You don’t have to wait long to start harvesting! Learn how to start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. In this series, explore how to transform your surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods, to feed you and your family when you need it most – right away! Take advantage of weeds in your garden by harvesting them for nutritious treats. Try these purslane recipes, and learn about more edible garden weeds. Maybe it's time to eat your lawn! These edible weeds are growing all over our gardens and lawns and can all be eaten. Learn what they are and how!
Edibles for Emergencies: Seeds, Wild Greens & Eating the Weeds
In light of COVID19, we are witnessing an unprecedented interest in local supply chains, food security, health & wellness, and immunity. People want to take action, but where to begin?! In this article, we will explore how to transform our surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods. To feed ourselves, and our family when we need it most. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to start harvesting: we can start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. This will mark the first in series about edible landscaping and emergency situations.
Yesterday marked the Vernal Equinox, the welcoming Spring, along with equal hours of daytime and night. This is the cusp of spring and winter, with equal darkness and light. In many ways, this parallels our current global situation: while there is great fear present, there is as much to give us faith! Important conversations are happening everywhere, and we are all being given an opportunity to pause and reflect on what really matters. While humans take a break from “business as usual”, nature is springing to life and filling this empty space. Dolphins and swans have returned to the canals of Venice. Smoke has cleared, and once polluted skies are now again blue. Families are spending time together in the sun. Passion projects are given energy and life. This is a once in a lifetime event on a global scale. Life will never be the same again, and maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of the end of a long dark “winter” for humanity. Is this the first glimpses of “spring”? What is emerging from within this emergency? This is a choice point. We have the power to choose and respond how we move forward from here. The growing light is beckoning us to tend the earth, plant seeds, and work together with the forces of nature!
“Life does not accommodate you; it shatters you. Every seed destroys its container, or else there would be no fruition.” – Florida Scott-Maxwell
We are being called to transformation. As we move from the darkness into the light, winter into spring, we must protect and care for what is growing. We must care for our little seeds! We usually experience wild weather swings throughout the month, one day being balmy and warm, the next threatening snow. These are tumultuous times, for the plants as well! It’s important to protect seedlings and tender plants all throughout March, because you never really know what the weather will bring. In any case, with a little care, you could be harvesting very soon! If you get started with sprouting, you could be harvesting in a matter of days. In times of emergency, this means everything.
Sprouting – Grow Your Own Food (Fast)
Growing your own food can be quick and easy, and you don’t even need a garden! Sprouting is the easiest way to start seeds, and you can skip planting, and go straight to harvest. Sprouting seeds are a great non-perishable food item for emergencies, are lightweight for transportation, can easily be stockpiled (in a cool, dry place away protected from pests), and are bursting with high-density nutrients that feed the body and boost the immune system.
Link: 10 Best Benefits of Sprouts:
Link: How to Start Seeds in a Jar:
Link: Buy Organic, Non-GMO Sprouting Seeds:
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Starting Seeds – Step-by-Step
Starting seeds successfully is one of the most rewarding and uplifting tasks in the garden. Unsuccessfully starting seeds is easily one of the most frustrating experiences, and to avoid this disappointment, it is important to follow best practices. Below you will find some principles and practices to get you started.
Step 1: Take inventory. What seeds do you have? What seeds do your neighbours, friends and family have? Purchase or trade locally if possible, or order online. Take inventory & choose what you can/want to grow. If you don’t have seeds, here are some links to a few of our favourite recommendations:
Seeds of Change – Quick Growers Collection (for short growing seasons and quick harvests)
Salt Spring Seeds – Heritage & Heirloom Organic Seeds:
Richters Herbs – Medicinal, Culinary & Aromatic Seeds & Plants
West Coast Seeds:
Step 2: Make a plan. Create a personal planting calendar. If you’re not sure what to start and when, check out the links below:
West Coast Seeds Planting Chart (Canada):
Step 3: Choose how much to grow. How much space do you have? What are the dimensions of your plot? Grow a bit extra to offset losses, you can always give some away if you have too much. Seedlings make a great gift/trade. Use the crop planning chart below to help estimate how many seeds you’ll need:
Step 4: Use clean pots/trays with good drainage to prevent disease.
