“And what is a weed? A plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
How’s your summer going? If, like many people, you take pride in a well-kept lawn or garden, you’ve probably spent a fair bit of time battling weeds. These invasive plants have a knack for showing up–and taking over–where they’re least wanted.
Between commercial farmers and residential growers, we dump millions of gallons of herbicide into our soil each year in hopes of eradicating these pesky plants. It rarely works, and in the process, we’re poisoning ourselves and our precious water supplies.
What if our fight against weeds was a totally pointless one? What if these weeds could actually be a source of cheap, fresh food for those who might otherwise have trouble securing it? It might surprise you to learn that many plants we consider weeds are quite edible, and available for free right outside our door.
Why Would I Eat A Weed?
As more people realize the broken and corrupt nature of our commercial food system, both home gardening and foraging have enjoyed renewed interest. Both deliver enormous benefits in the way of food independence, as they are cheaper and often more healthy than conventionally-grown alternatives. Here are some more reasons you might want to eat a weed:
1. Save money – Weeds are generally free. In fact, someone might actually pay you to harvest them from their lawn or garden.
2. Gain access to fresh food in food deserts, urban areas typically devoid of farmers markets or even grocery stores.
3. It teaches you survival skills. Lost in the woods with no food? Knowing something about edible wild plants could go a long way toward keeping you alive.
4. Exercise. Rather than strolling through the grocery store or ordering food online (yes, people do that), foraging for edible weeds forces you to be outside, in the sunshine and rain, walking and hiking in the hidden corners where wild things grow.
5. Connection with the community. Foraging is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. As an activity best done in small groups, it can be a great way to meet like-minded people in your neighborhood!
>>Keep Reading For 5 Backyard Weeds You Can Eat!
5 Weeds You Can Eat
Photo credit: k|e|n|g|
1. Dandelion (Lion’s Tooth) – Everyone has seen this common “weed” in their yard, or creeping up around the edges of a sidewalk. No amount of mowing or pulling will discourage the determined dandelion, and they usually just grow back tenfold. Yet this common weed holds incredible nutritional value. “Dandelions are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and it even has antioxidants. For example, one cup of raw dandelion greens contains 112% of your daily required intake of vitamin A and 535% of vitamin K,” explains Edible Wildfood. Contrary to popular belief, dandelions are actually good for your grass and garden, as their long taproots help summon minerals and nitrogen to the surface where shallow-rooting plants can take advantage of them.
Photo Credit: Kwestfed
2. Catnip (Catmint) – When I lived in Wyoming, this wonderful purple, herbaceous plant grew wild in the alleyway behind my house. I had no idea what it was, but it had such a great color and smell, I picked some and put them in a jar for decoration. After asking a friend, I soon found out it was none other than catnip! It’s so-called because the scent has a strange fascination for cats, who will destroy any plant of it that may happen to be bruised, but it’s good for humans too! Catnip’s small, young leaves can be eaten raw. They have a mint-like flavor that makes them the perfect addition to fresh salads or as a seasoning in cooked foods. Catnip leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried to make herbal tea.
Photo Credit: luschei
3. Lambs Quarters – This plant is commonly found in gardens, as well as near streams and in forests. Its leaves always look dusty from a distance due to a white coating. It produces tiny green flowers that form in clusters on top of spikes, and the leaves are said to resemble a goosefoot. Lambs Quarter was called one of the most nutritious plants in the world by author and foodie Michael Pollan, and it’s not hard to see why. A relative of beets, spinach, and quinoa, “it’s sort of a super-food — high in Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron,” writes Ava Chin for the NY Times. It’s reported to be rather bland when eaten raw, but especially delicious when the leaves are sauteed or added to smoothies.
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4. Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) – I lived in New Hampshire as a child and I used to see this delicate wild flower growing in meadows and along country roadsides (yeah, they still have those in New England). What I didn’t notice was how closely the Queen Anne’s Lace’s leaves resembled the feathery leaves of the domestic carrot. If I had dug up its roots, I would have been shocked to learn that a similar vegetable was growing beneath the soil! If you catch this weed before it flowers, the finger-like roots are edible just like the carrot–perfect for stews or chopped into a salad. According to Live Science, “The white flower head is edible raw or lightly battered and fried. The seeds work well in soups and stews and can flavor tea, too.” (Note: Queen Anne’s Lace bears a striking resemblance to poison hemlock, which can be lethal for humans. As with all foraged foods, be sure you’ve got the right plant before harvesting, and definitely before eating.)
Photo Credit: Jesse Taylor
5. Broadleaf Plantain (Common Plantain) – True to the nature of a “weed,” this plant can grow just about anywhere. Its habitat extends throughout Ontario and most of North America as well as in Europe and Asia in meadows, pastures, lawns, roadsides, gardens and waste places. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with the banana-like food that grows in the Caribbean. According to Live Science, the “plantain has a nutritional profile similar to dandelion — that is, loaded with iron and other important vitamins and minerals.” The entire plant is edible, though some portions are more work than they’re worth. When green, tender and no longer than 4 inches, the plantain’s roots have an asparagus-like taste and are delicious when pan fried.
Note of Caution: Be sure to learn to positively identify any and all wild plants before ingesting. If you’re not 100 percent sure, DON’T EAT IT! Also be aware of the location in which the plant is found. Many public areas are sprayed with pesticides which means the weeds will be too. Also, some of these weeds are attracted to contaminated areas because they’re well equipped to clean them up. If you suspect that an area may be contaminated by chemicals, garbage, etc., it’s best to leave those weeds to do their work alone.
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