“A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
To that, I’d like to add “or whose virtues we’ve forgotten”.
When my wife and I first started homesteading, we went to a lot of trouble to keep “weeds” out and only grow vegetables and fruits. Little did we know that in our weed eradication efforts, we were actually killing off nature’s bounty – weeds that weren’t actually nuisances, and that could provide important nutrition.
Many of the plants we now consider pests have been sources of food and medicine for a long time before we forgot about them. Below, you’ll find 10 edible weeds that grow wild in your yard, the local park, or out in the woods.
A word of caution: Before you start turning your yard into a salad bowl and you get serious about eating weeds, get some literature – preferably with pictures – to positively confirm that the weeds you’re planning on eating are indeed safe to eat!
Take a look at pretty much any home improvement store and you’ll find gallon after gallon of herbicides formulated to kill off dandelions. However, did you know that before we considered them pesky weeds, we actually valued them for their edibility, as well as their medicinal properties? All parts of the dandelion can be eaten, and the flowers can even be turned into dandelion wine.
Think your yard is covered in dandelions? Actually, those might be cat’s ear – a dandelion relative. Where dandelions have smooth, sharply pointed leaves, cat’s ear has rounded lobes covered in fine “hair”. They’re still edible, though, and serve the same uses as dandelions.
Red clover is edible and very nutritious, bringing a lot of vitamin C and beta-carotene to your table. You’ll mostly want to focus on the flowers rather than the leaves. However, clover is also an allergen, so start small and see how things go.
A hardy succulent, pursale is related to spinach and has a very similar taste. It also has similar uses, and can be eaten raw or added to soups and other dishes. It’s high in vitamin C, A and others, but is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (an ideal option for those who don’t enjoy fish oil).
If you live in the South, you’re undoubtedly familiar with this plague on the landscape. Kudzu is a climbing vine that grows very, very fast. It was imported from the East in the 1800s to help alleviate erosion on railroad tracks, but it took off and is now a serious nuisance.
If you have kudzu growing on your property, your first instinct might be to poison it, and fast. Before you do, try a bite. All parts of kudzu are edible (it’s a traditional food source for many Asian nations), and it’s high in nutrients. It can also be used to create products, from woven chair seats to baskets and more.
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet, and it’s both nutritious and delicious. Bamboo shoots need to be harvested when young (2 weeks or less), and when they’re under a foot tall. You’ll need to boil them to make them tender. On the other hand, mature bamboo can be turned into just about anything you need on your homestead, from fencing to flooring, and even paper and more if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
We’re not talking about the relative of the banana here. Wild plantains have been a source of nutrition and medicine for thousands of years. They grow wild throughout the US, and you’ll find that they’re also very tasty. Leaves can be eaten raw when the plant is young, and the flowers can also be eaten. In fact, the seeds can be turned into flour for making bread.
Looking for a concentrated blast of vitamins? Chickweed fits the bill. You’ll find lots of vitamins and minerals here, as well as omega-6 fatty acids. It also grows wild throughout most of the country.
Thistles grow tall and make for a spiky surprise for bare feet, but they’re also good to eat. They’re actually related to artichokes and asparagus. You can eat the root of this plant, as well as young flower stems and leaves. The flower buds are also edible and taste like artichokes. Make sure all bristles are removed, though.
Lamb’s quarters are very similar to spinach, but actually have higher nutritional value. You can eat pretty much everything but the roots, including the seeds. It’s best cooked because of the high oxalic acid content, but can be eaten raw in small amounts.
There are tons of other “weeds” that are actually edible plants just waiting to be discovered. Get weeding!