Friday, June 22, 2012

Identifying And Harvesting Edible Weeds In The Garden

Lately, whenever we want some greens-- at least once every day-- I take a big bowl out to the garden and snip leaves off any weeds that look tasty. The best ones come right out of my raised beds: they grow in great soil, they're clean, and snipping them makes room for my more intentional and delicate plants. These same weeds go for a few dollars a bunch from my CSA. Be resourceful: harvest your own weeds!

dead nettle edible weeds
Dead nettle: The name, while ominous sounding, is meant to be reassuring. The leaves are nettle-shaped but don't have a sting. Edible leaves & flowers.

Most of the time, I don't pull out the roots unless the weed is in a spot where it will disadvantage a more needy plant. Most weeds are so hearty that you can clip all or most of the leaves and they will come back nice & full in a few days. Why pull up the roots, when these weeds provide a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants? Weeds are free, abundant, and best of all, they want to grow everywhere!

plantain edible weeds
A poultice of plantain will help draw out infection from a wound, and it also makes a great green vegetable! Its tough leaves can be cooked or blended raw in a smoothie.

In one sample harvest I gathered a large bowl of the following weeds, from a small section of a raised bed: Chickweed, borage, nipplewort, plantain, fireweed, dock, and dandelion. I deveined the dandelion and dock leaves and removed the larger stems from the fireweed. While the stem and midrib sections are edible, they're much pithier and sometimes more bitter than the tender leaves. I also made sure all the leaves were clean and free of slugs and grit (usually only a problem with leaves that were resting on the ground), and they're ready to use! 

fireweed edible weeds
Fireweed has a sharper taste than most of my garden weeds, so I use it in smaller quantities.

This combination would be great for a garden salad, but I generally prefer to toss everything in the blender, along with a couple of bananas, some chia or flax seeds, some kombucha and water for an easy, amazingly healthy and surprisingly delicious green smoothie. All of these weeds have a very mild flavor except the dandelion and fireweed. I made a smoothie once with a ton of dandelion greens and quickly learned it's better to mix them with other, milder, greens. For more smoothie ideas, check out my posts Wild Harvested Nettles Smoothie and Drink Your Veggies.

ox eye daisies edible weeds
Ox Eye Daisies: The leaves & flowers are edible. I personally think the flowers reek, but the petals are alright, and the leaves are tender and taste very interesting- my kids love them!

Other weedy greens I commonly use from my garden in smoothies include raspberry leaves, daisy leaves, and bedstraw. Bedstraw should only be used when young and tender, because older leaves produce high levels of silica. 

bedstraw edible weeds
Bedstraw: the mature plant contains too much silica to be palatable, but young plants and leaves are tender and mild. We call it "cat tongue" because of its raspy texture.

I've been very happy to discover that, after getting a load of free compost from another local urban farmer, I have tons of nutritious lambsquarters growing. Would anyone else be so happy to receive a load of surprise weeds? Lambsquarters is supposed to be one of the most nutrient dense greens you can eat, and I'd been eagerly awaiting the day when I had a free and abundant source of them. I haven't got a picture of it yet, but they're widely available online if you want to know what it looks like.

raspberry leaves edible weeds
Anyone else have a raspberry jungle in their garden? Thin out the volunteers occasionally, and use them in smoothies or cook them up like spinach.

Before I knew anything about edible weeds I eradicated all my purslane. It turns out purslane is an absolute delicacy, and all too easy to eradicate. Someday I hope to see some of this succulent green spreading over my garden beds again. Again, I don't have a photo of purslane, unfortunately. It's beautiful too! It really grows in a neat pattern.

deadly nightshade poisonous plants
Nightshade: not for human or animal. I try to pull it when I see it, but maybe some birds eat it and spread the seeds... more are always popping up here and there.

Weeds I would never consume, or give to my livestock, include foxglove, nightshade, buttercup, laurel, Spanish bluebells, and columbine. This, obviously, is not an extensive list; these are simply the most common poisonous plants in my Pacific Northwest yard. While I am working to eradicate the deadly nightshade, bluebells, and buttercups, I do allow the foxglove & columbine to thrive because the hummingbirds adore these flowers. We try to remember what other creatures besides ourselves need in a garden.


foxglove poisonous plants
Foxglove before flowering. This is probably the number one garden plant that everyone recognizes as poisonous. Don't eat. Same with the Spanish Bluebells scattered throughout the photo (and my yard). These are two prolific weeds best left untasted.

