Nutritional Worts as Summer Foods!
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
by Julie Bruton-Seal Nipplewort, Lapsana communis L., is a common biennial wild plant and garden weed,
yet people often overlook it. It has small lettuce-type flowers, but they aren't as showy
as sow thistle or dandelion.
The leaves of the rosette taste like lettuce, but become more bitter (just as lettuce does) when the flower spike forms. Leaves are available to pick from winter in mild areas through until the plant begins to flower in summer. They are at their most abundant in late spring. They are soft and wilt quickly, so are best picked when you want to use them.
The English common name was given to nipplewort by the herbalist, apothecary and gardener John Parkinson (1567–1650), who wrote in Theatrum Botanium (1640):
Camerarius  saith that in Prussia they call it Papillaria, because it is good to heale the Vlcers of the Nipples of womens breasts, and thereupon I have entituled it Nipplewort in English.
Not much has been written about the medicinal properties of nipplewort, so this is an area for further exploration, but it is well worth familiarising yourself with this plant purely for eating and make sure that you correctly identify the plant before harvesting. Try it in salads and also in any recipes where you would normally add parsley, as in tabbouleh.
Gremolata is a traditional Italian salsa verde (green sauce), with varying ingredients but usually containing parsley, garlic and lemon. We have substituted nipplewort leaves for parsley, and it remains delicious as a flavoursome sauce to go with any savoury dish, including a dollop in your soup. Try it with other green spring weed leaves, and use orange in place of lemon if you want a sweeter, less piquant experience. Ingredients
1 cup fresh nipplewort leaves (use entire if still young, or chop if stringier)
2 garlic cloves
Zest and juice of a small lemon
Olive oil (roughly the same amount of liquid as the lemon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients in your food processor and blitz for about 20 seconds. It’s ready to serve and lasts a couple of days in the fridge and probably less because you will have eaten it!
This recipe is delicious whatever greens you use, and is inspired by the delicate spicing of Zanzibari cooking. The flavours all meld to create something more delicious than the sum of its parts, and it's the perfect complement to a yellow cornmeal. We'd even go so far as to say this is one of our favourite recipes for cooked greens!
Chop an onion and fry gently in a little coconut oil. When the onion is becoming translucent, add ½ teaspoon nigella seed (black seed or black cumin), ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon cardamom powder, 1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed.
Fry gently for a few minutes. Add 200ml (¾ cup) coconut milk, about 200g nipplewort or mixed greens (a colander full) and a cup of chopped tomato (we like to use cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, for their flavour).
Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook gently for 10 or 15 minutes.
For the cornmeal, boil 1 litre (1.76 pint) of water, and add 1½ teaspoons salt and 200g yellow cornmeal (polenta), whisking to remove lumps. Put a lid on and cook gently until done (or follow instructions on your cornmeal – precooked types take hardly any time). When the cornmeal is done, spoon it into a large serving dish or 4 individual bowls and make a hole in the centre. Spoon the greens mixture into the hole and serve.
Alternatives: If you don't have cornmeal, this recipe can also be served with cooked rice, millet or other grains. Nipplewort can be combined with or replaced by fat hen, orache leaves, spinach, or most edible greens.
Bruton-Seal, J. and Seal, M. (2022). [Forthcoming]. Eat your Weeds! Shropshire: Merlin Unwin Books. Parkinson, J. (1640). Theatrum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants, or, An Herball of a Large Extent. London: Cotes. [online] Available at https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/152383 [Accessed 15 June 2021]. Chapter XLII. Photo credit ©Julie Bruton-Seal 2021.