Sunday, 16 August 2009

What's For Dinner? Edible Weeds

Recently while doing a little investigating into the types of weeds I was pulling from my veggie garden, I found that at least one of them was edible. Lambsquarters, pictured to the right, are apparently very much like mild chard or spinach in flavor, and can be cooked much as one would cook those greens. I plucked off a leaf or two and popped them in my mouth, and lo and behold, it did taste very much like spinach. The next step was to pick a whole bunch of these leaves and cook them up in my favorite way: sauteed with nutmeg.

I ended up picking a relatively small amount of the leaves, because I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. It didn't take long, since I have an abundance of these weeds in and around my garden.

After washing the leaves I put them in my cast iron skillet
on lowish heat, along with some margarine and nutmeg. I covered the pan with a lid, the way I normally do when I cook
chard, kale or spinach this way. After just a few minutes, the
leaves were tender and looked ready to eat. They cooked much
more quickly than kale, chard or spinach, maybe because the leaves do not have a very thick stem.

And then, time for the taste test. It was extremely good! Milder than kale, but with more flavor than spinach. Probably closest to chard or collard greens, or even beet tops. Once they were cooked up it was easy to forget that they were weeds in my garden just a few minutes ago. What a difference it makes when I look at these plants now and see a food source, rather than a pesky weed!

It turns out I have more than one edible weed in my yard. Fireweed leaves can be eaten raw when they are small and tender, and the buds can be used in stir fries. You can make jelly out of the flower petals, much like rose petal jelly I expect. Even the roots are edible. It seems like almost every part of this flowering weed can be consumed at some point in its growing cycle. Once the plants get big and the stem covering has toughened up, it's no longer edible but can be used instead to make twine. I always loved the look of the purple fireweed plants as Summer turns to Fall, but I never knew they were so useful! It's too late in the season for me to try eating the leaves and stems, but I might just try stripping off the fibrous part when Fall arrives, and see what I can fashion out of that....

Of course we have plenty of dandelion leaves in our yard, and those are edible too. I have tossed a few dandelion leaves into my salads on occasion, but mostly I pick dandelion greens for our two guinea pigs, Scooter and Sophie, who really love the more bitter taste.

Even more exciting was the discovery this Spring that plantain leaves are edible, and that they purportedly have some anti-cancer properties. I have nibbled on this leaf as well, but so far have been feeding it to Scooter for the most part, because he has a cancerous lump on his front leg. I am not sure if it is helping, but he loves to eat the plantain leaves, in any event. And it can't hurt. Chewing the leaf into a pulp makes a good plaster to apply to mosquito or bee/wasp stings too. In addition, the long seed stalks can be used like millet, to feed the birds.

Very tasty is the tiny chickweed plant. It is particularly good in salad, and has fresh and crunchy taste and texture. The small white flowers make it very pretty too, and this year I haven't even bothered separating it out from the lettuce I'm growing -- I just pick it all together and make salad. Of course the guinea pigs love the chickweed too, even though its taste is more mild than either the dandelion or the plantain.

Last year I discovered yarrow and bergemot growing in our yard. While I haven't eaten these plants outright, I have made delicious tea from them. A few leaves of each, along with some honey, and I have a wonderful, free, herbal tea! I didn't pick enough to last me over the Winter last year, but I plan to remedy that this year, for sure.

Once I started looking, it was quite astounding to see what there was to eat in my yard! What useful weeds do you have growing where you live?


Heather @ SGF said...

I love lambs-quarter, but it's definitely a weed. Someone from our farmers' market gave me a tiny plant of it in January and now it's a humongous bush. I keep cutting it down (and eating it) and it just makes it grow faster. REALLY delicious though!

Rosey Pollen said...

Is this like the Canadian tree spinach?

Theresa said...

Heather, it is prolific, that's for sure! And they grow to be almost 3 feet tall here, if I let them. Definitely tasty though, I will certainly eat it again!

Rosey, I have not heard of Canadian tree spinach: is that a mythical Canadian plant of some kind? ;)

Iktomi said...

we have a ton of lambsquarters... it's pretty much the only thing that grew in our herb garden. :/ lol
but i'm glad to hear that it can be eaten! i'll have to try it sometime :)

kale for sale said...

The weed that surprised me as edible was the stinging nettle. Last year a couple popped up in the yard and I promptly pulled them out and popped them into a soup. I'd never have done that a few years ago. I'm going to watch the other weeds a little closer now. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying Lambsquarters a lot this summer, and just read that you can harvest the seeds and dry them to add to cereals or grind them to supplement wheat flour. (
Over the years I have begun drying raspberry leaves for tea; it is amazing for moon time cramps.
Also on the to do list: harvesting milk thistle (I take it in supplement form at the moment.. how weird is it that we pay for things at the store that are growing in the back yard?), and harvesting wild rose hips after the first frost.

Eco Yogini said...

how fun! this weekend I ate a couple of edible flowers at an Inn, Andrew as not as adventurous. It was interesting :)

Amber said...

I love the delicious 'weeds' that volunteer in my garden!

I have been eating lamb's quarters for much of the summer, nettles in the spring, wood sorrel for a little snack here and there and I finally got a positive i.d. on purslane, which is growing in my beds.

This is my favourite kind of gardening!

Theresa said...

Iktomi - they seem to grow when nothing else will, that's for sure!

Kale, I don't know if I have any stinging nettle around here - I will have to look up a picture of it so I can check. The more that's edible the better!

Claire - thanks, I did not know that about the seeds. They have a lot of seeds, so that is useful info, definitely. I have some thistle around here, but I think it is just the plain Canadian thistle. I agree 100% about the raspberry leaf tea for cramps - it works suprisingly well, so much so that I can often avoid taking Motrin/Advil, or at least lessen it. Our rose hips are ripening nicely - I will be picking them again this year to add to my yarrow/sage/bergemot tea over the winter.

EcoY - the first time I ate a pansy leaf, I felt a bit strange, and Gord sort of rolled his eyes when I put them in a salad. But he ate it!

Amber - ooo, that's purslane hey? I will keep my eye out for that.

All of this makes me feel a bit like those people on "Survivor" who were going hungry until an aboriginal/native person showed them that they were in the midst of plenty.

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Theresa said...

Hm. Well, thanks Ted, but I'm not quite sure how this little blog would make the top 100 anything!

Iktomi said...

stinging nettle is actually brewed in a tea for many holistic purposes.!&id=2090311

it can also be used to make cheese! although i tried this last year and the infusion wasn't strong enough, so when i get more goat milk i'll have to try it again.

Theresa said...

Iktomi - so would that be in place of rennet then? As a vegetarian, I would really like that!