Nature Study: Henbit

This little plant is one of my favorites.  Last year it, alone, managed to pull me out of a dark winter funk.  It’s peppery and spinachy and purple and pretty and all of those things make me happy (well with the exception of spinachy…I have a loathing attitude toward all dark greens).

Henbit (Lamium ampelxicaule) is in the mint family.  Plants in the mint family are easy to recognize with their square, hollow stems, opposite leaves and usually aromatic leaves (think of plants like {obviously} the mints, but also basil, lavender, sage, and thyme).  Just roll that little stem between your fingers and you’ll feel how it doesn’t roll…because being square it has no round edges.  There are some plants with square stems that don’t fall in the mint family, but smelling the leaf will give you another clue.  Crush a leaf between your fingers and chances are, if it’s in the mint family, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful smell.

Henbit in its entirety

The best thing about henbit is that it is literally growing all over our city, most likely right outside your front door (and if it’s not in your yard, check your neighbors’ yards).  This makes it a no-excuse nature study plant since you don’t have far to go to see it.  It begins growing in the fall, goes dormant under the snow (or in cities like ours with beautiful, sunny winters, it just keeps growing) and then finishes up right around the time when spring begins.  Seeing henbit last year after a long, cold and gloomy winter let me breathe a sigh of deep relief knowing spring was on its way.

Henbit, just as the flowers are beginning to appear

My kids LOVE finding henbit.  Aside from its square stems (green when young, reddish-purple as it ages), it is easy to identify with its scalloped round leaves that grow in a rosette and its pretty little tubular flowers (the flowers, when open, remind me of a miniature orchid).  We all especially love finding it when it’s in our untreated yard…the entire plant is edible.  We nibble on it raw, but it can be cooked or used in a tea. You can toss it in smoothies or even make a pesto with it.

While it could be confused with purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), both have edible leaves (although you should wait to harvest deadnettle until it flowers so you can be sure you’ve properly identified it as it looks very similar to many plants early on, some of which are poisonous, and deadnettle should not be used when pregnant!).  Personally, I think the deadnettle leaves look very different from henbit, but at a glance, there are definite similarities between the two.  (Deadnettle is really only found in East Texas…I’ve never seen any growing in this area.)

Beware of creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) as you first learn to identify henbit.  When it is young, it has leaves that are similar in shape to henbit.  Creeping buttercup will produce yellow flowers and will look quite different from henbit as it matures, but it’s still one to learn and be mindful of.

Henbit with budding flowers

Pop out in your neighborhood and see if you can find any henbit growing around you.  Come back and share with me what you’ve found!

{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

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