Gardening is a fun and rewarding hobby, but what about all the plant’s you don’t have to grow? Many people enjoy the sport of foraging. Foraging is the art of identifying and collecting edible and useful wild plants. You may be able to find some of these edible weeds right around the gardens at Grand Villa in Grand Junction, Colorado, but you can also find them at local parks or in the backyards of friends and family. Here’s a quick guide and five edible weeds to get you started on your foraging journey.
The only difference between a weed and the other plants in the garden is that someone a long time ago decided that one was more proper than the other. That’s not to say that carrots, lettuce and tomatoes are elitist aristocrats looking down on the peasant dandelions and clovers. But there is merit to the lesser plants that’s easy to overlook due to their low caste position.
One of the biggest things people miss out on by not eating weeds is the nutritional value. Most wild plants are super food. For example, dandelion greens, the leafy part, contain more vitamins and minerals than most other leafy greens. They may even be more nutritious than royalty like kale and spinach.
Another reason to start eating weeds is sustainability. There are tons of free foods on the planet that are cut, pulled or snipped instead of eaten. For every weed you add to your garden salad instead of throwing out, you’re saving a little time and money. Also many weeds are invasive species, so removing as many as possible helps keep the local ecosystem in balance.
You should never eat anything if you aren’t 100% sure what it is and how to prepare it properly. Many dangerous plants may look similar to edible plants. It’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for and familiarize yourself with the plants before you start eating them. It’s best to stick to easily identifiable plants that don’t have any look-alikes. You can find identification guides online or buy a field journal with local plant identification charts. Most plants can be identified by its combination of traits, such as leaf shape and arrangement.
One fun way to study plant identification is to keep a foraging journal. When you find out about a new plant, make a page in your journal with how to identify it, what parts are edible and other important facts. You can add samples to your journal by using clear packing tape to laminate the plant and tape it to the back of the page. Then, whenever you’re identifying that plant again, all you have to do is look in your journal to make sure you have the right weed.
Dandelions are one of the best plants to start with. They’re easy to identify, completely edible and very delicious. Dandelions produce yellow flowers and have hairless, toothed leaves, which is where they get their name. The leaves only grow from the bottom of the stalk, which is commonly referred to as having basal leaves. The dandelion's stem will always be straight with no branches.
This weed is versatile, and you can eat it in a number of ways. You can harvest the leaves and add them to a salad, steep the flower petals to make tea and even use the roots to make a coffee substitute — without caffeine. There are also a number of recipes you can use dandelion for such as dandelion blossom cookies.
You can also use the flowers to make wine, which could make a fun, interesting gift for your adult children.
This wild plant is a common unwanted guest in gardens. Bittercress has a spicy, mustard-like taste that makes it perfect for adding a little kick to any dish. It’s found in most parts of the world and is recognizable by its rounded leaves. The first two leaves are always a couplet of kidney-shaped round leaves.
Ignore this plant's ominous name. It’s actually a safe, garden-variety treat. Common purple dead nettle has leaves that get purple close to the center and top of the plant, and it has a square stem. You can use its leaves as you would any leafy green. It has a slightly flowery flavor.
This plant looks very similar to deadnettle. The identification is almost the same, but luckily, they’re both edible. So, if you mistake them for each other it’s not a huge deal. The easiest way to tell them apart is that henbit's flowers are much longer and skinnier.
This lemon-drop flavored weed is often mistaken as a clover, and many four-leaf clover designs are actually wood sorrel. The big difference between the two is that wood sorrel has heart-shaped leaves. This makes identifying it easy. This weed makes a nice garnish or quick snack. It also produces a five-petal flower.
It's always best to consult your doctor or nutritionist before you make any changes to your diet. And as with all things, it’s best to have balance and not add too many wild foods to your diet too fast.
It’s also best not to harvest any of these plants from locations, such as the side of the road, where they may be contaminated with chemicals.