Galinsoga: Secret Ingredient

There is nothing showy about Galinsoga (Galinsoga parviflora). An annual garden weed with unobtrusive flowers, Galinsoga seldom grows taller than 18 inches. Its rays are widely spaced, giving its flowers a broken or incomplete look. Even its species name, parviflora, means small plant. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to discover it. I’d been foraging for almost a decade before I even noticed and bothered to identify it. Now it is the essential secret ingredient in one of my favorite wild edible dishes. I wish I’d discovered it earlier.

Even though Galinsoga easily escapes notice, it isn’t hard to identify. Commonly known as quickweed or as gallant soldiers (an amusing mispronunciation of its scientific name), Galinsoga is a member of the aster family. It has branching stems, opposite, toothed leaves, and diminutive flowers with a yellow center and three to eight (usually five) widely spaced rays. These rays are divided into three rounded lobes. An inedible species called coat button (Tridax procumbens) has similar flowers but can be discerned from Galinsoga by its growth habit. Galinsoga’s stems are erect; coat button stems lie flat on the ground except for the flower stalks.

It won’t take long to find Galinsoga once you know it; a quick walk through a garden is usually sufficient. It’s common enough to be a real frustration for gardeners, and it produces several generations in a growing season, so your chances of finding some in bloom are good at any time from May through the fall.

The leaves and stems can be gathered as a salad green. I prefer the leaves stripped from the stem, but the stems are often tender as well. The fresh leaves have a mild flavor quite fitting with Galinsoga’s unobtrusive character. But it is as a potherb that Galinsoga comes into its own. It has a subtle flavor that makes it amenable to the pickiest palates.

Galinsoga is native to Central and South America, where it is known as guascas and is a celebrated ingredient in a number of traditional dishes. In Columbia, it flavors ajiaco, the traditional chicken and potato stew of Bogotá. Galinsoga’s flavor is mild, and it’s hard at first to see how including this herb could possibly make a difference. But the proof is in the flavor. Galinsoga gives a perfect counterbalance to the richness of this hearty dish. I like to add it generously.

I love Galinsoga’s mildness, and I also love the South American dish that I discovered along my way to getting to know this diminutive plant. It is a reminder to keep one’s eye open for the plants that are otherwise easily missed and to remember that many plants, even the least obtrusive, have something to offer.

Ajiaco Bogotano – Colombian Chicken Stew

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 chicken with bones and skin
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ½ onion, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and separated: 2 pounds cut into quarters, 2 pounds sliced thin (Traditionally, the dish is made with three different varieties of potatoes, one of which is not widely available in the US, but the stew is tasty no matter which kinds are used.)
  • 1 ½ cups frozen corn or leftover corn on the cob sliced off the cob
  • 1 bunch scallions—whole
  • ½ cup galinsoga leaves, rinsed and chopped fine

FOR GARNISH

  • boiled corn-on-the-cob, capers, avocado, half -and-half, cream, or sour cream

INSTRUCTIONS

The day before, press onion, garlic, and salt onto chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In a stock pot, cover chicken with two inches of water. When chicken is cooked through, remove it, debone, and return large bones to the stock to continue simmering.

Add quartered potatoes to stock. Continue to simmer. (The potato starches are the stew ’s main thickener.)

While soup is cooking, remove skin from chicken and slice chicken into bite-sized pieces.

When the potatoes are very soft, remove the bones from the stock and puree.

Add sliced potatoes, corn, scallions (whole), and galinsoga leaves. Salt to taste. Cook until potatoes are tender.

Remove scallions. Add chicken. Serve with corn-on-the-cob, cream, capers, and avocado.

 
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