Eat Your Weeds Into Submission!

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Your garden is overrun with purslane, you can’t see the green lawn for dandelion flowers, your shade bed is a sea of goutweed: in other words, weeds have literally taken over your life! What are you to do?

Well, rather than trying to pull them or poison them, why not eat them? Many weeds are perfectly edible. And if you eat your weeds, not only will this help control them, but they are, in definition, no longer weeds, but useful plants, part of your “extended vegetable garden.”

Here are a few weeds that you can munch on:

Dandelion. Photo: keyserver.lucidcentral.org

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): just about everything is edible on this useful plant. The young leaves are delicious and great in salads and quiche while older ones won’t be so bitter if you steam them. The flowers and flower buds, sweet and crunchy, are edible raw or fried or can be used to make dandelion wine. Dry and roast the roots to make a coffee substitute or just cook them and eat them as a root vegetable.

Both the variegated form seen here and the all-green form of goutweed are edible. Photo: http://www.baumschule-horstmann.de

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria): Also called ground elder and bishop’s weed, this invasive perennial has edible leaves … and they smell wonderfully when you harvest them. Consider them a spring vegetable to collect before the plant flowers, as mature leaves have a pungent taste and a laxative effect. 

Possibly the planet’s most invasive plant, but Japanese goutweed is delicious! Photo: lovindublin.com

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica, now Reynoutia japonica): Certainly one of the most pervasive weeds on the planet, this giant perennial is also edible. In some parts of Asia, it’s called poor man’s rhubarb and indeed, it certainly has a similar taste. You can eat the asparagus-like stems raw, but they’re very sour. They’re better cooked with sugar, in which case they can be used in any recipe that calls for rhubarb. Only the early spring shoots are considered edible.

Lamb’s quarters is a common annual weed. Photo: tropical.theferns.info

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album): Also called goosefoot, this delicacy has long been used as a vegetable, raw or cooked. You can munch on everything from the leaves to the stems, seeds and flowers.  

Plantain sometimes sprouts from cracks in pavement… but it’s still edible. Photo: http://www.naturespot.org.uk

Plantain (Plantago major): A nutritious leaf vegetable, plantain is rich in calcium and vitamins A, C and K. Young leaves are tender and delicious. Tough older ones need a bit of cooking and are best in soups and stews. It’s also a medicinal plant, applied to wounds, sores and stings to facilitate healing and prevent infection.

Purslane looks like a miniature jade plant. Photo: plants-animals-northeast-colorado.com

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea): just rinse, chop and eat! The leaves and stems can be used in salads, stir fries, soups, stews and much more. And it’s healthy too: purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable.

You may need gloves to handle nettle, but it’s safe to eat when cooked. Photo: Michael Gasperl, Wikimedia Commons

Stinging Nettle (Utrica dioica): True enough, you need to be careful when you harvest this plant with its stinging hairs, but nettle soup has long been popular, especially in Europe, and the young leaves make an excellent spinach substitute, especially in soups and stews. Dried leaves can be used to make a medicinal tea and there is even a nettle beer! Drying or cooking will remove the plant’s nasty sting.

You’ll find white clover in your lawn … and now maybe in your kitchen! Photo: Hugo.arg, Wikimedia Commons

White Clover (Trifolium repens) and Red Clover (Trifolium pretense): Both species have edible leaves and flowers. Add them as a garnish to almost any dish and use the flowers to make jelly. You’ve probably already eaten clover indirectly, as clover honey, produced by bees from clover flowers, is widely available.

And Many More

Here are just a few of the many weeds you can eat. Check out their culinary use* on any web site that covers edible wild plants.

  1. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
  2. Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
  3. Bittercress (Cardamine spp.)
  4. Blue vervain (Verbena hastata)
  5. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
  6. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
  7. Burdock (Arctium spp.)
  8. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
  9. Cattail (Typha latifolia)
  10. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  11. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
  12. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
  13. Cleavers (Galium aparine)
  14. Coltsfoot (Tussilago fafara)
  15. Common agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
  16. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  17. Creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides)
  18. Creeping Charlie or ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
  19. Curly dock (Rumex crispus)
  20. Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
  21. Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
  22. Elecampane (Inula helenium)
  23. Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)
  24. Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)
  25. Fiddlehead fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris
  26. Field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense)
  27. Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
  28. Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.)
  29. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
  30. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  31. Goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.)
  32. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
  33. Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)
  34. Hop trefoil or field clover (Trifolium campestre)
  35. Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
  36. Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
  37. Horseweed (Erigeron canadensis)
  38. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum, now Eutrochium purpureum)
  39. Johnny jump up (Viola tricolor)
  40. Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
  41. Knotgrass (Polygonum aviculare)
  42. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
  43. Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa, syn. Polygonum persicaria)
  44. Mallow (Malva spp.)
  45. Mayapple (Podophylllum peltatum)
  46. Meadow salsify (Tragopogon dubius)
  47. Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
  48. Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)
  49. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  50. Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
  51. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  52. Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
  53. Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
  54. Peppergrass (Lepidium densiflorum)
  55. Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus)
  56. Pineapple weed or wild chamomile (Matricaria discoidea)
  57. Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)
  58. Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot (Daucus carota)
  59. Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
  60. Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)
  61. Sea plantain (Plantago maritima)
  62. Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
  63. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
  64. Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
  65. Silverweed (Potentilla anserina)
  66. Sow thistle (Sonchus spp.)
  67. Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
  68. Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum)
  69. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  70. Sweet white clover (Melilotus albus)
  71. Teasel (Dipsacus spp.)
  72. Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)
  73. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
  74. Violet (Viola spp.)
  75. Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)
  76. Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa
  77. Wild grape (Vitis riparia and others)
  78. Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
  79. Wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
  80. Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris)
  81. Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

*Never consume any weed unless 1) you can correctly identify it and 2) are able to find a reliable source detailing its edible parts and their use. There are poisonous weeds, after all, as well as plants where some parts are edible and others poisonous. Also, many plants are only edible in certain seasons.

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