Henbit is a delicate edible plant that is commonly referred to as a weed, as are most wild edible plants and herbs. One of around 50 plants found within in the Lamium species family, common henbit, also known as Lamium amplexicaule, is one of them.
Common henbit is also known as greater henbit and henbit deadnettle. Collecting this plant is quite simple, as it does not require many tools or extensive strength to harvest, just steady and careful hands.
This plant grows easily in a variety of locations, even in most backyards or gardens. With the multiple varieties and similar plants, with the combination of low risk of danger, henbit is a great option for beginning foragers.
Overall, henbit is a great plant to get to know as a novice forager or homesteader. If you are interested in foraging henbit, or even in growing your own patch of this readily available plant, keep reading.
How to Identify Henbit
The common henbit plant is native to a most of the globe, including Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. Henbit is an annual plant that grows close to the ground, reaching the height between 3 and 9 inches.
The stems are square like in shape and have green, with fine hairs that are soft to the touch. The green color of the stems may fade into a purplish hue, most commonly identified in the leaves. The stems will also begin to shift more purple in color as the plants age.
The leaves of the henbit plant are rounded and lobed, and only reach about one inch in diameter. The flowers found at the tops of henbit plants are identified as either pink or purple, reaching a short length of about half an inch.
Aside from the delicate structure of the plant, henbit also has a delicate root system, as the plant is only held in the ground by a shallow taproot, which includes fine branches that stem from the main root.
Since henbit is a part of the mint family, most foragers stick to collecting mint varieties that both taste and smell slightly like mint. However, henbit only slightly smells like mint, but is safe to consume.
There are other varieties of henbit, or plants that are commonly known by the word ‘henbit’ in their name.
In the Lamium, or mint, family, there are currently five other varieties that are known in the world.
These five other varieties include:
- L. confertum
- L. maculatum
- L. galeobdolon
- L. album,
- and L. purpureum.
Lamium confertum is known as garden henbit, or northern dead nettle, which is most commonly found in the northern regions of the United Kingdom and is very similar in appearance to common henbit.
Lamium maculatum is known as spotted henbit or spotted dead nettle, or less known as purple dragon, which is native to Europe and in temperate areas of Asia.
Lamium galeobdolon is known as yellow henbit, yellow archangel, and artillery plant, which is a variety that is found spread out throughout Europe, and the western regions of Asia.
Lamium album is the white variety of henbit, also known archangel, white nettle, and white dead nettle, which is a variety native to Eurasia, from regions between Ireland to Japan.
Lastly is the Lamium purpureum variety that is known as red henbit, red dead nettle, and purple dead nettle, which is the variety that common henbit is most confused with.
Spotted henbit has leaves that appear in likeness to a Hosta plant, with a thick white strip in the center of each leaf. Spotted henbit is known to be a culinary herb, fitting the category of wild edible.
The flowers are pink, that bloom in May, with a more shell-like shape rather than the well-known tube-like shape of common henbit.
Yellow henbit forms low bush-like patches and have toothed leaves, with silver patches.
The flowers are a light yellow with tiny hairs on the edges of the petals, that often open up to have one petal curved over the rest of the blossom. The flowers are similar to shape to that of a Venus flytrap that has its “mouth” open.
White nettle is the variety that can easily be confused with stringing nettle, which should not be consumed.
This is a variety where it is especially important to wait for the flowering stage to begin, in order to properly identify the plant that you are searching to forage.
Varieties that are not a part of the Lamium family, yet are varieties of the henbit plant, include Veronica hederifolia, Plagiobothrys lamprocarpus, and Monarda russeliana.
The Veronica hederifoila variety is known as small henbit, or ivy-leaved speedwell, which belongs to the Plantaginaceae (plantain) family.
Ivy-leaved speedwell is most commonly found in the state of Connecticut, although not native to the area, and is an annual plant.
The Plagiobothrys lamprocarpus is known as the shiny-fruited allocarya plant. The shiny-fruited allocarya plant is an annual plant that produces small nut-like fruit that have a similar texture appearance to walnuts.