Step 5: Fill pots/trays with a high quality organic potting mix, and/or prepare a seeding bed outdoors with good, fluffy soil tilth. Those little seedlings are strong for their size, but clumps of soil or clay will make their lives more difficult than necessary.
Step 6: Label your seedling as you are planting them! Forgetting is far too easy, so label them as you go, with name/date.
Step 7: Double check you are planting your seeds at the right time. Timing is everything! Don’t start too late or too early. You want to make sure there is a smooth transition into transplanting. Consult your planting calender and read on the seed packages to confirm. Follow the other directions on the package!
Step 8: Fill containers with potting mix, and when planting seeds, cover the seeds with soil 3x the width of the seed.
Step 9: Gently and evenly water the soil. Using a spray bottle can help.
Step 10: Encourage germination by keeping the seedlings warm with a plastic cover. You can also use a heating pad to encourage sprouting.
Step 11: When the seed has sprouted, ease off on the watering, let the soil dry out before watering again, and remove plastic covers to prevent moisture related diseases. Delicately stir the soil around the seedling with a toothpick or fork to increase aeration and maintain soil health. Most trouble with starting seeds is because of dampness and stagnancy, in the soil or in the air.
Step 12: If you have been heating the seedlings, remove the heat at this time.
Step 13: Keep the air moving! If in a cold frame, keep the lid open, and vent greenhouses.. Use a gentle fan for indoor plants. Once again, dampness and stagnancy kills seedlings!
Step 14: Harden your starts off slowly, exposing them to gradually to the outdoors over four or five days. On a sunny warm day, place the starts in full shade, and bring them in at night. For the next few days, leave the starts in dappled shade, gradually increasing exposure to the sun, leading up to several hours in direct sun on the third day. On the fourth day, plant the starts in their final location, ensuring plenty of watering. Some starts may benefit from a light shade cloth while they recover, so keep a close eye on those little plant babies!
16 Edible Weeds: Dandelions, Purslane, and More
Weeds are widely believed to be a gardener’s arch-enemy. They stifle crops, steal water, hog sunlight, and create what some deem an eyesore in otherwise impeccably groomed flowerbeds and lawns. They’re not all bad, though: Edible weeds, it turns out, are exceedingly useful.
Instead of burning your abundance of dandelions, chickweed, or wild amaranth—or worse, spraying them with toxic weedkiller—take the zero-waste approach and repurpose them into dandelion tea, amaranth seed polenta, or chickweed pesto.
Here are 16 edible weeds and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Do not eat any plant unless you have identified it with certainty. Steer clear of plants that grow near roads and railroad tracks and of those that could have been sprayed with garden chemicals.
Though they can ruthlessly invade flower beds and vegetable gardens, weeds are wonderful in other ways. They can be remarkably attractive—particularly the chipper yellow pom-pom blooms of the dandelion and the dainty, daisylike flowers of chickweed—and you have to commend them for their tenacity, as they seem to thrive even in the least hospitable places.
What Are Weeds?
A weed is any wild plant that’s undesirable in its setting—usually a human-controlled setting—whether that be a garden, lawn, farm, or park.
The term “weed” is in itself so relative that its definition is ever-changing. Historically, weeds have been associated with invasive plants, but research within the past couple decades has revealed that many species regarded as weeds today evolved from domestic (i.e., native) ancestors. Their defining quality is, therefore, undesirability: They’re either unpleasant to look at or pose some sort of biological threat.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The quintessential weed, dandelions are rich in vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. Every part of this flowering herb, from the roots to the bright-yellow blossoms, can be eaten raw or cooked.
Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any point in the growing season, and while the youngest leaves are considered to be less bitter and more palatable raw, the bigger leaves make delightful salad additions. If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The sweet and crunchy flowers can be eaten raw or breaded and fried. Use them to make dandelion wine or syrup. The root of the dandelion can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute or added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is a heat-loving succulent that has fleshy, jadelike leaves and grows in small clusters low to the ground. It thrives in harsh environments, like in sidewalk cracks and in gravel driveways. The humble garden weed is a nutritional powerhouse, outrageously rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Purslane has a sour, salt-and-peppery taste similar to spinach, and it can be used in much the same way as the more mainstream leafy green. Add it to salads, sandwiches, and stir-fry, or use it as a thickener for soups and stews. It has a crispy texture, and the leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooking purslane, be sure to sauté it gently and not for long, as overcooking it can create an unappetizing slimy texture.
