HENBIT: EDIBLE, MEDICINAL, AND LOVED BY BEES AND MANY OTHER ANIMALS.
The common name, Henbit, comes from the observation that chickens like it. Hummingbirds also enjoy this wild edible for the nectar. Henbit provides valuable erosion control in many cropland fields in the southern U.S. Unlike many of its relatives in the mint family, henbit does not have a strong or distinctive mint scent. Henbit is easily confused with Purple Deadnettle (L. purpureum), which has petioled leaves all the way to the top leaves. The middle and upper leaves of L. amplexicaule (Henbit) do not have petioles. Henbit leaves are also typically smaller than those of Purple Deadnettle. Henbit is an important early-season source of nectar and pollen for honeybees.
Henbit is a winter annual that grows between 10 and 30 centimeters tall. The plant is sparsely covered with fine hairs that point downward. This plant grows from a shallow taproot that becomes finely branched. The low-growing, upright to sprawling plants has several weak stems from the base that may be erect or almost lay on the ground. The stems are square and green but often become purple with age and may root at the lower nodes. This edible weed reproduces solely by seed; each henbit plant can produce 2,000 or more seeds. Henbit also spreads by producing roots on lower stems that touch the ground.
Flowers: Tiny, dark pink flowers occur in rings in the upper leaf axils. Open flowers are somewhat orchid-like, with a white face and dark red spots. Each flower produces a four-seeded fruit.
Leaves: Henbit leaves are arranged in opposite pairs. The lower leaf pairs are farther apart from each other than the upper leaf pairs. Leaves are round or heart-shaped, are .95 – 1.9 centimeters long, and leaf margins have rounded teeth. Veins of the upper leaf surface are recessed, giving it a somewhat wrinkled look. Lower leaves grow on short stalks, and upper leaves clasp the stem.
Henbit grows by roadsides, cropland, pastures, waste areas, gardens, and lawns. Henbit prefers light, dry soil and cultivated the soil.
Henbit can be consumed fresh or cooked as an edible herb and used in teas. The stem, flowers, and leaves are edible, and although this is in the mint family, many people say it tastes slightly like raw kale, not like mint. Henbit is very nutritious, and high in iron, vitamins, and fiber. You can add raw henbit to salads, soups, wraps, or green smoothies. According to Natural Medicinal Herbs (dot net), this plant is anti-rheumatic, diaphoretic, an excitant, febrifuge, laxative, and stimulant.
WHAT DOES IT DO FOR THE BEES?
Henbit produces both nectar and pollen that the bees will work on when nothing else is around. And that’s a valuable point for right now. There’s really not much available for the bees these days, although the maples, dandelions, and a few other plants are beginning to show. Henbit gives the bees something to work. Once other things start to come out, the bees will abandon the henbit for something more productive.