that drives me crazy. I don't think I see much henbit in this area.

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    1. You're right they do look similar but not the same plant. I think creeping charlie has more of an ivy habit and does take over areas quickly.

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  2. It's funny how so many 'weeds' are highly nutritious. If we were a foraging society like back in the day, we'd probably be disgustedly trying to get rid of the grass and rejoicing over the 'weeds'!

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  3. Karin this is fascinating. I think I do have this "weed" in the back garden and will check it out this spring when the snow melts. I have been wondering what it was. I wish the voles would eat it instead of the rest of my garden.

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    1. I hear ya! Henbit can be found all over. It is probably blooming in spring in your garden. Let me know what you find out...will you try eating it?

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  4. Well, I have Spotted Henbit (also called Spotted Deadnettle) (Lamium maculatum) in my garden and I planted it on purpose. I'm sure some people think I'm crazy, but it's in a contained area and it's a great filler groundcover. Plus, it blooms from March through October (sometimes November)--in a climate where few things bloom in early spring and late fall. Pollinators of all types love it!

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  5. I had no idea henbit is edible! I will give it a taste. We have a lot of edible weeds here. If times get really hard, I suppose we won't starve!

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  6. I too did not realize it was edible. Like Deb said, we have a lot of it here too and even though I don't kill weeds, it really overtakes the small lawn. I guess I need a few chickens!

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  7. I have this plant throughout my whole lawn and never knew what it was! thanks for the info. We don't keep a manicured lawn by any means so I have never worried about it, rather like the purple flowers actually and the bees adore it. Now I might have to try eating it though.

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  8. I must say this was news to me. They are such prolific seeders though.

    In regards to the waxwings. You have probably just missed them, as I see them maybe once a year and they are gone. Last year I missed them, it coincides with a warm day and the maturing of the hack-berries. You are missing a treat, they are such rowdy birds. Swoop and soar. Very cool.

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  9. I like henbit too. I wish I had more of it, especially since it's much less smothering to other plants than purple Lamium. Both are great food sources for pollinators emerging early in the spring.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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