Clover’s spherical flowers and supposedly lucky leaves are a common food source for honeybees and bumblebees, but they make great additions to human meals, too. There are several types of clover, the most common being red clover (which grows tall) and white clover (which spreads outward). Both are rich in protein, minerals, and carbohydrates.
Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be chopped into salads or sautéed and added to dishes for a green accent. The flowers of both red and white clover can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for clover tea.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters, also known as goosefoot, is loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamins A and C. The plant can grow up to 10 feet—although it normally doesn’t—and produces oval or triangular leaves with serrated edges. One of its most identifiable features is the pop of blue-green at the top of the plant.
Though it has a cabbagelike taste, this weed is commonly used as a replacement for spinach. Its young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or it can be sautéed or steamed and used anywhere spinach would be used. Its seeds, which resemble quinoa, can be harvested and eaten, although it takes a lot of patience to gather enough to make it worthwhile as a main dish.
Not to be confused with the tropical fruit of the same name, this common weed is made up of a nutritious mix of minerals, fatty acids, vitamin C, carotenes (antioxidants), nitrate, and oxalic acid. Plantain can be identified by its large, oval leaves that surround tall spikes sometimes covered in white flowers.
The young leaves of the plantain can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, and while the older leaves can be a bit tough, they can also be cooked and eaten. The seeds of the plantain, which are produced on the distinctive flower spike, can be cooked like a grain or ground into flour. Check with your doctor before consuming plantain while pregnant.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a broadleaf weed belonging to the carnation family. It has small, white flowers, each containing five split petals (appearing as 10 petals), and it grows in clusters on hairy stalks. Chickweed is a resilient plant that may appear on roadsides or riverbanks and can thrive in just about any soil type. It’s rich in vitamins A and C and contains about as much calcium as dandelions.
Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw—added to sandwiches and salads or ground into a pesto—or cooked. The plant has a grassy, spinachlike taste.
Chickweed can look very similar to radium weed, a poisonous plant that grows in similar conditions, so consult an experienced forager before picking and consuming chickweed.
Mallow, or malva, is also known as cheeseweed because its seed pods resemble a wheel of cheese. It shares a family with cotton, okra, and hibiscus, and apart from its distinguishing seed pods—also called “nutlets”—you can identify it by its funnel-shaped flowers, each with five petals and a column of stamens surrounding a pistil. This hardy plant can grow almost anywhere—even in harsh, dry soil conditions.
Mallow’s leaves, flowers, and seed pods can be eaten raw or cooked. Both the leaves and flowers have a very mild taste that’s often more tender and palatable in juvenile plants. Older leaves and flowers are best steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Mallow is high in vitamins A and C, protein, and carotenoids.
Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus)
Wild amaranth—or “pigweed”—leaves are another great addition to any dish that calls for leafy greens. While the younger leaves are softer and tastier, the older leaves can also be cooked like spinach.
Displaying either green or red leaves and small, green flowers in dense clusters at the top of the plant, wild amaranth has been cultivated since ancient times. The Romans and Aztecs reportedly regarded it as a staple food.
Wild amaranth seeds can also be gathered and cooked just like store-bought amaranth, either as a cooked whole grain or as a ground meal. It does take a bit of time to gather enough seeds to make a meal of them, but it’s worth the work, as they’re packed with 16% protein.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Curly dock is an oft-overlooked plant that has slender, rigid leaves and tall flower spikes packed with flowers and seeds. The plant contains more vitamin C than oranges, which means it’s also high in oxalic acid. Consuming more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day could lead to a buildup of oxalate in your kidneys.
The leaves can be eaten raw when young, or cooked and added to soups when older. In younger plants, foliage is less curly and leaves are round and broad. Mature plants develop stems whereas leaves emerge right from the root when young.
