Edible Weeds, Who Knew?

cattail by riverbed

I think we all feel the same way about weeds, “not in my yard!” They are certainly the last thing we want to see pop up as spring gets in full bloom. But if you take your hands off the weed whacker for a moment and listen to a few experts you may have a change of heart and see that the best revenge for a garden full of weeds is to pluck them from the ground – and put them on your plate!  Really, edible weeds?

Weeds, believe it or not, can occasionally perform positive functions. In a natural forest ecosystem the layering trees, shrubs, herbs and, yes, weeds that grow on top of one another form a “guild.” When guilds mature the intended plants become established (i.e. your summer tomatoes), so in the end a few weeds can actually help the system.

When guilds, or our home garden, mature these weeds help round out the growth of the plants we really intend to eat.

But the power of weeds doesn’t end there!

We are always looking for new ways to feed themselves, think $100+ a plate for the recent craze in molecular gastronomy. Weeds not only supply own garden plants with a great ecosystem, they can supplement our diet. Edible weeds like garlic mustard and the common dandelion are great in salads, and Cattail, a weed found near lakes and streams, can make its own pancakes– and syrup!

So give weeds another chance! You may start looking to them as resources instead of a nuisance.

Here are a few edible weeds we recommend picking and plating up this spring:

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata = A. officinalis = Sisymbrium alliaria). This weed, abundant in the northwest area, has slightly bitter, garlicky leaves that are great for salads. They lose aroma when cooked, so they are best eaten raw.

Cattail (Typha spp.). Look for cattails growing on the shores of lakes and ponds, in flooded areas and in ditches. The ultimate breakfast weed, its pollen can be used as flour, great for making pancakes. Its white core can be boiled into syrup.

Common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). This familiar weed is easily recognizable and can be found just about anywhere. Its leaves are good in salad, adding a bitter green flavor.

Nipplewort (Lapsana communis). This often-overlooked garden weed has small leaves that will add some flair to a salad. Pull the leaves when newly sprouted, prior to flowering, because they tend to produce lots of seeds.

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). While these berries are tasty on their own, their young, unfolding leaves are great for tea. Pick the tender young leaves on the tips of the branches, steep in boiling water for 10 minutes and enjoy!

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