Then there are the plants I won't feed our family but that the rabbits & chickens can eat, including morning glory (or, more aptly, bindweed) most grasses, rose, and blackberry. We also get a lot of random mustard-family weeds, which I'm sure would be safe for our family to eat but I generally, not knowing exactly what they are, toss them to the bunnies. The rabbits also get any mint that I find growing in random places, although if it's clean I'll harvest it for tea. I also give the rabbits many chive blossoms, on their long tough stems. We occasionally eat them in salads, but, like weeds, we get so many more than we can use.

geums edible weeds
Geums, supposedly edible... if you like eating paper. Perfect for the rabbits & chickens ;)

It's worth learning about the volunteers & weeds in your garden. We've gone from spending about $15/week on greens to freely harvesting all we need right outside, absolutely fresh and organic, and often so much more nutritious than anything you can buy. Plus, they don't take up any valuable fridge space! Here's one more way you can use weeds: Lacto-Fermented Dandelion Soda, this time using the flowers.

sorrel edible weeds
These fish shaped leaves belong to Sorrel. The leaves are absolutely tender and easy to nibble. Add to salads, soups, sandwiches, or smoothies.

For more info on identifying and harvesting edible plants, check out my earlier posts Wild Foraging In April and Edible Weeds.

clover edible weeds
Clover, in addition to being a beneficial nitrogen-fixing plant, has edible leaves & flowers, and they're super nutritious. We're pulling out all the grass and letting the clover take over!

I'm posting an ad link below to my friend's book on eating weeds. Using my link to buy her book will help support our family as well as the author. Thanks in advance!


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39 comments

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Rebecca Dare
June 22, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Ah, what a great post. Thanks for your great photos and prose!

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June 26, 2012 at 2:47 PM

I love that you forage the wild edibles in your yard! I have no yard, but I am currently growing stuff in window boxes. I'm growing green onions, basil, and lots and lots of purslane. Its my absolute favorite foraged green, and I love growing it because it grows so easily!

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July 2, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Lovely post and pictures! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

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July 2, 2012 at 12:26 PM

This is the most thorough post I've seen on edible weeds and flowers. Thanks so much for sharing at Tiny Tip Tuesday! I'm pinning this!

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July 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Thank you! That's so nice to hear.

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July 3, 2012 at 3:29 AM

This is a really useful article as I am just looking into foraging at the moment. I make green smoothies (Green Thickies) every day and I'm really looking for ways to save money and eat healthier, so I'm now looking to the weeds on my lawn! We moved to our house a year ago and I'm not sure whether any chemicals were used on the lawn. We haven't used any ourselves. Do you think it's safe to eat the dandelions now? And can they be eaten once they've flowered?
It's great to have such good photos of other plants so I can go out and try and identify some other weeds.

I'll be bookmarking this page.

Many thanks

Katherine

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July 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM

You can definitely eat dandelion greens once they've flowered. I used to avoid them because I'd heard they got more bitter after flowering, but I've learned to use dandelion leaves along with enough other greens that I don't really notice whether they're bitter.
I don't know about chemicals on your lawn. I would do a google search to see how long lawn chemicals stick around. I bet that would be easy to find out. If it's a problem, you can do what I did and import free dirt from a local chicken farmer, create a few raised beds, water them, and watch the weeds roll in, chemical free.
I like that you call them "thickies". I try to keep our on the thin side because my kids complain if our green smoothies are too thick, but Nik & I don't mind them thick!

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July 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM

Very interesting, and super helpful that you included so many pictures to help us identify plants. Thank you!

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D_Y
July 3, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Very interesting. I'm adding loads of Oxeye Daisy from the roadside to my gardens and never knew the leaves were edible. I'll be sneaking some in to my family's salad soon.

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July 6, 2012 at 3:56 PM

I am always a bit afraid to eat wild edibles but it seems like you grow them in your backyard - is that true? They all look so lovely and ready to eat.

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July 6, 2012 at 4:16 PM

I have all kinds of weeds growing right in my backyard, which is very handy, but during early spring I do go to nearby forests to gather nettles. It's certainly more convenient when they're on your own property; also they're fresher and you know their history better!

