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Henbit – Invasive weed or desirable wild plant?

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) has a checkered reputation. Despised by the lawn industry and Big Ag, it is loved by many herbalists and conservationists, it lives in herbaceous limbo.

The taxonomic name (Lamium) nails it down as a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).  This little plant is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, and as such, it is not considered a native. Despite that, biologists consider it a naturalized weed.

Native or not, and despite negative feedback from some circles, this little plant does have some great value in the natural world.

Brought to North America by early European settlers, henbit has populated the continent.  Originally, it was used as chicken feed. The fowls love it –thus the name “henbit.”

Hummingbirds enjoy its nectar, as do honey bees, bumblebees and some species of long-tongued native bees. Butterflies also like the nutritious nectar.  Bees especially use henbit as a source of pollen.

Henbit also has nutritive and medicinal properties

For centuries, people have used henbit for medicine—to treat fevers and ease body aches. According to many, the plant can boost energy and relieve anxiety. The plant is loaded with vitamins (A, C, E, and K). It also contains a great amount of iron, calcium, magnesium and manganese.

Henbit as food

With its slightly peppery flavor, it does great in salads. You can also make a tea out of it. Sorry, though…even though it’s in the mint family, it doesn’t taste like mint tea.  Some have described it as a cross between oregano and sage. In salads, people claim it tastes like mature spinach or kale.

Where does henbit grow?

In my yard, for one. It comes in around early February and lasts through the spring. But it can also be found in cultivated fields, along roadsides,  along railroad lines, and is a pretty common weed in the Midwest and the South.

Is henbit good for the soil?

Henbit helps hold in moisture in dry periods. It also provides a barrier between the soil and the ambient temperature. It is especially good for winter oats, which love moisture and are sensitive to changes in soil temperature.

Chelsea Green Publishing - the leading publisher of sustainable living books since 1985.