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Eating Invasives: Delicious or Dangerous?

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Eating Invasives: Delicious or Dangerous?

By Matt Miller, The Nature Conservancy

Warm spring days evoke a strong memory of my grandmother. She’s hunched over the yard, seemingly picking randomly at the grass. Her short stature and rapid movements give the appearance of a dervish. She grips at a plant, plucks and plops it into the bucket, then moves a short distance away to resume her harvest.

My grandmother collected dandelions, a spring bounty she served with a bacon dressing. The bitter greens were not unlike spinach or kale, bitter yet tasty. My grandfather used the flowers to make a potent wine.

This time of year, I so often encounter dandelions shriveled from hefty doses of herbicide. Recalling my grandmother, it seems a waste: here are delicious, nutritious greens that could be providing some free meals. Instead, they’ve become toxic reminders of the so-called “war on weeds“—the scorched earth approach to invasive control favored by both surburban lawn owners and conservationists.

Why aren’t we instead looking at some non-native, invasive species as a sustainable source for fresh, local food?

The idea is popular. Books like Jackson Landers‘ upcoming Eating Aliens encourage local foodies to eat such invasives as iguanas and nutrias. Marine conservationists have launched campaigns to encourage restaurants to carry lionfish, a species devastating coral reefs. Even governments have urged their citizens to eat non-native gray squirrels (in Britain) and camels (in Australia).

As history shows, people can certainly eat their way through populations of species. As such, eating invasives doesn’t only provide good food, it’s good conservation.

Or is it?

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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Environment, Food, Green, Lawns & Gardens, Natural Pest Control, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Pests, Wildlife, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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1:20PM PDT on May 6, 2013

Here on Montserrat (Caribbean), we attended a workshop on the pros and cons of the Lion Fish, a purely invasive and poisonous fish currently destroying reefs up and down the east coast of the US and throughout the Caribbean.
They propagate at an enormous speed (5,000 eggs every three days). Their spines are poisonous. However, caught and handled carefully, they can be made into fantastic fish cakes. There were some made for all of us to taste. Now if only reps from the hotels and restaurants were at the workshop, and if only the fishers would stop throwing them back into the sea when the fish are trapped in their fish pots. Left alone, the Lion Fish are killing all the reef fish. The answer? Eat 'em!

7:51AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Interesting points. Thanks.

8:23AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Eating invasive non native species sounds intriguing. Saute Purple Loosestrife in unsalted butter perhaps? Pretty to look at but they chock off native plants in the wetlands. Sadly, I image the colourful loosestrife is likely not nutritious and maybe poisonous. Can be medicinal for sores according to medicinal lore but haven't seen it on the shelves. Even the wildlife in Canada won't eat it, except a few non native beetles.

No iguana's trek around as the cold in the winter would kill them off, dandelions and the like are tasty if not sprayed with toxins. Not everyone is a vegetarian, many are omnivores and while one says if we don't like invasive species then one can move, hardly workable. No pythons lurk here, too cold.

Some are areas of the world eat rats as meat...prices too high for regular meat. Ouch!

Meat eaters will always eat meat, others will stick to plant life. People do what suits their lifestyle. When Mother Nature redesigns life on Earth to consume rock pate and not living organisms be it plant or animals then we can dine on the non living and not judge the diet of others.

1:09PM PDT on Jun 28, 2012


5:21AM PDT on Jun 12, 2012

thanks for sharing

1:05PM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

I love dandelion greens and agree that it is such a waste to destroy them with toxins. But you have to get permissions to harvest them and not all homeowners are going to let you onto their property.

3:45AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012


11:46AM PDT on Jun 3, 2012

Hi glaikit,

I loved the Gibnut story.

2:41AM PDT on Jun 3, 2012

Heidi A. where on earth did you get the notion that Tilapia is a form of Carp??

Carp are various species of oily freshwater fish of the family Cyprinidae.

Tilapia is the common name for nearly a hundred species of cichlid fish from the tilapiine cichlid tribe.

Please note they are from different species completely.

2:02AM PDT on Jun 3, 2012

this is a very smart piece

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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