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.
The graphic below should be a huge eye opener for anyone who eats. Yeah, everyone. Our food system has grown so toxic that we have worry about far more than calories and nutrients. Now we have to worry about hormone disruptors, neurodevelopmental deficits, and cancer…stemming from our food. Often times we see factory farms buy out the operations of family farmers and yet these farms still like to market themselves as local, family, salt of the earth farms when they are anything but. Can a once small chicken farmer or a strawberry farmer who now works for a huge agribusiness company and puts out the kind of volume required for that really still call themselves a small family farm? No, not in my mind. They are factory farmers now and as such they are bad news for our health.
- They feed their animals unnatural and unhealthy foods (candy, plastics, diseased flesh)
- They spray their crops with toxic pesticides/herbicides
- They create tons of toxic sewage
- Their animals are so sickly they have to be medicated with antibiotics
- They buy genetically modified seed
And the process of making our food toxic doesn’t stop there. Often times it is then processed into something unrecognizable and combined with food-like ingredients that we aren’t even supposed to be eating. It might be doused with various chemicals to improve its visual appeal or shelf life. It might be packaged in plastic which is made from a highly chemical process and those chemicals leach into the food. The nutrition might be largely extracted leaving us with empty carbs and lots of sugar and salt that taste great to our palates but leave our bodies literally starving.
If only this type of chart was put in front of our children in nutrition class and sent home to parents. Of course if it were, we might have more people questioning the nutritional value of school lunches…
Via Column Five for Healthy Child
Guest post by Debbie Steinberg Kuntz, founder & editor of Odyssey Outdoors.
If you want to know where your food comes from, there’s no better way than to grow it yourself! That’s just what we did with a group of families last weekend in the outdoor family group we formed about a year ago. We followed these 10 easy steps.
1. Gather supplies.
We started with newspaper, some beautiful organic seeds that would grow in early spring in our area, organic potting soil, popsicle sticks and markers for labeling, and shoeboxes for transporting the seedling bundles back home.
The beauty of using newspaper is that we didn’t need to buy pots, and the newspaper can be planted directly in the ground and will quickly biodegrade.
2. Discuss with kids where our food comes from.
First we talked about how our food is grown. How do we know how many chemicals were used? We explained to the kids that the best way to know is to talk to people at the grocery store, form relationships with farmers and best of all, grow it yourself!
3. Demonstrate how to create the origami newspaper pot.
Before beginning, a couple of the adults watched this video. Note that the woman in the video is in Germany and she uses a different size newspaper than in the U.S. In the U.S. you will need to trim about 2 inches from the long side of your newspaper before folding.
Here one of our group moms demonstrates how to make the origami newspaper pot.
4. Work in adult/child pairs if possible.
Research shows that it’s an asset for kids to have non-parent adults who they can trust in their lives. In our outdoor group we often work in non-parent adult/child pairs to build community long term.
5. Color popsicle sticks to label each seed pot.
We used a background color similar to the vegetable, and then spelled the name of the veggie on top.
6. Fill the origami newspaper pots with organic potting soil.
7. Label each pot with the popsicle stick labels.
8. Put the seed bundles in a shoebox for easy transport and watering.
9. Time to plant the seeds!
Make sure to use organic seeds that grow well in your area.
10. Your seedlings are ready to grow!
Bring home the seedlings and water them just enough so that the soil stays damp, but the newspaper doesn’t fall apart. Wait until sprouts appear and then bring them outside during the day, in a shady spot for a few days. Then gradually move them into the sunshine. Then, they’re ready to go in the ground! Tips on planting them in the garden can be found here.
And that’s how we start growing, and soon eating, our super-local, organic food!
All summer long I opted out of my weekly delivery box of farm fresh veggies and fruit. During the late spring and summer it is all too easy to make a weekly trip to the farmer’s market instead but I have missed that delivery box sitting on my step every Friday afternoon. When it arrived my kids would dive in and exclaim over everything in it. Its just food (and we pay for it) but it really feels like you got a wonderful present. We are lucky that we have this option because there are any who don’t live near good farmer’s markets and there are many who don’t have organic delivery services or CSAs.
