Eat Your Weedies

May 14, 2018
Sheep sorrel

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Got weeds? Before you resort to weapons of mass destruction to eradicate weeds, take a closer look at the invaders. One person’s “weed” is another person’s edible green.  Many common garden weeds are not only edible and nutritious, but can be a great homegrown addition to our meals, especially when they’re young and tender. Here are five edible “weeds” with photos.

Our ancestors harvested many of the plants we call weeds right along with their veggies for use in salads and as cooked greens. Nutritionally, many wild greens are higher in antioxidants, vitamins C and E and beta-carotene than spinach! Here we have something that is good for us, free, and growing in abundance in our own backyards. In some countries, plants that we consider weeds are essential ingredients in their cuisine.

Show Me Your ID

Before you charge outside and begin grazing, a word of caution. There are some harmful and even deadly plants growing out there too. Make your first stop the library or bookstore to get an identification book of wild edible plants that is specific to your area or download an identification guide to your e-reader. Don’t overlook the importance of properly identifying what you are about to eat. Something as sweet and innocent looking as a buttercup can make you very sick.

Forage Ahead

  • Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) are super-nutritious weeds containing three times the calcium and at least twice the other nutrients found in spinach. It is second only to the dandelion as the most popularly eaten weed. Its dull, bluish-green leaves look like they have been dusted with powder. The young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in a salad and the older plants can be cooked briefly (sauteed or steamed) and eaten like spinach.

  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) has low-growing “weed” found in shady areas and moist garden beds. Its fat, succulent leaves and stems which are edible raw or cooked. It’s a nutritional powerhouse! loaded with iron, vitamins B,C,&E, and beta-carotene and it is one of the highest vegetable sources for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane’s mild nutty flavor is a nice addition to a summer salad or stir-fry.  Read more about purslane.

  • Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) got its name from its heart-shaped seed pods but it is best used as a cooked green early in the season before the seed pods appear. The long green leaves form a rosette over the ground and have a mild mustardy flavor.

  • Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella has smooth, green, arrowhead-shaped leaves and a tart, lemony taste due to the high content of oxalic acid. There is a cultivated version called French or garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) that has larger leaves but the same lemon-like flavor. Called “oseille” in Europe, it is used in many salads, soups, and as a wilted green. Due to the high amount of oxalic acid in sorrel, people suffering with gout or kidney ailments are cautioned not to eat it because it can exacerbate their conditions.

  • Common chickweed (Stellaria media) has bright green leaves growing in pairs along a thin stem. It likes shady, moist garden spots and is hard to eradicate, even if you could pull out every bit of root, because it produces seeds early in the season. Fortunately the delicate flavor of its dainty leaves is lovely in salad and it is rich in phosphorus, calcium, and iron. The fuzzy leaves of its cousin, the moused-eared chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum), should only be eaten cooked. It adds a spinach-like taste to any dish. Chickweed also has medicinal properties and has been used as a topical poultice for minor cuts, burns, or rashes, and can be made into a tea for use as a mild diuretic.

There are many more wild edibles like common plantain, cress, chicory, and galingsoga growing in abundance right outside our doors. Foraging for wild greens has become a popular hobby for many; even city dwellers are getting into it.

Of course, dandelions is one of the most common edible weeds. The leaves can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in a stir-fry or soup. The sweet, crunchy flowers can be eaten raw or breaded, or even used to make dandelion wine. The root of the dandelion can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute, or added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables. See dandelion recipes.

Now that we know some of the weeds we pull are as tasty as the vegetables we grow we will have to start calling them volunteer vegetables instead of weeds because as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A weed is only a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”  

Explore more about eating your weeds.

What are some of your favorite wild edibles?

 

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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Fiddle heads, early in the

Fiddle heads, early in the season(late May-early June here in Washington), washed, sautéed with a tad of olive oil, dash of salt. Nutty, anise flavor.

Your article is very

Your article is very informative.

Thanks,

Curly dock isn't my favorite,

Curly dock isn't my favorite, but it is the most practical to eat, since it seems resistant to most weeding methods. I've tried pulling them, chopping them, digging them up, and smothering them under a layer of cardboard and straw -- and they still come back! It's those tough, deep roots of theirs. I gave up and just keep them cut back, for me and the livestock. The rabbits love them.

Bladder Campion is one of my

Bladder Campion is one of my favourite wild edibles.
It is popular Spain where the leaves plant were collected when young (before the plant flowers) for sale as "collejas."

The young leaves and tender shoots are good in salads but older leaves are usually cooked by frying or boiling. They can also be added to soups, stews and omelettes. Tastes like a cross between spinach and a green pea

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