What if I told you that plants we consider “weeds” and not worth keeping around can actually be some of the most sustainable and nutritious foods you aren’t yet eating? Would you look at your lawn or neighbourhood greenspace the same way ever again? Well, it’s true! Lots of plants that people have designated as weeds because of their quick growth and ability to compete with other species and take over land are actually perfectly good for you and even quite tasty. Below you’ll find a list of some of the best edible weeds, and maybe they’ll help change your perspective when it comes to these persistent little plants.
Probably the species that comes to mind when you hear the word “weed” (unless you’re thinking along slightly different lines!), dandelions are despised by people who want their lawns to look golf course perfect. However, every part of this common edible weed is delicious and can be eaten either raw or cooked. Dandelion leaves can be picked at any point in the growing season. Smaller, younger leaves are often less bitter, making a better choice for raw applications such as salads. Although bigger, older leaves can be eaten as well, and they can be steamed or added to a stir fry or soup to reduce their bitter flavor. The flowers are sweet and can be eaten raw to add crunch to salads, breaded and fried, or used to make dandelion wine. Dandelion roots can be added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
This pretty weed is probably one of the more liked plants on this list, and is an important source of nectar for bees. Clover leaves and flowers can be used to add interest to all sorts of dishes. Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be mixed into salads (don’t eat just clover, as it is a better accent flavor). It can also be sautéed and added to many types of cooked dishes for a green accent. Clover flowers (both red and white varieties) can be eaten raw, cooked, sugared for baked good decoration, or dried for tea. They can also be used as a flavor and color agent in wine jellies and other sweet sauces.
Don’t confuse this common lawn weed with the tropical fruit similar to bananas, which are also called plantains. In addition to natural medicinal qualities which can be used topically to soothe burns, stings, rashes, and wounds, wild plantain is also a great edible green. The young leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Although older leaves can be a bit tough, they can also be cooked and eaten if desired. The seeds of the plantain plant — which can be seen on a distinctive flower spike — can be cooked like many small grains such as amaranth. The seeds are related to psyllium seeds, which can be found in stores as a fiber supplement or natural laxative, though the seeds of plantain have a far more mild effect.
Speaking of amaranth, the wild growing kind also known as pigweed, has leaves which can be a great addition to any dish that calls for leafy greens, with younger leaves being softer and tastier. Older leaves can also be cooked, like spinach, and eaten as such. The seeds can be gathered and used just like store-bought amaranth, either as a cooked whole grain or ground into a protein-rich meal for adding to baking, oatmeal, etc.
Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw or cooked. They have a delicate, spinach-like taste and are very healthy. It can also be ground up when fresh and used as a poultice for minor cuts, burns, or rashes, or boiled whole and made into a tea for use as a mild diuretic.
Mallow (also known by its genus name, Malva) is also referred to as cheeseweed, due to the shape of its seed pods. Mallow leaves and seed pods are both edible, either raw or cooked. Like many leafy greens, they are often more tender and less bitter when young and small, so are best for raw applications. Older leaves can be used like any other cooked green after steaming, boiling, or sautéing them.
This cute little succulent weed grows best in moist garden beds, lawns, and shady areas. It tends to grow close to the ground and is fairly inconspicuous. However, it really is a nutritional superstar, and is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. The whole stalks with leaves still attached can be a delicious in a salad or stir fry. They can also be used to thicken soups and stews. The crispy texture of purslane lends itself well to all sorts of dishes and adds a peppery taste.
Of course, smart grocery stores and farmer’s markets have caught wind of the fact that more and more people are looking for new, weedy greens to add to their diets. More and more commonly you see dandelion greens for sale, and in no time at all, other weeds are sure to be popping up at your local produce sellers. Of course this is great for the convenience factor — you can always choose to pay a premium instead of taking the time to go out and pick your own. One other benefit of buying “weedy” produce in store is that it will often be found in the organic section, so you can be certain it hasn’t been sprayed with unknown amounts of pesticides or other potentially dangerous compounds.
If you are going to go out and pick your own, be sure to only collect from sites that you know are safe. Whether you only use your own garden weeds, ask neighbours if you can weed for them in exchange for the “crop” you harvest (and maybe some bonus veggies if you’re lucky!), or go out on a proper foraging trip through local park-or woodlands, you need to know how the plants in that area are being treated. Don’t pick from highly manicured public gardens or other spots that are likely to be regularly sprayed with pesticides or herbicides to keep insect and weed levels down. If you aren’t 100% sure about the safety of your greens, don’t eat them. And be sure to wash all picked produce thoroughly, even when you’re certain it hasn’t come into contact with direct pesticide or fertilizer spraying.
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Jennie Lyon is a green lifestyle writer and the owner of Sweet Greens, the award-winning green lifestyle blog. She posts on simple, fun ways families can go green together – starting with her own. When she isn’t blogging, you will find her paddleboarding, sailing, beach-combing, camping, or spending time with her amazing husband and 14-year old son.