The Monarda russeliana is known as russells henbit, or the redpurple beebalm plant. The russells henbit plant is an herbaceous perennial that is primarily grown for its foliage, most commonly found in the state of Arkansas.
Common henbit is most often confused with purple dead nettle, also known as Lamium purpureum. Also native to Europe and Asia, purple dead nettle begins to sprout around the same time as henbit does in the springtime.
Both plants are part of the same family, making both henbit and dead nettle cousins in the mint family. Henbit and dead nettle look quite similar, but the key differences are the leaves and stems.
Purple dead nettle is a bit larger in overall size compared to the henbit plant, with more noticeable purple tube-like flowers and green-purple ombre foliage, that start to sprout in April in the United States.
The purple dead nettle plant is entirely covered with petioles, whereas henbit does not have petioles on the middle and upper sections.
Although the purple dead nettle plant is still technically apart of the mint family, what sets this plant apart from henbit are the stems.
Purple dead nettle does not share the distinguishing characteristic of the four-sided stem of the henbit plant. Unlike the henbit plant, which is entirely edible, only the leaves on the purple dead nettle plant are edible, as well.
Purple dead nettle is known to be a variety of henbit, as many of the henbit plants do have alternative names that include “dead nettle”.
This is another variety to be wary of picking before the flowering stage, as the leaves are similar to those of stinging nettle.
It is important to note that any members of the mint family that have “nettle” in their name are not true nettle plants. The tea made from the leaves is the primary use of the plant, which has been linked to easing allergy symptoms.
When not being prepared to be eaten, you can also prepare the plant and make salves or poultices to ease discomforts and pain.
Henbit may also be confused for Ground Ivy, known in identification books by the name Glechoma hederacea, and also commonly referred to as “creeping Charlie”.
Aside from being a perennial rather than an annual, the ground ivy plant also has larger flowers compared to henbit, that are slightly bluer tint in their color, but are equally edible.
The ground ivy plant also does not have the characteristic of fine hairs found on its stem, like the henbit plant does, but the similar plant does have a square stem.
Although as invasive as henbit and purple dead nettle, the ground ivy is sturdier as it creeps long vines across the ground.
The ground ivy plant produces its flowers in the same scope of time as both the dead nettle and henbit plants, between the months of April and June.
Unlike the weaker root system of the henbit plant, ground ivy has an aggressive root system that can be mowed over, to an extent.
Unlike henbit, ground ivy can become quite dense, acting as an effective ground cover, with lobed leaves that are similar to henbit leaves.
In your search for henbit, if you happen to find a patch of ground ivy, then it would not hurt to harvest some of the creeping plant, as well.
Not only is ground ivy an interesting plant to ad to patches of yard, to create an eco-friendlier lawn, the ground ivy plant is edible.
Ground ivy is naturally high in vitamin C and has been used in herbal remedies and cooking for centuries since ancient Greek times.
Ground ivy has been used to treating ailments including tinnitus, bruises, indigestion, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and lead poisoning.
How to Grow Henbit
Henbit is able to grow in a variety of areas but do prefer locations that contain either light and dry soil, or highly cultivated soil.
Such locations to begin searching for henbit include roadsides, varied crop land, pastures, waste areas, gardens, and lawns.
As with any foraging venture, steer clear of harvesting plants close to or in areas that would be heavily dowsed with pesticides and herbicides.
Henbit should not be difficult to find in their native locations, as each plant produces only by seed and each plant produces up to or more than 2,000 seeds every year.
These seeds can also be harvested and sown into your yard or garden if you wish to bring the henbit to you for immediate access.
If you wish to grow your own readily available henbit, perhaps if you find it difficult to find henbit growing in your wild locations, then it is quite the simple process. Henbit seeds take easily to their surroundings and can be sown immediately once harvested.
Although it is preferred that you sow these seeds in the spring, henbit plants do not hesitate in germinating, regardless of the season.
As mentioned earlier, henbit grows best in light, dry soil, or fully cultivated soil, and past this helpful factor, there is not much else to worry about when growing henbit.
