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Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Couple of Early Garden Herbs and Greens for Making Salads

In our cool maritime climate, I can count on a couple of herbs and greens to return early each spring, from which I make some of our early-season salads. These include watercress, sorrel, garlic greens, chives, violet blossoms, and the fall-planted Swiss chard and kale.

Yesterday afternoon, the sun was out, warming our yard for the first time in months. I ventured out to the garden to see what could be poking through the winter-weary ground. This is what I found.

This is watercress. I planted it about 15 years ago, from a small bundle of watercress which still had its roots, purchased from the produce section of the grocery store. I was using watercress in tea sandwiches and had a few leftover stems with roots attached. I thought that I might as well see if it grows if planted. It did, and it reseeds itself every year. I particularly like sprigs of watercress in place of lettuce on egg salad sandwiches. But it also makes a nice green for an early salad.

Here's what a single stem of a watercress plant looks like. Despite its name, it doesn't need to grow in standing water. In fact, it grows throughout my vegetable garden. Watercress is high in vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, and the minerals magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Watercress may help fight breast cancer and may help prevent colorectal cancer. It may also help thyroid, cardiovascular, and bone health, and may help prevent cognitive decline. (

These are garlic greens. Garlic greens are the above ground, immature portion of garlic. What most of us think of as garlic is the bulb of a mature garlic plant. In early spring, the bulb sends up shoots that look a bit like fat grass stems. As the season progresses, the bulb grows and begins to form sections. At that time, the green portion turns brown and dies back.

Garlic greens have the same immune-boosting and anti-bacterial/inflammatory benefits of the garlic bulb, but the greens are milder in flavor. A few shoots snipped into bits adds a nice zip to salads and sauces.

This is sorrel. Sorrel is a perennial herb, coming back very early in the spring in my region. The tender baby leaves are good in salads, imparting a tangy, almost lemony flavor. Sorrel is high in oxalic acid, so the recommendation is to eat it in moderation. Sorrel is rich in several vitamins and minerals, and it is known as a digestive aid, as well as being beneficial for diabetics. It is reactive to aluminum and cast-iron, so it should only be cooked in stainless steel or enameled pots. Cream of sorrel soup is a well-known use of this herb, but it is also delicious in omelets, quiches, mixed in with mashed potatoes, added raw to hummus, and fresh used in chicken sandwiches or salads. 
Due to the health warnings about oxalic acid, anyone concerned about adverse effects should read this article from

These are baby sorrel leaves. When picked young, both stalks and leaves are tender. Later in the season, the stalks are stringy and are best removed from the leaves before using in cooking.

I plant both kale and Swiss chard late in the summer for early spring harvesting. Early spring is a low time for the garden and a period of high produce prices at the market, so having something for garden harvesting is welcome. The chard and kale will bolt some time in April, but for now, we have something fresh and green.

My salad spinner is full of herbs and leafy greens. Time to make a salad. An herb salad is so highly flavored that I treat it almost like a condiment. I chop the pieces small, then dress in a sweet vinaigrette and serve in small portions. Its bite is refreshing and wakes up the palate during an ordinary supper.

These early garden herbs and greens will continue to produce for about a month, adding variety to our budget-vegetable rotation of cabbage, carrots, onions, and canned vegetables.


  1. I'm getting hungry for fresh greens! Your Swiss chard looks especially good to me.

    1. Hi Kris,
      fresh greens are so welcome at the end of winter, aren't they? I don't know if your hubby grows any perennial herbs. It's a treat to go out to the garden and see something has returned or overwintered.

  2. Looks like the perfect way to add flavor to most anything. Spring is always so exciting when things start to grow--especially in the vegetable garden.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Yes, exactly. It's something of a treasure hunt to go out to the garden in very early spring or late winter.

  3. Garlic greens (we call them garlic chives) are an Asian staple! They're a primary ingredient, along with ground pork, in traditional dumpling fillings. We also often eat them in scrambled eggs.

    Sorrel makes a great simple "pesto" sauce. Just a packed cup of leaves with a quarter cup of oil, salt and pepper, and tablespoon of water to loosen if necessary. One of the most well-known restaurants in LA, where I live, serves this mixed into rice for a "sorrel pesto rice."

    1. Hi Allie,
      I have never heard of sorrel pesto, but I don't see why it couldn't be delicious. It sounds like an interesting dish mixed in with rice. Thank you! I'm going to give this a try.

      Funny -- yesterday I was making my lunch and sauteed some garlic chives, then heated with some cooked rice. In the same pan, but off to the side, I scrambled an egg. So, not too different from one of the ways that you use them, in the scrambled eggs! They do add a nice, mild garlic flavor. I

      'm in the process of digging and replanting my garlic bulbs this week. I let them go without giving each adequate space, so they've got small bulbs and are spindly. As I dig a few and separate, I bring a couple of the spindliest ones into the kitchen to use in cooking.

    2. That sounds lovely! Garlic chives remind me so much of spring because growing up, we always had such an abundance of them in my parents' garden--they were such a staple for us. They also grew like weeds in our Midwest climate. Believe it or not, we would eat it sauteed plain when they're young and tender, with maybe some thinly sliced strips of pork for flavoring the cooking oil. But we could never keep up with how fast they grew, so once they got older and tougher, they became dumpling and scrambled egg fodder.


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