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An Edible and Tender Delicate Herb

Spring is sprung, the mugwort is riz (at least in Brooklyn, New York). I wonder where the mower is? Because the first, silvery tufts of spring mugwort have emerged after winter in a flocked carpet visible from a distance. Their arrival, while nights still hold a hard chill, is met with joy, indifference, or despair, depending on who you are, where you are, and, if you’re a professional horticulturist, who you work for. While Artemisia vulgaris (and some very similar species) is a botanical super-invader in North America, it is also a very useful herb. It is one of the first perennials to break ground, and feathery spring mugwort is a delicate and sustainable wild treat, inspiring that joy for cooks sensitive to the changing of the seasons. Collect a tender bagful, and make a meal to accompany a conversation about the situation.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Spring mugwort is tiny, belying it’s substantial height by the end of summer.

Mugwort is a perennial plant that spreads via undergound stolons. It also germinates from seeds very easily, as I have learned after shaking out my late summer forage-basket on our terrace and seeing miniature mugworts pop up in my pots in the spring. The plant is hard to control and exceptionally difficult to remove where it has invaded wild, natural areas. It out-thugs even tenacious native plants like common milkweed. It is a useful and welcome fresh or dried herb, though.

Above: The first spring mugwort leaves are very tender.

Spring mugwort, if you spin the story just right, is a pretty edible treat. (The spin is to emphasize that foraging for mugwort does the environment where it is invasive no harm whatsoever.) Unlike its late summer iteration, which is chewy, potent, and pungent, these leaves of early mugwort are very tender and very mild in flavor.

Above: A pot of beans, loaded with aromatics and spring mugwort.

In the bean stew recipe that follows, spring mugwort is blanched in the cooking broth, before being added as a green, edible garnish to the beans. This stew can be eaten in three ways. Way One: As is, as a rustic, nourishing soup-stew. Way Two: The flavor is intensified exponentially when the beans are drained and the broth is reduced to a glaze. Eat beans in rich glazed broth. Way Three: Once the broth is reduced, the beans are turned into a creamy purée whose foundation is that umami-heavy glaze.

Above: Mugwort blanching in the reduced cooking broth.
Above: Once blanched, the spring mugwort sprigs adorn the velvety beans.
Above: The beans can also be puréed to make a portable vegan pâté (here garnished with garlic mustard).

Above: Spring mugwort and bean pâté on focaccia.

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