The leaves taste tart and spinachlike. Because of their high oxalic acid content, it’s often recommended to change the water several times during cooking. Newly-emerged stems can be peeled and eaten either cooked or raw, and the mature seeds can be boiled, eaten raw, or roasted to make a coffee substitute.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic is ubiquitous throughout Europe, but this favorite foraging find is also widespread among the damp woodlands of the eastern U.S. and Canada. It’s so abundant, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers it a “noxious weed,” or one that could be harmful to the environment or animals. It’s not, however, harmful to humans, who typically love stumbling upon a blanket of its signature long, pointed leaves and white flowers sprawled beneath the trees.
Wild garlic tastes like garlic, of course, only grassier. The flavor is milder than the pungent aroma these plants put off (you’ll probably smell them before you see them). Every part of the plant is edible, from the bulbs to the seed heads. You can grind it into a pesto, add it raw to salads and sandwiches for a tangy kick, or sauté it and eat it plain. Wild garlic is higher in magnesium, manganese, and iron than bulb garlic.
Violet (Viola sororia)
Known for their heart-shaped leaves and delightful purple flowers that cover forest floors and stream banks come spring, wild violets are also called “sweet violets” on account of their sugary flavor. They’re often candied and used to decorate baked goods, turned into jam, made into syrups, brewed as a tea, or used as a garnish in salads. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and rich in vitamin C, but the roots and seeds are poisonous.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
A common winter weed in warm and mild regions of the U.S., hairy bittercress is a low-growing rosette that produces white, four-petaled spring flowers on a tall stem. The plant is part of the mustard family and has a sharp, peppery flavor similar to mustard greens or arugula.
It’s best eaten raw, either as a salad green or mixed into salsas and pestos, because cooking it can remove much of its flavor. Hairy bittercress leaves, seeds, and flowers can all be eaten, but the leaves are said to be the tastiest.
Hairy bittercress, like other plants in the mustard family, is high in antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and beta-carotene.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard is a highly invasive herb that has spread throughout much of North America since being introduced by European settlers in the 1800s. Every part of the plant—leaves, flowers, seeds, and stems—can be eaten, but harvesting them can be tricky.
Garlic mustard should be harvested while young because the shoots harden after a couple of years. They should be avoided in the summer, too, as the heat makes them taste bitter. Any other time, it has a spicy flavor similar to horseradish. It’s great as a chimichurri or a pesto—and it’s abundant in nutritional value. It’s high in fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
This highly invasive terrorizer of homes and gardens can be found throughout the Northeast and parts of the Northwest. It has heart-shaped leaves and produces little, white flower tassels in the summertime. It’s often compared to bamboo—partly because of its hollow shoots and partly because it, too, can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Despite its unfavorable reputation, it’s quite nutritious and tasty. The tart, crunchy, and juicy stems are often compared to rhubarb and turned into pie or chutney. Japanese knotweed is rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, manganese, zinc, and potassium.
This plant should be harvested while young, when the leaves are slightly rolled up and have red veins as opposed to being flat and green. Knotweed near roads should be avoided as it is often covered in herbicides. It would also be wise to incinerate scraps rather than composting them to prevent them from sprouting.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle, as its name suggests, “stings” by piercing skin with its hollow, needlelike hairs. As it makes contact, those hairs transmit chemicals to skin, causing an uncomfortable sensation and sometimes a rash. In other words, it’s not the first plant you’d think to reach for if you were hungry.
Nonetheless, stinging nettle is not only edible but also nutritious and tasty. It must be cooked or dried first—don’t attempt to eat the “stinging” leaves raw—but when prepared, it’s entirely harmless and tastes like tangy spinach. You can sauté stinging nettles, blend them into a soup, throw them on a pizza, or incorporate them into a dip. Stinging nettles, identifiable by their aggressive-looking hairs, are a great source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, sodium, and fatty acids. They should be harvested before they flower in late spring.
Sourgrass (Oxalis stricta)
Sourgrass is sometimes called lemon clover because it boasts a refreshing citrusy flavor. It’s commonly found growing in open meadows, lawns, and fields, or occasionally sprouting from sidewalk cracks. The most distinguishing feature of sourgrass is its three-season display of dainty, yellow blooms.
Without its signature sunshiny flowers, it looks a lot like clover. The difference is in the shape of the leaves: clover is oval-shaped and sourgrass is heart-shaped.
