Don’t just weed and compost—weed and feed, as in feed yourself !
Why not make good use of those weedy plants which are so chock-full of vitamins?
You can prepare, serve and dine on many varieties of weeds! The plants I’ll discuss have found their way to my table on a regular basis, and offer many nutritional gifts to those willing to forage. Easter dinner was the perfect time for me to include a side dish of wild stinging nettle which I had harvested for the occasion. My guests were enchanted by the flavor–somewhere between spinach and cucumber–and came back for seconds!
Many plants which we now consider invasive, like the dandelion, started their careers early in our culture as kitchen garden varieties before being relegated to the other side of the fence. Unfortunately, taste in food gradually came to reflect the limited varieties of veggies that could survive shipping from agricultural centers, retain their appearance, tolerate long shelf life, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and other issues related to large-scale commercial cultivation.
Some plants, such as ramp/ramps (technically wild leeks), have found their way into the gourmet culinary arts and grocery boutiques on a seasonal basis. [Ed: Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), also known as ramps are a native plant, but are often counted as weeds.]
And yes, even the dandelion is making a comeback, so there’s no reason why the free and nutritious varieties I discuss in part 2 should not be on your table when in season.
If you decide to join the ranks of foragers, be armed with a good plant reference text and have an eye for identifying characteristics of your target plant, be it chickweed, dandelion, purslane, dock, lambsquarter or stinging nettle. Be absolutely sure that the plants you pick are indeed edible, and are harvested only from areas free of pollutants, chemicals or poisons. Wash them well. Keep in mind that, as with all new additions to your diet, portions should start small in respect of their nutritional and fiber content and the possibility of allergies.
Check out Part 2 of Edible Weeds if you would like details about some of the weedy plants that I serve at Native Return, and how to prepare them. There’s still time to forage for spring varieties such as lambsquarter, best collected through June.
What are your thoughts on eating invasive plants as a way to control them?
Also, check out our series on edible native plants:
- Grow Your Own Food: Edible Native Plants for New England
- Edible Native Plants from the Wildlife Garden
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