Wild Foods: Eat Your Weeds
Much of what we call weeds can be consumed.
Think about it! Your ancestors lived on foods found in the wild long before they started cultivating them and creating an agrarian society and economy. We can still use a little of their hunter/gatherer knowledge to add variety to our diets!
Dandelions and nutrition
Probably the most common and well-recognized weed is the dandelion. It is the scourge of homeowners who want a perfectly green expanse of lawn. I remember my dad digging it out with a sharp two-pronged tool. He tackled crabgrass with it, too. It seemed like an annual battle that he lost over and over.
I harvested some dandelion greens this morning to add to salads. You can also steam or sauté them like you would other greens. Younger leaves are tenderer and better raw, and older leaves are bitter and benefit from cooking. The root and flower buds can be eaten raw or cooked, too. Dandelions are packed with calcium, vitamins A and C, and potassium, more than cultivated vegetables. Don’t eat them from your yard if you’ve been trying to kill them with pesticides!
Other edible weeds
Lamb’s quarters grows everywhere. It is sometimes called pigweed or goosefoot, for the shape of the leaf. Related to quinoa, beets and spinach, it is high in vitamins A, the Bs and C, beta-carotene, fiber, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, manganese, potassium and iron. It is very nutritious and can be eaten raw or cooked like other greens. It abundantly grows in open fields, on roadsides and in your flower beds. Make use of it when you weed!
Purslane grows well here in the high desert in dry years. A friend called it ‘invasive’, because it sprawls into a nice groundcover, but it is easy to pull out to get rid of. The succulent leaves are kind of sweet with a zingy snap afterwards. I let this grow in the garden and add it to salads for a contrasting texture and unique flavor. Purslane is high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Be informed, be knowledgeable, be cautious!
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to go foraging in the wild for food, you will find many more edible plants than these. Before you go, though, be SURE you know what you are doing! Take a workshop to learn to identify edible plants. When you eat a poisonous one, you are dead, so be very careful!
You will learn the habitat of a plant and other plants that grow around it. This aids in ID-ing them. You will also learn the parts of the plant to eat. Sometimes it’s the leaves, sometimes the root, sometimes the flower. In tandem with that, you’ll find out the time of year to look for them for the best harvest.
Learn the Latin names of plants, too. Common names are frequently used for more than one plant, and it can be confusing and deadly. Always use the Latin name.
Wild foods and a low carbon footprint
Eating wild has the lowest carbon footprint of all food systems. It is nearby your home, so there are no transportation costs to get it to a supermarket, and no stores to heat and cool. But foraging is not as simple as shopping. It takes a little bit of education and a little bit of physical effort to gather a meal. It’s worth it, though!
Things you will find in the wild are chickweed, watercress (I find it where fresh-water springs meet the creeks – so good!), wild lettuce (made into a tincture, it’s good for insomnia), shepherd’s purse, stinging nettles (a friend just shared with me some of her plants, the leaves of which must be steamed to get rid of the sting), wood sorrel (one of my babysitters showed me this in the woods when I was little, and I still grow it), curly dock (a friend makes this into flour for breads) and a zillion other things!
Foraging for a green diet
Wild plants have much more nutrition than farmed plants, and it’s exciting to go outside and eat your yard! Start small by eating dandelions, then get brave enough to try something else. Add one new food every so often, and before you know it, your diet will be largely wild. I am more and more curious about what grows wild that I can eat. This year I added nettles to my garden. What will it be next year?
Look into the books and videos of Wildman Steve Brill, one of the most well-known foragers. Eating wild is the greenest eating of all!