Once it reaches maturity, henbit will not need much maintenance, but it is important to remember how quickly this plant can overrun a yard or garden.
The best method of stopping an infestation of henbit is to prevent it. You can do this by pulling young plants out of areas that you do not want henbit growing, or you can mulch the soil around the area where you want the henbit to stay.
When harvesting henbit, you can maintain the stand of henbit plants you came across in the wild by only taking clippings from the tops of plants.
Taking clippings from only the tops provides resources from most of the plant parts without endangering the henbit plant’s life span.
In fact, taking clippings from the top has the potential of allowing henbit to regrow more tender and fuller than the plants were before.
It is often best to wait until the flowering stages of henbit, and its other cousins or lookalikes, begins, as to avoid harvesting plenty of the wrong plant.
While the other plants described in the previous section are safe to eat, being certain in your identification prevents the need of having to travel back out in the wild.
Uses for Henbit
Henbit as a naturally growing plant, both in the wild and in yards, is quite beneficial for the earth. Henbit, wherever it grows, provides support in erosion control, which prevents water and wind from gradually degrading the land.
This is quite helpful in the early season of spring, when it often rains the most, helping to maintain the natural appearance of yards and gardens.
As mentioned earlier, henbit is an edible plant that can be harvested in the wild, or even in your own backyard.
Aside from being a crucially beneficial nectar and pollen source for honeybees and other pollinators, henbit is a great addition to tea.
However, it is worth noting that although henbit is part of the mint family, the plant parts do not taste like mint, rather they taste closer to kale, being more bitter.
However, many people enjoy the taste of henbit, and a small pot of henbit tea is definitely worth trying on your homestead.
Henbit, when consumed either fresh or dried, contains high traces of iron, fiber, and various vitamins.
If you have chickens, they will love eating henbit, as the plant was originally used as chicken fodder because of how naturally drawn the birds were to the plant, later revealing the nutritional value of henbit.
Most henbit varieties can be harvested, then dried and used as tea leaves.
Henbit has also been reported to be used for a number of properties, including as an anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic, excitant, febrifuge, laxative, and stimulant.
So, henbit has been used in herbal remedies to prevent rheumatism ailments, such as arthritis, induce sweating, reduce fevers, promote the removal of waste, and stimulate the body.
The clipped greens from the plant can be paired with most seasonings and other greens, including kale, spinach, and chards.
Henbit greens pair well in these scenarios as the taste has been reported to be peppery or sweet, although others have described the taste as similar to celery or kale.
The leaves of the henbit plant are the most versatile of the greens, as they can be prepared to be used as an herb, vegetable green, or even as tea leaves.
With its unique flavor, small size, and tender stems, this is a great plant to mix with other wild greens in dinners put together after a productive day of foraging. Henbit is also a great addition to a wild greens and lentil soup as well.
Final Thoughts: Another Great Plant to Search for and Use
While henbit is a great item to add to your foraging list, it is always best to forage with caution and careful identification.
There are currently nine other known varieties of henbit, as discussed earlier, so it is highly recommended to gather resources to ensure the safest foraging experience.
Once more, remember when identifying common henbit, or any of the other plants discussed in this article, to not confuse them with stinging nettle, or any true nettle plants as true nettles are not suitable for consumption.
With safety and identification factors noted, henbit is a great plant to forage, or grow, for both the yard and the kitchen.
Since the plant does not have any toxic lookalike, or notable hazards when consumed in moderation, henbit is a safe green to add to any dish, and to the garden.
However, if you are looking to cut back on an encroaching henbit infestation, there are a few factors to consider before doing so, such as how henbit is helpful for pollinators and the soil.
Henbit is best controlled by prevention, rather than proactive behavior, but if you find your property infesting with henbit, then it is advised to use the most eco-friendly options possible, before considered commercial herbicides.
So, go find some henbit growing in your yard and fields around you, and put it to good use on your homestead today!
When Tom Harkins is not busy doing emergency repairs to his 200 year-old New England home, he tries to send all of his time gardening, home brewing, foraging, and taking care of his ever-growing flock of chickens, turkey and geese.