Lemon clover tastes sour and tart. It’s primarily eaten raw as an addition to salads, salsas, ceviche, sauces, and seasonings. It also makes a pretty and delicious seafood garnish. Sourgrass is high in vitamin C and oxalic acid, both of which could disrupt digestion if consumed in high doses, so this plant should be eaten only in small amounts.
Many weeds are packed with nutrition—and, besides, eating them keeps them out of your garden and out of the landfill. This is especially beneficial to the environment if they happen to be invasive.
When foraging for edible weeds, pay close attention to leaf shape, leaf arrangements, flowers and seeds, the stalk, and—one of the most important factors—where you find it. Different weeds prefer different growing zones. Also, to double-check your identification, you could use a plant identification app like Seek by iNaturalist.
Studies have shown that urban plants are no less safe to eat than those found outside of cities. That is to say you can probably eat the weeds from your urban garden so long as they aren’t regularly urinated on by the neighborhood dogs.
24 Edible Weeds Right In Your Garden
Weeds, we all have them growing all over our yards and gardens. They’re found in abandoned fields and amongst the woodlands and so many try their hardest to get rid of them. Yet, there are so many edible weeds.
Food, growing everywhere, free for the taking. Instead of trying to get rid of them, I think we should try to utilize them. After all, they’re going to continue to live on and spread their seeds. They are survivors.
As we broaden our foraging skills, I find myself actively seeking out many of these weeds in our own yard and garden, and many of them are readily available, there for the taking to make into delicious dishes.
There are many, many common, edible weeds growing everywhere going unnoticed. Here are just 24 of them free for the taking (and eating).
24 Edible Garden Weeds
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Of course, dandelions have to top the list. These are one of my favorite weeds! We never have, never will, treat our lawn and we pick dandelions and make delicious things like dandelion jelly and wine along with dandelion salad and even tea!
The leaves, flowers and even the roots of this amazing plant are edible. They are also some of the first flowers available for pollinators, so make sure you share, but they can be picked at any time.
The leaves from the center are the most tender and most palatable, but even the big leaves can be utilized. They can be tossed into a salad or even cooked like you would any other green.
The flower tops can be used to make things like jelly, wine, breaded and fried or even eaten raw (they’re sweet and slightly crunchy).
As for the roots, you can use them to make tea or even as a coffee substitute (who knew?).
Chickory (Cichorium intybus)
Chickory pops up all over our yard almost as prolifically as the dandelions. This beautiful plant grows pretty well along the roadsides just about everywhere in the United States.
The entire chickory plant can be eaten from flower to root. It is best harvested in the spring and the fall as the summer heat often makes it bitter and less palatable, though still edible. If you’re foraging for this, make sure you don’t pick it from right by the edge of the road where runoff tends to accumulate.
The flowers and leaves can be eaten and are quite good tossed into a salad. The leaves can also be sauteed like any other green.
Chickory is another root that can be ground and made into coffee. See, and here I thought that coffee would be something we could never produce ourselves.
Plantain (Plantago major)
Note that this is a medicinal plant, so care should be utilized when eating it, but it is edible, nonetheless. And has some amazing medicinal properties as well.
Common plantain can grow… anywhere. And it does. Just about every yard, park, garden, and wooded area across the US have this plant growing in it. And it is, indeed edible.
The leaves and seed pods can be eaten raw. However, it’s a bit stringy and the seedpods are a little on the tough side, so most people opt to cook it. You can sautee the leaves or boil them until they’re tender. The seedpods can be used like you would eat green beans.
The seedpods are also good in soups, stir-fries, or even covered with melted cheese if that’s your thing.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is another prolific weed that grows just about anywhere. It typically is considered an early spring plant and is found in lawns and gardens across the US.
This was actually a popular garden plant in the 1800s, but since it doesn’t do well refrigerated and has to be used up fairly quickly, it fell out of favor and soon became considered a nuisance to most.
Chickweed is a great addition to fresh salads and can be eaten raw or, of course, sauteed like any other green, boiled, or steamed.
Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep sorrel is widely available across the US. It tastes amazing with a slight citrus flavor to it.
This plant is great fresh in salads, cooked like spinach and other greens or paired with seafood.
