Don’t Spray Those Wild Weeds!
Eat them instead! Well, some of them! So many of the plants that we treat as pests in our lawns are both delicious and nutritious backyard edible weeds. If we were on a hike and saw a head of broccoli or kale, we’d know what that was and that we could eat it. If it was growing in our yard, we’d harvest it for food.
Well, similarly, there are many edible plants in the wild and in our yards (!), that are there waiting and ready to be plucked as food. Learning about wild edible plants and edible weeds, not only expands our awareness on what’s possible, it can lighten our grocery bill, nourish our bodies and help in preparedness and survival skills should we ever need to survive on edible plants in the wild.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article and site cannot be construed as medical advice or health advice. We are not medical professionals and are only sharing information gleaned from our own experience and research.
Benefits of Edible weeds
- Free… gifts from Mother Earth
- Adds variety to your diet
- Often readily available
- Many are rich in nutrients
- Most have medicinal benefits
- They’re locally grown!!!😊
Imported Staple Foods
Did you know that some of the common weeds people pay money to kill today were brought over by our European ancestors to plant as food crops? We’ve written about that more in these other articles which we’ll also link at the end, because if you like this article, you’ll probably want more!1)https://www.gardensall.com/mallow-plant/2)https://www.gardensall.com/grow-dandelion-super-food-specialty-crop/
Today, Americans regularly kill the plants our ancestors brought with them for survival food and medicine.
If you’re a regular reader here at GardensAll.com, you’ll have noticed that we’re big on wild edibles and even “weeds”, as a valuable food source. So often pulled as weeds—or worse—poisoned to kill out.
Sorry to say that we did that for years. Can’t even explain why we weren’t more aware sooner. Clearly we weren’t thinking! Anyway, now we’re making up for it by harvesting our backyard edible weeds. Now…
Everytime I encounter a new plant my first thought is, “Is it edible and/or medicinal?”
Beyond that we’re even planting and growing some edible weeds on purpose. Our favorite wild edible yard weed… (the one that most people dread and curse) that we love and value, is Dandelion!3)https://www.gardensall.com/grow-dandelion-super-food-specialty-crop/
We’ll link those other articles at the end of this one in the footnotes and references. Meanwhile, grab your clippers! Here are three wild edibles that are probably growing in your backyard right now.
First up is a plant named for the animal that likes it. Can you guess…?
Backyard Edible Weeds
More than Chicken Feed
Henbit – Lamium amplexicaule
Did you know or guess?
Distinctive looking, henbit is so named because chickens like to eat it. Hummingbirds also like henbit and are attracted to the nectar in its tiny purple, trumpet shaped flowers, reminiscent of miniature dendrobium orchids.4)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dendrobium
If you’re familiar with mint, you’ll recognize this plant as belonging to the mint family, though henbit doesn’t have a minty smell or taste. Instead it’s taste is reminiscent of raw kale, and while nutritional makeup of henbit is hard to find, henbit’s medicinal benefits are well known.
Medicinal uses of Henbit
Edible Ground Cover Beneficial for Erosion Control
- Low growing
- Full sun (except in hottest part of summer)
- Partial shade
- Full shade (so long as not densely shaded and dark)
You’ll begin to see henbit growing in mid winter in temperate states. It will continue to be available all the way through spring, and only dies back if exposed to the full heat of the summer sun.
Henbit is not hard to spot, making it a very good plant to begin your wild edibles journey. Leaves grow in internodes5)https://www.britannica.com/science/internode along square shaped stems, and grows well in full sun (except in summer), partial shade and full shade, so long as it’s not too dark.
This is not a well studied plant scientifically, so nutritional information is not readily available. However, like most plants in the mint family, you can expect it to be high in antioxidants and minerals such as iron.6)https://www.eattheweeds.com/henbit-top-of-the-pecking-order/
As a sturdy low-growing plant that likes to spread, henbit is an edible ground cover beneficial for erosion control.
I like eating henbit best raw in salads where it adds vibrant green heart shaped leaves. Top it off with sprinkles of henbit’s purple flowers to delight the eye and the palate, similar to another wild weed: wild violets.
For harvesting henbit, clip off the tops, wait for the patch to bush out, and clip again. Make sure to leave some flowers for the pollinators, and so that it can reseed and come again next year.
Next up is probably the most well known—and oft cursed—weed in the Western world. Before you scroll down, pause for a moment and see if you can guess it.
The leaves and flowers of henbit are edible, raw or cooked.
Digging Dandelions ~ Taraxacum officinale
You know that spring is coming when dandelions start popping up in your yard.
