You may have considered planting a vegetable garden this spring, in which case you’re knee-deep in kale, tomatoes and summer squash. But whether you’re an avid vegetable gardener or not, there’s a veritable feast of edible weeds out there for you try, if you’re game.
What is an edible weed? It’s any plant that is not considered part of a planned lawn or garden and which has nutritional value. Just about any plant that you may have growing wild – both annual and perennial – could fall into this category.
Europeans are no strangers to foraging, having had to make do during lean times by picking what they could eat or sell. Today, it is a practice that is encouraged by chefs at award-winning restaurants across the country and around the world. Not only are foraged foods rich in nutrients and loaded with flavor, but they are a more sustainable way to obtain our food. At a time when agribusinesses are stripping the land of all that is holds, responsible foragers today are demonstrating a respect for the land and its bounty, and an appreciation for all that it provides. From wild garlic and mushrooms to dandelion and burdock, these foods can sustain us in ways that our hybridized cousins never could.
Below are just a few wild edibles that you may be able to find in your own backyard:
1) Dandelion – considered by many to be a nuisance that requires a liberal dose of weed killer, dandelion greens are prized in Italy and other parts of Europe. It is a bitter green that is known to be high in iron, Vitamins A, C, and K, and is a liver cleanser and good raw or cooked. The flower is also edible, and the root can be ground and used as a coffee substitute (Go to the New Yorker article on edible weeds.). It requires neither planting nor tending, but merely asks to be consumed in salads and soups. I love them sautéed with extra-virgin olive oil and garlic.
2) Plantain – often found where dandelion grows, plantain is as nutritious, and best eaten when the leaves are young.
3) Purslane – Found almost everywhere, the small leaves of this succulent are crisp and tart, and contain omega-3 fatty acids and beta carotene. It’s great eaten raw in salads.
4) Lamb’s Quarter – Often found in beds or near water, they are a healthier form of spinach. The leaves and are loaded with vitamins.
5) Stinging nettle – As the name implies, this ubiquitous plant has leaves with tiny barbs that “sting” you when you brush against them. Nonetheless, they can be harvested using gloves and cooked to make a nice tea or tincture. They often grow near a water source and can grow quite high.
6) Wild Mushrooms – One of the most commonly foraged plants, these popular fungi can be hard to find. Prized by chefs, some mushrooms like morels cannot be grown. One should always go with an expert, as eating the wrong mushrooms can be deadly.
Disclaimer:before embarking on any foray into the woods, be sure to be properly dressed, armed with a good field manual, and test plants for possible allergic reactions before consuming. If uncertain about a plant, don’t eat it!
For more information, go to Livescience’s article on backyard weeds.