The leaves never tend to grow very large, but the larger leaves (if you come across them) would need their ribs removed as they’re a bit bitter and stringy.
Sheep sorrel can also be used in any recipe that calls for French sorrel, the flavor is the same.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Another readily available garden weed is lamb’s quarters. The leaves and seeds of this plant are edible, though gathering enough seeds to eat can be quite time-consuming and difficult.
You can eat the leaves raw in salad or sautee, steam or boil them to add to any dish calling for spinach or just to eat alone.
The seeds of lamb’s quarters resemble quinoa and are definitely edible. Though, as I said, it can be difficult to get enough to actually eat.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane grows in just about every garden bed I’ve ever had. And we often find it in patches near the edge of our driveway. It’s incredibly rich in nutrients.
The flavor of purslane is a bit on the peppery side. The leaves, as well as the stems, are both edible. It can be added to salads fresh or cooked into stir-fries for a nice crunch.
Violets grow around our yard every spring. There are tons of species, but the genus is the same. We get the species pictured above most often in our yard and amongst old beds that are currently dormant.
The leaves of violets can be eaten raw in salads (or alone) or sauteed like any other green (or steamed, or boiled). The flowers are also edible and can be eaten alone, candied, or made into delicious violet jelly or wine.
The roots, on the other hand, are not edible.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow grows along the edges of our house and property line. A common herb, this is also considered a weed when it grows in the wild where people don’t care to see it.
It is often made into tea, but the flowers as well as the leaves can also be used. Yarrow is a naturally sweet herb as long as it isn’t cooked. It’s a great combination in salads and can even be used to add flavor to ice cream.
Daisy Fleabane(Erigeron annuus)
In the aster family, daisy fleabane is a tall, leggy plant that seems to pop up wherever it pleases, out of nowhere.
Only the leaves of fleabane are edible. And they are hairy which makes them a little difficult to eat, but they are edible, nonetheless. The leaves can be utilized whenever you’re cooking up other greens and want to add to the bunch.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Our youngest daughter likes to pick all manner of flowers (weeds) out of the yard and chomp on them. Red clover is no exception.
This prolific “weed” grows amongst just about every lawn in the United States and has even been utilized as a lawn replacement as it requires much less water, weeding, and compost to flourish. The leaves and the flowers are edible (thankfully, since my youngest loves to eat the flowers).
Clover is also an important food for pollinators, like most weeds. You can use the leaves sauteed like any other green. The flowers can be eaten raw, cooked, or utilized for tea.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
The New England aster is considered an aggressive weed by lawn keepers and a beautiful flower by floral aficionados everywhere.
The leaves, flowers, and roots are all edible. Though the root is traditionally only used in Chinese medicine.
The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads. You can also dry them by hanging them upside down when they’re harvested and waiting until the entire plant is dry. You can use the dried leaves and flowers by adding them to salads or making tea.
Years ago our property was full of burdock. This thistle grows tall and has flowers that resemble milkweed. Surprisingly burdock was used as the original recipe for root beer.
The leaves, roots, and stems are all edible. The leaves can be a bit bitter but are great for wrapping foods to put on the fire. The roots are best after the plant has sat for a year as they take on a woody flavor. Otherwise, they taste a little bitter. The stems can be peeled and aren’t as bitter as the leaves eaten fresh.
You can find a recipe for burdock root beer here.
Purple Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)
The entire plant of purple dead nettle is edible. This plant grows just about everywhere and most of us have seen it, even if we weren’t entirely sure what it was.
The purple tops of purple dead nettle are a bit on the sweet side whereas the rest of the plant tastes more like a floral-flavored green. You can utilize any of it to put into salads, soups, or even to make a smoothie like this one.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
Like sheep sorrel, wood sorrel grows readily and is all edible. The leaves, flowers, and seed pods of this plant are all edible and have the same, familiar citrus bite as their cousin.
Wood sorrel can be added fresh to salads, added to soups (seafood soups are greatly complimented by this plant), or made into a sauce that you serve atop your favorite dish.
Also known as willow herb, fireweed is often the first plant you’ll see in logged areas and areas hit by wildfires. I remember seeing this plant often in Montana, but not here in Indiana as it only grows in the Northwestern region of the US.