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KimH
July 7, 2012 at 7:49 AM

What an awesome post.. Thanks for sharing. While I know many a wild green that are edible, its always great to "meet" someone who does it regularly.
I was about to freak when I saw the picture of the nightshade and then I saw you said not fit for consumption.. sheww. ;) I let these grow in a few places in my little back yard sanctuary and in a basement window well on the side of my house. It covers the hose I have hiding there & gives it a bit of welcome greenery & purple flowers and perhaps the birds like the little seeds it makes in the fall.
I also let a few poke weed go to seed every year. I dont eat it (not enough to really make a mess of it) but I have fond memories of picking much of it for my grandma. Its a pretty plant & I love the beautiful purple berries it makes in the fall & Im sure the birds appreciate them too.

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July 11, 2012 at 2:35 PM

great post thanks for sharing! I just harvested a good amount of red clover at the park/open space yesterday with the kids!

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Jen
July 13, 2012 at 8:54 AM

This is the kind of information I need! Pictures are great. I even recognize some of those weeds from my area. Still I am always a little fearful of eating something that is not good for me. Thanks for sharing!

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July 13, 2012 at 12:06 PM

It took me a while of knowing what things were for sure before I actually began eating them, and feeding them to my family. Now I am quite brave about it! If you are very sure you know what a certain plant is, say, dandelions, just try a small bit of leaf. You will see how harmless it is. It may not taste quite as good as lettuce, but mixed up in a salad, or added to a sandwich or smoothie, it will blend right in. And, plenty of wild greens DO taste as good as lettuce!

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July 31, 2012 at 3:30 PM

I'll never look at weeds the same way again. :) Thanks for linking up to "I Did It!" Tuesday. :)

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July 31, 2012 at 7:21 PM

I know! There's a whole world outside of edible plants.

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August 27, 2012 at 5:00 AM

Thanks for linking up at our Gluten Free Fridays recipe/info party! I have tweeted and pinned your entry! :) YAY! Thanks for helping us build a wonderful Gluten Free Community! Its great to connect! See you next Friday! Cindy from vegetarianmamma.com

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September 4, 2012 at 11:21 PM

This is great information. I never knew any of this before. Thank you so much for sharing with Wednesdays Adorned From Above Link Party last week. This weeks Link Party is opened at
http://www.adornedfromabove.com/2012/09/simple-anti-aging-moisturizer-and.html
from Wednesday until Sunday.
Hope to see you there.
Debi Bolocofsky
Adorned From Above
www.adornedfromabove.com

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Anonymous
September 17, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Helow again thank you for taking the time to make people aware, but always with caution cuz a perfectly healthy looking plant can also be sadly poisonous.. like say in Fukushima for example. i just wrote out a long-winded response in the Kombucha sector so will try to keep this short but this is a perfect example of what Schools should be teaching in classes. this is about survival as well.. always in mind the true pioneers & heroes in life were perhaps the ones who deemed which Mushroom was edible.. *coughs* i hear of recluse hippies in Australia that could give u every scientific name of a plant in a jungle.. this is the important Spiritual knowledge that has all been replaced by Fantastic Plastic. truly proves nothing is Evil until it passes the hands of Modern Man.
cheerz 4the sweet pics, Ziro Japan

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Anonymous
February 4, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Very good informative article. My father was a great teacher of living on the land & survival. He is no longer with us but I sure miss the hikes in the woods foraging for edible wild food sources in Ohio. I now live in Florida & things down here are just not the same

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February 4, 2013 at 5:06 PM

That's so wonderful that you had a first hand teacher of wild edibles in your family! I'm sure you can find books on wild edibles for your area, and you may be surprised because a lot of the same weeds grow ubiquitously throughout the country.

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April 16, 2013 at 11:55 PM

"We try to remember what other creatures besides ourselves need in a garden." What a lovely sentiment!

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April 17, 2013 at 1:21 PM

Wow! Dead nettle, which I've heard called purple archangel or more often just purple weed, is very familiar to me, but I had no idea it was edible! Thanks!!

I learned about purslane a few years ago, and I love it. It grows in my sidewalk cracks.

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April 18, 2013 at 8:19 AM

great post! last year was when I finally left the edible weeds in the garden rather than picking them up. we make nettle compost tea for the garden as it grows rampant around the edges. we have lots of burdock too, you can eat the root but the thistles drive me nuts as they stick to everything! we have lots of plantain too. we have this CRAZY nightshade vine growing up an old unused horse shed and the roots are like 3 feet deep- our one epic weed battle.

