This time of year you can’t turn your back for minute without the weeds ganging up and trying to take over the garden.
Did you think you had things under control and it was safe to go away for a few days? Did you come home to find that weeds had taken your garden hostage? Before you resort to weapons of mass destruction to eradicate them, take a closer look at the invaders.
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.
- 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 plants can be eaten raw in a salad and the older plants can be cooked briefly and eaten like spinach.
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) has low-growing, fat, succulent leaves and stems which are edible raw or cooked. It is 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. Its mild nutty flavor is a ncie addition to a summer salad.
- 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 delicious 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.
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. 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?