Edible weeds foraging | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Edible Weeds: 5 Common Backyard Weeds You Can Eat

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One person's "weed" is another person's edible green

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Got weeds? Before you resort to weapons of mass destruction to eradicate weeds, take a closer look at the invaders. Many of the so-called “weeds” you find in your yard or garden are not only edible plants but also delicious, 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 Foraging Ahead

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.

5 Edible “Weeds”

  • 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 like a cross between spinach and okra. The leaves are 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. This is a bitter green so you’d want to mix it with other salad greens.  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. Its a hardy annual which 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. In mild winter climates, it begins blooming before winter ends. Its young leaves are edible, though not especially flavorful, and can be added to a 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. Mustard garlic tastes like mustard greens with a hint of garlic. Plus, there are common plantain, cress, curly dock, wood sorrel, chicory, and galingsoga growing in abundance right outside our doors. Even the leaves and dainty flowers of violets and violas are edible, including the tiny ones that often invade lawns and gardens. Foraging for wild greens has become a popular hobby for many; even city dwellers are getting into it.

The Ubiquitous Dandelion

Of course, dandelions is one of the most common edible weeds. And it’s packed with health benefits, too! Pluck the small tender leaves at the center of the clump and add raw to a salad or cook in a stir-fry or soup; they have a tangy flavor.  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 all our 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.”  

What are some of your favorite wild edibles?