Spring Greens: Monkey Flower

Young Monkey Flower

Joined my pal Linda McKittrick last week to hunt for wild spring greens that like to grow in damp places. We headed out to Sabino Creek that flows through Sabino Canyon with snowmelt from Mt. Lemmon. Who knew looking for plants could be so treacherous?  In crossing the creek I slipped on a rock and ended up butt-first  in the creek.  Fortunately I was carrying my fanny pack with my camera and cell phone on my belly, so it sat above the shallow (cold!) creek water. In hindsight I’m sorry Linda was more concerned with my condition that snapping a picture of the moment.

With the warm spring, I expected the greens to be more advanced for this time of year, but they were just popping up.  There was one gorgeous exception — a cascade of monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) down the side of a small rock dam (see photo at bottom of post).  The plant above is small, but a normal sized plant would have leaves about the size of a quarter, round or slightly overal, with toothed edges and sometimes a slightly hairy surface.  There is a problem in learning to identify this plant because you could look for the little yellow flower, that resembles a tiny yellow snapdragon, but by that time the plant will be much too bitter to eat.  Even young monkey flower leaves are a bit bitter.  Mix them in a salad with milder flavored wild or domestic greens

Monkey flower cascading down the dam

Carolyn Niethammer is the author of Cooking the Wild Southwest which contains recipes for 23 easily recognized desert plants, including about a dozen for wild greens. Buy it from B&N here.
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