Garden Weeds – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

I’ve always hesitated to eat weeds, although I was told they’re delicious. I’ve spent the better part of my life eradicating purslane, pigweed and lamb‘s quarters. Even if they’re edible, I’ve considered them dietetically unclean. Who knows where those weeds have been.

Everyone knows dandelions can be eaten, and many of us have given them a test bite. But few have embraced weeds as a food source. Rather than cautiously nibbling a tiny piece, I decided to eat a heaping helping to see what I’ve been missing.  

Following are edible weeds easily found in our region’s yards and gardens. Never eat any unless you’re certain herbicides or other pesticides have not been applied. And be sure you’ve positively identified them. Following the plant descriptions are my taste-test reactions in parentheses. 

1. Dandelion. Use young tender leaves in salads and on sandwiches. Steam or sauté older leaves.  High in vitamins A, C, E, B-complex, iron, protein and trace minerals. (Crisp, pleasant fresh texture, but somewhat bitter. Maybe springtime dandelions are preferred.)

2. Creeping Charlie. A low-growing spreading perennial difficult to control in lawns. Young leaves are used for fresh greens. Older leaves can be cooked like spinach for soups, stews and omelets. Being in the mint family, leaves make a flavorful tea. (Flavor too minty-strong to stand alone as salad, but combine with other greens.) 

3. Lamb’s Quarters. An annual with light green leaves with whitish undersides. Leaves, shoots and flowers can be used in salads or steamed. One of the most nutritious weeds, it’s high in vitamins A, C, K, amino acids, riboflavin, calcium and manganese. (Mild, pleasing flavor with good salad texture.)

4. Chickweed. Low growing, soft annual weed with small white flowers. Use leaves, stems and flowers fresh in salads and sandwiches. Rich in vitamins A, B, C, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. (Crisp texture and pleasing flavor would make a good addition to an egg salad sandwich.)

5. Redroot Pigweed. As the name describes, roots are noticeably red. In the amaranth family, leaves, stems and seeds are high in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and niacin. Eaten as fresh greens or steamed. (Lacks the crispness needed for fresh salads. Cooked might be better.)

6. Broadleaf Plantain. Perennial weed with low-growing flat broad leaves forming a circular rosette with thin upright seed spikes. Rich in iron and vitamins A and C, young leaves may be eaten raw. Older leaves and seed pods can be boiled or steamed until tender like asparagus. (Even small leaves were too tough for fresh use. Flavor is strong, but reminiscent of asparagus. Better steamed or boiled.) 

7. Purslane. Annual low-growing circular plant with succulent stems and leaves. Contains more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant. A rich source of vitamins A, B, and C, plus iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium and potassium. Leaves, stems, and flowers can be eaten fresh in salads, or added to soups and stews. (Pleasant crunchy texture with a mild spicy flavor. Quite good.)

8. Mallow. Low-growing spreading biennial rich in vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and selenium. Use young leaves as fresh greens. Older leaves act similar to okra when cooked as a thickener in soups and stews. (Leaves tasted gritty and left unpleasant mushy aftertaste.)

9. Common Milkweed. Perennial with bluish green leaves, milky white sap and pinkish flowers followed by seedpods filled with fluff. Boil shoot tips as you would asparagus.

10. Clover. The white or pink flowered types growing low in lawns are the ones usually eaten. High in protein. Leaves and flowers can be added to salads, and blossoms can be brewed into hot or iced tea. (Flowers and leaves could make a surprise addition to a salad in small quantities.)

11. Stinging Nettle. When I mentioned the possibility of eating them, my wife, Mary, said “Uff da”. That’s Norwegian for “No way in hell.” Once leaves and stems are soaked in cold water they supposedly lose the sting that causes skin blisters and rash. Reportedly tastes like spinach, and very high in vitamins and minerals. Harvest before flowering, or they develop a gritty chemical. You’re on your own with this one. I envision my head swelling up like a hot air balloon from a severe allergic reaction at the very thought.