The young leaves can be snapped off while still young and tender and eaten just like spinach or any other green. Once the shoots are a bit older, you’ll probably want to peel the outer layer off.
The leaves can also be dried and used to make tea which has a slight berry, and citrus undertone to it. In addition, since fireweed is high in mucilage it can be utilized as a natural thickener for soups and sauces.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Common in empty fields, along roadways, and of course in your garden and yard curly dock is prevalent in all 50 states.
Believe it or not, a curly dock is not useful forage for livestock, but it is for humans. Though it is toxic to cattle and sheep, it was an important food source during the Great Depression.
You want the leaves of this plant to be very young and still rolled or slightly unrolled. The older, completely unrolled leaves get bitter in a hurry. This dock is related to both sheep sorrel and wood sorrel, though those two Rumex do not get as big or bitter.
The leaves are best young and sauteed like any other green. The best leaves will be found early in the spring and late in the fall before the cold really hits.
Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)
Once upon a time we lived on 3 acres and had wild garlic growing in patches all over the edge of our lawn and I had no clue what it was. This was, of course, before all of these things interested me.
All parts of wild garlic are edible, though the leaves are the most commonly utilized part of the plant. You can use the leaves in place of basil to make pesto. You can also use them fresh in a salad or put them into soups.
The smell of wild garlic is… well, garlicky which can help you differentiate it from lily of the valley (whose leaves look similar but is poisonous).
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Henbit grows readily all over the US and is a member of the mint family. However, unlike mint, it tastes more similar to dead-nettle (a grassy kind of flavor).
The flowers, leaves, and stems of henbit are all edible. They can be eaten fresh by adding them to salads or, of course, cooked like any other green. It is particularly good boiled and then seasoned with melted butter and a bit of cinnamon.
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)
This creeping plant is a nuisance to most and is considered an invasive species. We have plenty of creeping Charlie growing amongst the edge of our garden beds.
The young leaves of this plant are edible and have a flavor similar to mint. It can be eaten fresh by adding it to salads or you can add it to soups or cook it in some butter.
When springtime begins, Mallow can be found just about everywhere. Popping up in garden beds, on roadsides, even through cracks in the concrete. If you’ve been outdoors, you’ve probably seen this weed.
While mallow is completely edible, its flavor is incredibly mild in comparison to most wild greens. In fact, some would even say its flavor is completely non-existent. But, all of the flavorlessness aside, it is highly nutritious.
Like fireweed, this plant is high in mucilage making it an excellent thickener. But, the entire plant is edible, with roots, stems, flowers, leaves, and fruit. The fruits are the only thing that have any flavor, a bit of a nut flavor.
Aside from using as a thickener for sauces, the leaves and flowers can be used alongside other greens in a fresh salad.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle is considered an invasive, unwanted weed by many… including livestock who find it unpalatable. While stinging nettle will likely cause irritation and welts if it brushes against your skin, it’s also full of flavor.
Stinging nettles are best when harvested young, and you don’t want to harvest them at all after they have flowered. You’ll definitely want to utilize a pair of gloves to harvest them.
Nettles do need to be cooked, you can’t eat them raw (can we say, ouch?). Once cooked they can be utilized anywhere you would use spinach.
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Another early wild green, shepherd’s purse can be found everywhere across the US.
The leaves, shoots, seeds, flowers, and even the roots of the shepherd’s purse are edible. The leaves are a great substitute for cabbage and take on a peppery taste. They are the best young.
The root can be dried and ground up as a substitute for ginger. The seeds are difficult to harvest unless you’re incredibly patient. The leaves and flowers can both be added to fresh salads for a bit of peppery flavor.
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
Kudzu is what you find growing up the side of your neighbor’s abandoned barn all across the southeastern United States. This invasive, climbing weed can grow up to a foot a day.
The leaves, roots, flowers, and vine tips of kudzu are all edible. The seeds and seed pods, however, are not. It has a slight spinach flavor and is a great addition to stir-fries and even spicy jellies.
Weeds can seem like all they do is take over the landscape and make life difficult, but they do serve a purpose and do have many uses. So, maybe we should eat the weeds instead.