I have heard of mail order services that provide fresh produce but I never had a reason to try them. But the lovely folks at The Fruit Guys sent me a complementary produce box to try and we were not disappointed. It arrived in a cardboard box with cardboard partitions (post consumer recycled) and printed with soy inks so it was pretty eco friendly packaging. It had some cloth ice bags that we saved for future use and a couple green bags we also saved to reuse. It gets an A+ for packaging in my book. Our local delivery service uses far too much plastic and Styrofoam.
The box was also filled yummy looking produce. We got white peaches, red plums, nectarines, Beefsteak tomatoes, Cucumbers, sweet corn, sweet bell peppers, yellow onion, and oregano. Some recipes were also included in the box. LOVE how some CSA’s and delivery services thrown in that extra touch. All was quickly devoured by my brood. I think the fruit was the first to go. Its like candy to may kids. The bell peppers were devoured by the husband and by our three reptilian friends. The sweet corn was used in a chowder. The tomatoes we also ate straight away. I managed to get through an entire summer without eating tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with vinaigrette. How in the heck did that happen?!?!
Well, I made up for lost time. My kids love this simple dish as much as I do and it, along with fruit, was a simple and easy dinner.
We were quite pleased with our Fruit Guys box and if I had the need in our location I would not hesitate to use them regularly. I think it is awesome that you can still get that bit of farm fresh, whole foods, goodness even when you don’t have access to a good market or CSA and they deliver fresh seasonal produce all year long. To keep it as local as possible they have hubs across the U.S. in South San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Plus they support small farms and local communities. Your food is likely coming from the region surrounding the hub nearest to you and thus supporting local, small scale agriculture there. Their GoodWorks program allows them to donate more than 150,000 pounds of produce to food shelters annually. I think that is really awesome, especially after we saw so many pounds of apples at our local orchard that are just left to rot on the ground instead of being picked up and sent to food banks. I HATE it when companies allow food to go to waste instead of feeding needy people in their area.
If this is something you need in your area you can peruse their website for more info.You just choose your mix, case size and how often you want delivery and they do the rest.
Do you use a produce delivery service in your area or do you DIY and shop at local stores?
As is normal this time of year, I am completely head over heels in love with local food. My garden is coming along nicely and I have tiny cauliflower, tomatoes, and sugar snap peas already. My city’s farmer’s market starts this Thursday and my organic delivery box is ripe with farm fresh produce and pastured eggs. It is about this time that I like to re-read my fave local food memoirs like This Organic Life, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
So of course when I saw a local foodie book at my library this morning I had to scoop it up. The book is The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week). The title is mouthful but the book is quite an awesome read. It is a personal journey mixed with stories of family, neighbors, and food. It also has lots of recipes for all the delicious dishes the author mentions in the book. I think I will end up buying it for the recipes… some of them I just need to have on hand!
Mather, the author, picked up and moved from a big city to a small town in Michigan and a small lakeside cabin. She has a very modest food budget of $40 a week so she buys up food when it is in season and cans and preserves it for the cold weather months. She doesn’t have much of garden space but she does have chickens and the rest of her food comes from local sources. I loved reading her story month by month and sometimes week by week as new food items come into season and she buys up extra to preserve them each and every week until she has enough to last the winter. When she buys them up she also makes her weekly meals with them too so there are lots of great seasonal recipes and preservation recipes in there.
I loved going along with the author as she would go to the farmer’s market and score the first beets of the season and chat up the farmer’s about this or that. I also loved the stories from her childhood meals she would tell, mixed in with the daily grind of feeding her chickens or making batches of raspberry preserves. Since she had/has a limited budget she made all her meals from scratch and she bartered for things… trading her preserves for fresh greens and potatoes from her neighbor. She also didn’t need to sacrifice quality on that $40 a week. She had local lamb, beef, and chicken regularly as well as her favored but pricey milk. It just goes to show you that you can feed a family of 4-5 with organic, fresh, pastured, nourishing foods for only $150ish a week, without growing your own.
Anyway, I read this book in just a few hours and can’t seem to keep my mind from wandering to all the goodies I will find at my own farmer’s market this week. Can’t wait!
Here is a photo I took this week of what we are eating at the moment… yum!