Edible weed, Wood Sorrel, Oxalis pes-caprae, (also known as sourgrass). Photo credit: Sommer Cartier
By Sommer Cartier.
For many of us, weeds can be a garden scourge. You step away from the garden only to return to a fortress of dandelions, stinging nettle and purslane. The task of weeding, especially after a stretch of rain, can be daunting. However, for some, weeding is like a treasure hunt. Some varieties of weeds are delicious and incredibly nutritious, making them an exciting find in the garden. These edible wild greens can make a great addition to any salad, sandwich or garden smoothie. So perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift on weeds. Rather than viewing weeds as an unwelcomed guest, we should treat them like any other tasty nutritious green and eat them.
Before reading on, here is a note of caution. Not all weeds are edible. Some weeds (flowers and plants) are highly toxic. For this reason, it’s very important that you never eat a plant without first knowing whether it’s toxic or safe for eating. In addition to this practice, only eat weeds grown in areas where you are certain they have not been treated with pesticides and chemicals.
Below is a list of some edible weeds that can be found in San Diego gardens.
· Dandelions: Dandelion leaves,Taraxacum officinale F.H. Wigg., can be a wonderful salad green, especially when tossed in a light home-made vinaigrette. You can throw them in a super green smoothie for a boost of nutrients. They are packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, and beta carotene.
· Lambs Quarters: Chenopodium album L. - This plant as pale green leaves whose shape resemble goose feet. They’re similar to spinach in taste and can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. The seeds are packed with protein, vitamin A and calcium, much like the super grain, quinoa.
· Purslane: Portulaca oleracea L. - A succulent like herb that has red stems, fleshy green leaves and bright yellow flowers, all of which are edible. Purslane is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and contains vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. This delightful green can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes great in salads, sandwiches, stir fries and soups.
· Stinging Nettle: Stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, are high in magnesium, calcium, iron and vitamin A. They also contain a lot of protein making them a great superfood! While not related, stinging nettle, with its large toothed leaves, looks very much like large leaf mint. However, characteristically they are very different. The stems and leaves of this nettle contain short microscopic hairs that irritate the skin when touched. For this reason, it’s important to cover up with rubber gloves and long sleeve shirts when harvesting these plants. The leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach or used in pesto or soups. Nettle leaves can also be hung to dry and used for tea.
Stinging Nettle, washed and dried in a salad spinner, ready for sautéing in Karen England's kitchen. Photo credit: Karen England
With a little understanding and knowledge of edible weeds, gardeners can adopt a whole new attitude towards wild greens. And maybe, these nutritious edible weeds can even make you look at weeding in a whole new light.
Sommer Cartier is a certified Master Gardener with a Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change. Her specialty is working with local food systems and using gardens as a tool for community engagement.