Nipplewort – Lapsana communis
You have to agree this plant has a weird name. If it could it would probably change it. There are two reasons for the name. One is that the seed capsules resemble a nipple in shape and secondly being an astringent plant it probably helped heal chapped nipples or breast ulcers.
An annual you’ll find nipplewort flourishing with new growth now in spring. It forms a rosette of leaves like its cousins in the Asteraceae family, e.g., dandelions. It likes to grow in gardens, roadsides, forest margins and waste land, mostly in shady places. It grows all over the NI except Taranaki and all over the SI except Westland. It originates from Europe and North Africa.
When nipplewort goes up to flower it forms slender, erect, branched stems up to 1m tall. It produces small (usually 1 cm – 2 cm) in diameter, pale yellow flowers in branched clusters. They look like mini dandelion flowers. They only open in sunshine and go to sleep early, closing up by mid-afternoon. The seed heads are tapered at both ends and there are no tufts of hairs to help the seeds fly away – they rely on being carried on shoes or by birds eating them.
Growing in a community of other plants is a distinguishing feature of nipplewort. Its name lapsana is Latin for Charlock (wild mustard) which this species is supposed to resemble (I don’t think it does obviously, they couldn’t think of what else to call it), communis (Lat.) = growing in company – to the point of forming a carpet which look like micro greens.
Nipplewort is used as a salad vegetable in Europe. It is very edible having a calming effect. Used as a tea it also helps staunch the flow of milk when it is time to stop breast-feeding.
I love it when I find how other cultures use weeds. Turns out in Japan after the New Year celebration they have another celebration called ‘Nanakusa no sekku’. It’s seven herbs day and people eat seven herbs rice porridge to ‘hope for health in the new year’ and nipplewort is one of the herbs. I decided to create my own version of this recipe.
Spring Herb Soup
1 cup millet
2 small beetroot cut into small pieces
4 spears of asparagus, cut into pieces
2 leaves of onion weed
2 large leaves of nipplewort
2 stems each of chickweed and nettle
8 cleavers tips
Salt to taste
1. Soak the millet in warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice over night to remove the phytic acid
2. Cover the cleavers with 2.5 cups cold water and soak overnight to to draw out the nutrients
3. Next day strain the millet
4. Pour the strained cleavers water over the millet in a saucepan
5. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins until the millet is cooked but there is still water which makes it a soupy consistency. Add salt to taste.
6. Cook the beetroot until soft
7. Steam the asparagus until just tender and add the chopped herbs until wilted and cooked.
8. Strain the beetroot and asparagus and add to the cooked millet. If you want more liquid add some beetroot/asparagus water. Garnish with the cooked herbs and add some onion weed flowers as decoration. Enjoy this spring cleansing dish!