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April 23, 2013 at 7:33 AM

Geez, I wish I would have read this yesterday. I spent a few hours clearing out almost all of the above weeds from my beds. I have tried to identify some of them before without much luck. This post is fantastic. Thanks for the great pictures. Sharing today on facebook :)

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April 24, 2013 at 4:42 AM

Great article! We ate dandelion leaves in salad when we were kids and never thought twice about foraging in my grandfather's yard for the leaves. I now live in South Carolina where the summers are too hot to grow lettuce and spinach. Maybe it's time to check out the abundant weeds growing down here!

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April 24, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week; I hope you’ll join us again!


Cheers,
Kathy Shea Mormino

The Chicken Chick

http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com

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April 28, 2013 at 8:17 PM

I think I'd have to wrestle my chickens for the best weeds. :) Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week, it's always nice to visit your blog.
Cheers,
Kathy Shea Mormino
The Chicken Chick
http://www.The-Chicken-Chick.com

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May 18, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Great post. I need to do more of this.
Thanks for sharing at Wildcrafting Wednesday.
Jennifer

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May 22, 2013 at 7:15 AM

Thanks for sharing this excellent post. I dry raspberry leaves for tea, but I never thought to cook them up like spinach. Definitely something I am going to try. Thanks again.

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May 22, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Super cool! Glad Mind, Body & Sole shared you!!! Great info!!!

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Anonymous
June 25, 2013 at 6:05 AM

Ive started my backyard foraging and enjoy plantain, dandelion, hosta(flower buds were quite sweet, leaves crunchy), spiny lettuce(forgot the name... canadian thistle maybe?). I haven't quite figured out what is chickweed. I found wild blueberries (verified leaves). Wild onion/garlic seeds are great. I really regret pulling out the garlic mustard this spring. I would have love to have tried it. I tried my lawn violets, quiet yummy.

I think any of these mixed in with a bit of fresh basil, mint, and a bit of store bought romaine is a GREAT salad.

I would like to find and verify amaranth and chickweed. I think I found goose foot/lambs quarter. But it looks very pail with circles on some of the leaves. Some leaves look very pail. I remember seeing this all over the place in queens.

I wont try milk weed or poke weed. I know I can but, I don't want to chance it.

Is there a webwsite that I can send in pictures to verify the names of edible forages Ive think Ive found?

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June 25, 2013 at 6:42 AM

There must be a website like that, but I don't know of it. When I'm unsure of a plant, I just google what I think it is, until I find a lot of pictures that show it in different stages and habitats, so I can be sure. You can search google images for lambsquarters to find all the varieties of it, and then you'll know if it sometimes has circles on the leaves (mine doesn't).
It helps to also familiarize yourself with all the actually poisonous plants in your area. Then if you want to test a plant, after researching it, you can be pretty sure it's not one of the deadly ones.
Chickweed grows like a dense carpet, sometimes getting quite tall but usually only about 4" thick on the ground. This site has some good identifying photos, but it usually grows in much denser clumps than pictured: http://www.ppws.vt.edu/scott/weed_id/steme.htm

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June 28, 2013 at 6:57 AM

Mellow, thanks for sharing this post with Simple Meals Friday! I love all my edible weeds. :) This is one of our featured posts this week!

http://nourishingsimplicity.org/2013/06/simple-meals-friday-38.html

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September 16, 2013 at 5:14 PM

I always get so nervous with the weeds, so you are a braver soul than I. Thanks for sharing over on Tuesday Greens!

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October 24, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Many people just take out lawn weeds with chemicals, but I've used a lot of these (http://www.procarelandscape.com/326/how-to-recognize-common-lawn-weeds/) medicinally as well as for food. My favorite is plantain, and I'm partial to broadleaf over ribwort.

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March 5, 2014 at 11:14 AM

It's good to see other people picking the weeds!
A good tip to eat weeds, is blending them in smoothies...or eating individual leaves instead of creating a salad. I never have much luck with making my own wild salads,
but if anyone is interested, I have a list of wild edibles to pick during the fall and winter here: http://veganslivingofftheland.blogspot.com/2013/11/foraging-for-wild-edibles-fall-winter.html

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