Weeds have gotten a bum rap. All over the shelves of gardening and home improvement stores you see tools and chemicals designed to get rid of weeds fast. They are often considered to be unsightly and they also tend to strangle out the plants you DO want to grow, like grass or veggies from the garden. Weeds are very hardy, drought tolerant, and they propagate quickly. Pluck a few out of the ground and a couple day later there are ten more. They can be like a mythical Hydra when you cut its head off. That is why they are such a problem. Unless you decide they aren’t such a problem and you embrace them for these very qualities. Because they are so hardy and they grow so well, even in unfavorable conditions, perhaps that means we need to live and let live and find uses for them. After all one person’s weed filled lawn might just be your own personal salad bar…
Why Eat Weeds?
There are many reasons to get familiar with edible weeds and start growing and eating them. Because they are so hardy they are a reliable food source. You can save money on expensive greens and do your foraging in the backyard, in public spaces, or in vacant lots. If times get tough financially you still have a salad bar you can visit for fresh food, loaded with nutrients. We also see many communities turning into food deserts with little to no access to real grocery stores and farmer’s markets….usually the poorer areas of our urban landscapes. Weeds though will grow with abandon in these areas and provide food. Foraging for wild edibles also teaches us an important skill we seem to be losing…the ability to survive and thrive on our own. Money savings, providing nourishing foods to those that need it, and making us more self sufficient… that is what weeds can do.
What Weeds Should I Eat?
Dandelion – Regal queen of weeds right? Dandelions are extremely hardy and their seeds are carried on the wind to create an endless supply. They are edible, tasty, and actually very good for you….the flowers and the leaves. You can gather flowers to make dandelion cookies, dandelion jam, dandelion tea (yum!) or even dandelion wine. My husband has fond memories of gathering the flowers by the bucket full so his grandmother could make wine. You can also use the flowers and the greens in salads, soups, and smoothies. Dandelion is well known as a liver cleanser and also for soothing wounds so they are excellent in homemade salves and body care products.
Lamb’s Quarters – This sounds like a juicy cut of meat right? Well, Lamb’s Quarter’s are commonly referred to as wild spinach and they taste very much like spinach. Their abundance and hardiness make them a darling of wild food foragers everywhere. They are a weed but very edible and can be cooked or used just as you would use spinach and they are loaded with beta carotene and calcium. Gobble them up in salads, soups, on pizza, in smoothies, or saute them lightly in oil. They are really tasty in a pureed garlic, onion, and avocado spread. If you don’t have any growing in your own yard just look around in vacant and abandoned lots (that are not being sprayed)…you may hit the jackpot.
Watercress – You often see bundles of this tasty green at farmer’s markets but they grow wild near waterways and riverbanks in just about every state. The favored way of eating it is raw in salads usually as they are close in relation to mustard greens and arugula. It is packed with vitamins A, K, and C and has also been used since ancient times as a healing aid.
Queen Anne’s Lace – This is another well know weed (like the dandelion) due to its beautiful flowers. They grow in fields, meadows, waste areas, and roadsides. It is also called wild carrot and you can dig it up and eat the finger like roots just as you would carrots. They taste great in soups and stews. The flowers can be eaten too (usually fried in batter).
Plantain – This weed can survive in pretty rough conditions. You will often find it sprouting up in sidewalk cracks or growing in gravel. It seems to find a way. It is related to spinach and is rich in iron and vitamins A and C. You eat it much like you would spinach but usually cooked. You can even eat the seedpods. Cook until tender and serve the leaves as you would spinach. The seedpods should also be cooked (quite tough) and served as you might serve green beans or asparagus.
This handy weed is also antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and a poison antidote. When you get a bee sting or mosquito bite you can chew the leaves and put the moistened /chewed leaves on the would to help draw out any toxins and help to heal it. It also works for bleeding, bruising, and itchy rashes. Beyond making poultices you can also make healing plantain oil by infusing the leaves in olive oil for several weeks.
As you can see weeds can be quite miraculous. Their hardiness, their nourishing properties, and their healing properties should be enough to make anyone reconsider and just let them grow.