Free Food in Your Yard: Edible Weeds!
Next time you're about to yank an offending plant from your immaculate garden of perennials, think twice: you just might be looking at dinner.
Oh, I know what you're thinking: damn hippies! Always eating anything and everything that grows under the sun. What's next? A guide to the best 'shrooms?
Well, my friend, I may be a bit of a hippie, but that doesn't mean that you too can't partake in the pleasures of foraged food. It's one of the most frugal food choices you can make, and nowadays, it's even kind of hip (yes, that's me, putting the "hip" in "hippie"). All the foodies/ecosexuals are going wild for wild weeds!
I love the idea of going out in the wild to find food. Wild blueberries and blackberries grow in my area, as do morels, funny-looking mushrooms that cost upwards of $50 a pound at the supermarket. But if mountain trekking with a truffle pig sounds a bit too involved for you, consider sampling from your own yard. I've known that some of the most hated weeds are edible for a long time, but I didn't realize just how many of them grew in my boyfriend's yard. Here are a few that I've found to be quite delicious. And while I don't entirely object to chemicals as a method of weed control, I find that simply eating the invasive bastards is much more satisfying.
This stuff grows like a forest in the lot next to my house, and occasionally pops up in my yard. A neighbor finally clued us in as to what it was. The plant creeps my neighbor out, because it grows fast. The shoots are up one day, and a week later, it's higher than your head.
The neighbor who told me the name of the weed also told us that it was edible, but that only the shoots were really worth eating.
It turns out that this isn't true — I mean, I'm sure it's invasiveness is awful, but you can eat it when it gets big. I only found out because I was determined to eat those things rather than to let them live. So I just started popping the tops off of the full-grown plant. The young leaves are still curled, so I just threw away any leaves that had unfurled. Anything that was sort of waxy and light green was game as far as I was concerned — pretty much the top four inches of any of those 6 foot shoots, as well as any young leaves that were sprouting up and down the stalk.
I did manage to get a few shoots that were young, growing around my rhododendron. Gathering and washing did take a bit of time, but I tell you, it was worth it.
Most of the recipes that I've found for knotweed compare it to rhubarb, and thus, use it like rhubarb (pies and such). Now, I love pie, but I don't bake. So I just sauteed these tips in a little olive oil with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. And it was tasty! It'd difficult to compare the texture to anything else — sort of bamboo, sort of asparagus, sort of kale, both slightly crunchy and very tender — but the taste was lemony and delicious.
And it's good for you! Japanese knotweed has lots of resveratol, and is even used as a source for reservatol capsules that are sold as health supplements. From Wikipedia:
A number of beneficial health effects, such as anti-cancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and life-prolonging effects have been reported in non-human species (e.g. rats). Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes and as a constituent of red wine but, based on extrapolation from animal trials, apparently not in sufficient amounts to explain the “French paradox” that the incidence of coronary heart disease is relatively low in southern France despite high dietary intake of saturated fats.
It's also very high in vitamin C!
Purslane grew like crazy in my parents' yard, but oddly enough, it never occurred to me to actually eat it. My mother yanked it out of the ground with the efficiency and cold-heartedness of a seasoned gardener, and I remember thinking that is was so different from the other plants that grew in the area.
That's because purslane is a succulent. A "succulent", in addition to being really fun to say, is a plant that retains water in the leaves and stems - cacti are succulents. Aloe, jade plants, hens-n-chicks - and, as it turns out, purslane. Purslane looks sort of like bloated thyme, with a reddish stem and small, thick leaves.
I actually saw a bundle of purslane at Ranch 99, my local Chinese supermarket, as well as at Whole Foods, but I didn't recognize it as that plant that my mother used to heartlessly toss in the compost bin until recently.
Not only is it tasty, as it's technically a succulent herb, but it's good for you, too! From About.com:
Purslane just happens to contain alpha-linolenic acid, one of the highly sought-after Omega-3 fatty acids. Why pay money for fish oil when you can grow your own Omega-3 fatty acids as part of your edible landscaping? Especially when it takes little effort to grow purslane, since it does grow like a weed.
No, purslane (Portulaca olearacea) isn't yet another of those leafy "rabbit-foods" that only a Ewell Gibbons could love. Purslane is more than merely edible landscaping — it is a culinary delight! In fact, it is a succulent herb. Keep that word in mind. For "succulent" provides a hint both to the weed's identification and the potential of this edible landscaping component for cooking recipes.
Not only does purslane have leaves in Omega-3 fatty acid, but it also has stems high in vitamin C. Omega-3 fatty acids are instrumental in regulating our metabolism. Purslane contains one of the highest known concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids — five times the concentration in spinach.
Purslane is supposed to add a wonderful crunch to salads and even sandwiches. Click around for recipes for purslane-yogurt-cucumber salad, Turkish purslane and lamb stew, purslane pilaf, chickpea and purslane salad, and a variety of other selections from Epicurious.com.
Dandelions are the most maligned and probably the most common weed across the US. You might not find Japanese knotweed or purslane in your yard, but chances are that you've got dandelions. You can spray them with chemicals, yank them out, and scream like a maniac, but it's a never-ending battle to get rid of those things.
And I figure — if you're pulling them out of the garden, why not eat 'em?
Dandelions are widely eaten throughout much of Europe, where its bitter taste is balanced out by cooking it with eggs, bacon, cream, or all three. Their status as an edible green is really only starting to take root (har!) in the US now. You can find bundles of dandelion greens at Whole Foods, if you're too afraid to start with what is in your yard.
Dandelion is a diuretic (it makes you pee, like asparagus), and the French have a special name for it: "pissenlits", which in addition to being fun to say, means, "wet your bed", although unless you have a weak bladder, you don't have much to worry about from dandelions in that regard. Dandelions have been used as a therapeutic herb in Europe and Asia for centuries. The root is used to stimulate the liver and cleanse the bloodstream. It's also apparently quite high in vitamin A.
Dandelion greens can be tossed into a salad of mixed greens, or sauteed and served like any other bitter green, such as escarole. Kitchen Parade has some lovely recipes for sides and soup. Edward and Eugenia Giobbi offer a recipe for dandelion greens sauteed with chestnuts. My personal favorite recipe is for dandelion greens with eggs. There are so many ways to enjoy this pervasive and invasive weed.
Don't forget — it's not just the greens that are edible! Dandelion flowers can be used to make wine. And you probably know how Wise Bread feels about wine! Well, if you don't, we encourage it. Dandelion roots can also be sauteed and eaten, or made into a coffee substitute, but that sounds like too much work.
Things to Remember
There are lots and lots of edible weeds, as evidenced by some of the links above. Johnny Jump-ups, a fragrant wild violet that grows all over my parents' yard, are delicious in fresh salads. Norwegian blackberries are an invasive species in much of the Pacific Northwest, but damn, do I ever love picking those berries in the summer.
As always, when foraging, don't eat anything that you can't positively identify. Don't pick anything near industrial waste sites, and be sure to wash everything very thoroughly. If you use herbicides and pesticides in your yard, you might not want to eat anything that grows there (then again, if you already do eat things from your garden, so be it).