Hi Cassie, Jerry and Erika,
Thanks for your questions about green leafy vegetables. A few thoughts to offer.
Favorite Non-Traditional Greens: I like quail grass (Celosia argentea) sometimes called soko or Nigerian spinach. It is related to amaranth and shares most of its high nutritional values, but is easier to grow, slower to bolt, and has beautiful foliage and flowers.
Edible Jute (Corchorus olitorius) also called molokhaya or bush okra, is another favorite. It is not related to okra except in name. It is an annual plant that is grown as a source of jute or burlap fiber. It is also a popular leaf vegetable in much of Africa, India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, and the Middle East. It can grow over 6 feet tall but is usually pruned to keep at a convenient height for harvesting. Varieties of this plant grown for jute fiber are quite different from the leaf vegetable varieties and can grow up to 16 feet tall. Jute leaves have a slightly bitter flavor and are somewhat mucilaginous, like okra. The leaves either fresh or dried are valued for their ability to thicken soups and stews. It is one of the most nutritious vegetables, being especially rich in iron, calcium, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.
Wolfberry or Goji (Lycium barbarum and L. chinense) is another favorite that cold hardy. With bright green foliage, red or pink flowers and scarlet berries, wolfberry plants are attractive and easy to grow from seed or suckers. Once they are established suckers are very easy to propogate. The plant produces the goji berry, which has been marketed in health food stores, but the leaves are even more nutritious.
In Asia the leaves are usually stripped from the stem (carefully, to avoid thorns) and stir-fried, steamed or added to soups. Wolfberry leaves are somewhat bitter and the younger leaves are the best flavor. generally cooked for a few minutes and used as potherbs. Wolfberry leaves have by far the highest content of iron among vegetables. This is potentially important to the roughly 2 billion women and children suffering from iron deficiency anemia.
Jerry asked “I, too, am curious about all the greens (aka weeds) that are growing in my yard and garden. I can recognize dandelions and most of their apparent seasonal variations. I have tasted some of the other greens, but don't positively know what they are. They taste okay and I have not noticed any ill effects. Is there a "rule of thumb" for safe sampling, should it be a taste or a handful? I am not sure how to look it up in the books I have. There does not seem to be a book says, "if your plant leaves look like this, then go to this chapter".
I am unaware of such a book. If you are double checking to make sure a plant is the one you are looking for a search through Google images will often give you many color photographs to compare to your garden sample. I might start with these common and nutritious weeds
• Dandelion (Taraxacum officiale)
• Dock (Rumex crispus)
• Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)
• Chickweed (Stellaria media)
• Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
• Plantain (Plantago major)
• Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
• Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
As for a rule of thumb; I advise caution in eating plants that you don't know. A few, like members of the Elephant ear family can be dangerous eaten raw. Some like poke, have been commonly eaten in the past but are no longer recommended for human consumption. As Martin Price, the founder of ECHO would say “eat like a deer, not like a cow”. Caution with wild plants is especially important for young kids.