If you can’t beat them, eat them! Invasive species management as a whole is extremely complex. However, cooking with certain edible invasives is a creative, fun and healthy approach to reducing the population sizes of species that have the ability to dominate and damage our native ecosystems.
Here, I have provided one example of a full-day menu (with recipes below!) using an invasive species in each tasty dish, along with a brief description of the species. As you explore the topic more, you’ll find countless culinary options and scrumptious ways to knock down invasive numbers and keep your stomach happy at the same time (Cajun-style Rusty Crayfish, anyone?!).*
*As with any edible plant, please use extreme caution in ensuring the proper identification, harvesting method, and use before consuming.
SAMPLE INVASIVORE MENU:
Breakfast – Dandelion Blossom Pancakes
Common dandelion is originally from Europe, but is now very prevalent in North America (found in most Canadian provinces). Due to their highly mobile, wind-dispersed seeds, dandelion invasions can spread rapidly. This flowering “super plant” is rich in vitamins A & C, fibre, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. It is a good place to get B complex vitamins, trace minerals, organic sodium and even vitamin D.
Kudzu vine is a perennial legume that originates from Japan. It was brought to the United States in 1876 for the World’s Fair. Known as “the vine that ate the south,” Kudzu vines can grow a foot a day and cover everything in their path. The vines are able to pull down power poles, break power lines, collapse buildings and kill trees.
The leaves, shoots, blossoms and roots of Kudzu vine can all be prepared in different ways and consumed. Among its medicinal properties, Kudzu has been used successfully for centuries as a treatment for alcoholism.
Common burdock is native to Europe and came to North America via an accidental introduction. Burdock burrs can bother and lower the health and market value of livestock. Its large leaves can shade out smaller plants. It also acts as a secondary host for pathogens that affect economically important plants.
Burdock has numerous health benefits and is often used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is considered one of the best natural blood purifiers.
Himalayan balsam is native to India and the Himalayas, and was introduced as a garden ornamental in the 19th century. This fast-growing annual can reach an impressive size, rapidly out-competing other plants. Young leaves and blossoms can be eaten, and the seeds provide a pleasant, nutty taste.
Garlic mustard is a biennial plant native to Europe. It was introduced to North America for medicinal and culinary purposes. The leaves, roots, and stems are edible. Garlic mustard greens are very nutritious as they have substantial amounts of vitamins A, C, E and some of the B vitamins.
Japanese knotweed is native to Japan. This shrub-like perennial was introduced as an ornamental and has also been used to stabilize soil in coastal areas. It forms dense stands that shade and crowd out other vegetation, which in turn alters the wildlife habitat. The rhizomes and shoot growth can damage the foundation walls, pavement and drainage works.
Young spring Japanese knotweed tastes similar to rhubarb, and makes a perfect partner with seasonal fresh strawberries in this amazing pie.
If you have had limited practice with plant identification, it may be hugely beneficial to arrange a field exploration date with a local ecologist – someone who could point out certain plants in person and give you a first-hand experience. Field guides are also a fantastic resource, which generally outline edible plants and poisonous plants with photos, diagrams and information about how they can be used and where they can be found. I have enjoyed using this one in particular.
Always use caution when consuming wild plants.
As you learn more, you’ll discover that some edibles can look very similar to poisonous plants. Overall, the experience of learning about native plants and the ways in which they can be used is a very rewarding and exciting way to become more actively involved in our natural surroundings.
This post was written by Carly Dow, the Land Information System coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in Manitoba. This story has also appeared on Land Lines, the NCC blog, and Science Borealis, an inclusive digital science salon featuring Canadian bloggers from a wide array of scientific disciplines.