Did you also know that nearly all of this plant is edible? Yup, that’s one of the things that make it so valuable a “weed”. Not only does it proliferate everywhere, but also every part of it can be used as food and medicine from root to flowers to leaves.
Some say to not eat the stems, others say it’s fine, but best used medicinally. Given that the white milky substance in dandelion stems is a kind of latex, I don’t think I’d care to consume that. However, I will definitely try it on the next wart to appear in our family, and report back here.7)https://www.naturalhealthmag.com.au/content/health-benefits-dandelion8)https://www.healthextremist.com/what-to-do-with-dandelions/
Meanwhile, Dan McDonald of LifeRegenerator.com says that he uses the stems as a liver purifier. You can see more on dandelion and Dan’s video here.
DANDELION STEMS: The white milky substance in dandelion stems is latex and is used as an herbal remedy for warts, as well as the sap of the root.
Dandelion is so common that I feel a bit silly even describing it, but there are some lookalikes out there, so here’s what to search for:
Dandelion Greens Identification
- Deeply toothed, smooth (not fuzzy) leaves,
- Basal growth (leaves grow low to the ground, radiating out from a central core)
- Tap rooted plant (anchored by a single deep taproot)
- Single bright yellow flower spiky ball-shaped flower on each plant
Need vitamin A? Dandelions are loaded with it. A single cup of the raw greens will provide up to 111% of your RDA for vitamin A. Dandelion is also rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron, fiber and potassium, and is known to be good for the liver and is subsequently a common ingredient in detox teas.
Dandelions Greens Nutrition:
- Vitamin A (1 cup = 111% RDA)
- Vitamin C
Health Benefits of Dandelion Greens
Excerpted from Ingrid DeHart on EatWellEnjoyLife.com
- Dandelions are among the most nutritious leafy greens that you can eat. They have more beta carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, and an abundance of vitamins. One cup of dandelion greens contains 15 percent protein, 112% of our daily recommendation of vitamin A, 32% of vitamin C, and 535% of vitamin K, a magnificent 218 mg potassium, 103 mg calcium, and 1.7 mg iron
- Dandelion greens are an outstanding bitter tonic for the entire digestive system The chlorophyll acts as a fertilizer for good bacterial growth in the intestines to prevent proliferation of yeast, parasites and bad bacteria.
- The bitters have an antiseptic effect on the kidneys and liver improving their function.
- The French name for dandelion is piss-en-lit. This literally means wet the bed, speaking to the diuretic properties of the bitter green helping our body remove excess water.
- Dandelion greens are anti-inflammatory. They help to reduce swelling which is the root cause of many chronic diseases.
- It can purify the bloodstream and liver, and it can stimulate the manufacture of bile which helps break down fat.9)https://eatwellenjoylife.com/sauteed-dandelion-greens/
Our favorite dandelion products are the dandelion wine and dandelion tea. We use the tea daily for ongoing health and detoxification of the liver.
Flowers and leaves can be eaten cooked or raw. Some leaves can seem quite bitter to those not used to eating raw and unprocessed foods. The younger the leaves, the less bitter, so you might want to start there for eating raw dandelion leaves in salads. You can also start add a few leaves at a time to your usual salad mix, especially if you’re preparing salad for picky eaters and those not open to trying new foods.
Older leaves can be lightly steamed to help remove some of the bitterness. Add just a little butter, salt and pepper, and you have delicious and nutritious cooked greens.
You can even make a wine with the flowers. The roots can be boiled and eaten, or roasted and brewed into a coffee substitute. I personally don’t think that anything tastes like coffee but coffee, but some are amazed by the likeness. It makes for a healthy, caffeine free drink, so even if you’re not looking to replace coffee, drink it for the nutrition benefits. Your liver will thank you.
Our favorites are dandelion salad, lightly steamed dandelion leaves with lemon butter, and a few leaves added to green juice. Also dandelion tea for its detox and antifungal properties. We’ve not yet made our own dandelion tea so we buy a couple different brands from Amazon… mostly the Traditional Medicinal brand.
We’ll make our own tea once our dandelion crops are producing more. For now, we don’t want to sacrifice a few plants by digging up and using the roots. We’re also eager to try making dandelion wine with the flowers. Let us know if you’ve made dandelion wine, and also your other favorite dandelion recipes.10)https://gardensall.com/dandelion-for-food-medicine-tea-and-wine/
We know many folks have a tradition of fried dandelion buds… but fried foods aren’t healthy. There are many foods and recipes that not only taste good but are also good for you. So we focus more on those rather than recipes that may be good for your taste buds but bad for your body.
