Nutritious weeds for meals & medicine

“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”

For me, as a lifetime gardener in Winnipeg, I have found it easy over my 35 years of gardening to dismiss weeds as an annoyance that I must either put up with, OR try to eradicate mechanically (I don’t use chemicals) during our short gardening season. It feels like we are “forced” to deal with those plants that grow incredibly well here, but that aren't intentionally planted.

We spend a lot of time, energy, and water in our efforts to get our purchased plants and seedlings to grow, and take pride in our green thumb and homegrown food supply. But when a plant that we identify as being a weed is found growing in our lawn or garden, out comes the hoe and we may spend the entire growing season keeping these opportunistic and resilient plants at bay, in order to have neat and tidy garden beds and uniform lawns.

Lately, I’ve started to find out that many of the common garden weeds are not only edible and nutritious, but can be a great homegrown (and free) addition to our meals. I wonder if part of the resistance to eating plants that we believe to be weeds is that we are conditioned to only consider the items we find in the grocery store as food, and not things that the rest of the neighborhood sees as unwelcome invaders in lawns and gardens. Once in a while, we come across dandelion greens or purslane for sale in the farmers market, but for the most part, many common edible garden weeds aren't available anywhere else except for our lawns or garden beds. Opportunity?!

Well, here are some common garden weeds that can be used for meals and medicine:
Dandelion

The quintessential garden and lawn weed, dandelions have a bad reputation among those who want grass that looks as uniform as a golf course, yet every part of this common edible weed is tasty both raw and cooked, from the roots to the blossoms. Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any point in the growing season, and while the smaller leaves are considered to be less bitter and more palatable raw, the bigger leaves can be eaten as well, especially as an addition to a green salad. If raw dandelion leaves don't appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The flowers are sweet and crunchy, and can be eaten raw, or breaded and fried, or even used to make dandelion wine. The root of the dandelion can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute, or added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables. I was in France last summer and was surprised to discover that there are Dandelion farms there that specialize in growing and harvesting over 100 varieties of dandelion for markets, cafes and restaurants.

Purslane

Purslane can often be found in moist garden beds, lawns, and shady areas, where it lies close to the ground and often goes unnoticed. This humble garden weed, however, is a nutritional powerhouse, as it is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable, and can be a great addition to a salad or stir-fry, or used to thicken soups or stews. Purslane is a succulent, with a crispy texture, and the leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked to add a peppery flavor to any dish.

Clover

Other than the occasional four-leafed clover hunt, this common lawn weed goes mostly unnoticed, but is an important food for honeybees and bumblebees; clover leaves and flowers can be used to add to a variety to meals. Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be chopped into salads, or can be sautéed and added to dishes for a green accent, and the flowers of both red and white clover can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for tea.

In Winnipeg, since 2015, after we banned the use of cosmetic herbicides, we notice on our bike rides that clover is growing again in earnest in the big meadows of our parks, and an evening bike ride exposes your sense of smell to the sweetest clover scents that make you want to slow down and really savour the aromas.

Lamb's Quarters

The young shoots and leaves of Lamb's Quarters (also known as goosefoot) can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or sautéed or steamed and used anywhere spinach is called for. The seeds of the Lamb's Quarters, which resemble quinoa, can also be harvested and eaten, although it takes a lot of patience to gather enough to make it worthwhile.

Plantain

This common lawn weed is not only a great medicinal plant that can be used topically to soothe burns, stings, rashes, and wounds, but is also a great edible green for the table. The young leaves of plantain can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, and while the older leaves can be a bit tough, they can be cooked and eaten as well. The seeds of the plantain, which are produced on a distinctive flower spike, can be cooked like a grain or ground into a flour, and are related to the more well-known psyllium seeds, which are sold as a fiber supplement and natural laxative.

Chickweed

This rather unassuming garden weed can be harvested and used for both food and medicine. Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw or cooked, where it adds a delicate spinach-like taste to any dish. The plant can also be used as a topical poultice for minor cuts, burns, or rashes, and can be made into a tea for use as a mild diuretic.

Curly Dock

Curly dock (also called yellow dock) leaves can be eaten raw when young, or cooked when older, and added to salads or soups. The stems of the dock plant can be peeled and eaten either cooked or raw, and the mature seeds can be boiled, or eaten raw, or roasted to make a coffee substitute. Dock leaves are rather tart, and because of their high oxalic acid content, it's often recommended to only eat them in moderation, as well as to change the water several times during cooking.

“But a weed is simply a plant that wants to grow where people want something else. In blaming nature, people mistake the culprit. Weeds are people's idea, not nature's.”

Author Unknown

 

Happy Gardening!

 

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Jan

Guest post by Jan - Bylands Account Representative

I’m very proud of my 4 children.  All 4 of them, worked many summers in the garden centre, they love plants and gardening too – but opted for totally different careers.  Jan loves living in Winnipeg and adds extensive plant knowledge to our team at Bylands.  You can sometimes find Jan as a guest on ‘The Gardener’, a radio program in Winnipeg on Sundays.