Dandelion Recipe: Sauteed Dandelion Greens with Garlic
Thanks to Ingrid DeHart of EatWellEnjoyLife.com for this video demonstration.
Editor’s Note: Only thing… in this video when Ingrid pours out the blanched dandelion greens, we would save the water, let it cool, then use it to water plants, so don’t dump out that water!
You’ll find dandelions growing from spring through early summer.
Last up is a small plant that packs a nutritional wallop. Hint: it reminds us a bit of watercress or “cressy greens”. How about you?
Check out Chickweed
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a cute, low growing plant with oval-shaped leaves that grow in an opposite pattern. Chickweed’s tiny, white flowers have five petals that are so deeply divided that they look like ten petals until you examine them closely. You’ll begin to see this spreading plant in winter in the temperate states, and everywhere by spring.
Look around the base of trees for chickweed, in dappled sun areas, and against raised beds and house foundations. Chickweed is extremely delicious with a taste similar to a mild spinach. Leaves and flowers are edible, cooked or raw.
Nutritionally this small plant gives big returns. One serving of chickweed (about 3.5oz) can provide the following RDA’s (based on a 2,000 calorie diet):
- 53% of your potassium needs
- 121% of your calcium needs
- 300% of your Vitamin A needs
- 625% of your Vitamin C needs
- 1407% of your iron needs (What?!)
Chickweed is also rich in magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, manganese, and dietary fiber. This plant is no joke, and it can be found routinely in backyards.
Nutritionally, chickweed is a small plant that gives big returns.
Trim the tops of your chickweed patch, and let it re-flush before harvesting more. It should grow continually and spread.
Add the leaves raw to green juices and salads. You can top sandwiches with chickweed, or saute them. Fresh chickweed pesto is a flavorful, green tasting treat.
- 3 cups of fresh chickweed leaves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup of pine nuts (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a food processor, and blend until a smooth paste forms. Add salt and pepper to taste. Will keep in the fridge (covered) for about 10 days.
Potato Leek Soup or Vichyssoise Recipe with Chickweed
Here’s one more of our favorite recipes where we substitute chickweed for watercress when our chickweed is in season.
Vichyssoise is a creamed soup of potatoes and leeks. We add fresh watercress or chickweed greens to ours. You can see more about that recipe and story on our recipe site: RecipesAndMe.com
Makes a large enough amount to serve four hungry people as a main course with enough for a few days of “planned-overs”.
- 1 stick of salted butter (4oz)
- 2 lbs leeks, washed & chopped
- 2 lbs potatoes, roughly chopped (we like red or russet but use whichever kind you have)
- 12 cups vegetable broth
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 2 bunches of watercress (substitute chickweed, or half as much dandelion greens or other garden greens)
- 1 cup half and half (or substitute with heavy cream, milk and/or yogurt)*
*For more rich and creamy, use heavy cream or half and half. For lighter, use whole milk; for slightly tart, use yogurt.
- WASH: Wash and chop leeks and potatoes.
- MELT: Melt butter in large soup pot.
- STIR: Stir chopped leeks and potatoes into soup pot.
- COVER: Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes.
- COOK: Add soup stock, bring to a boil and then simmer until veggies are tender, (about 15 minutes). Remove from heat when done.
- SOAK: Soak watercress or other greens in cold water to wash them while the potatoes and leeks are cooking.
- CHOP: Wash and chop the leaves and stems (we use both for all the green goodness).
- BLEND: After soup has cooled a little, blend using a hand mixer, or ladel into a Vitamix (or other good blender) and blend in batches. Reserve some of the soup unblended if you prefer a heartier blend.
- STIR chopped greens into soup.
- SERVE: Serve hot or chill and serve cold.
Wild Edibles Safety Tips
- Be sure that you have positively identified your plant before eating it.
- Avoid harvesting from areas that have been sprayed with herbicides or lawn fertilizers. They can be difficult to completely wash off.
- As you’ve just learned, wild edibles can be very nutrient dense, so much so that your body may not be accustomed to their richness. To avoid a tummy ache, start by eating small amounts, and work your way up to normal sized servings.
There you have it. Take a walk around your backyard, and look for these three superstar wild edibles.
And here are the links to those other articles on this topic that you will likely also enjoy.11)https://gardensall.com/marsh-mallow-a-return-to-edible-and-medicinal-roots/12)https://gardensall.com/one-of-the-best-weeds-for-food-and-medicine/13)https://www.gardensall.com/dandelion-for-food-tea-wine-and-health/
Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatiod arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.
References [ + ]