Sunday, November 19, 2017

Edible, nutritious "weeds"

American cress and dandelions growing in a pot

Sunday, November 19, 2017

There are many plants we consider "weeds" today that were a critical part of the winter and spring diet for nutrition and fresh "produce" when the garden was relatively barren.

If you are new to foraging, make sure you take an experienced guide with you as many plants can look alike and some plants are poisonous.  If you are not sure of the identity of the plant, do not eat.

Here is a run down of the edibles that are available this time of year in our garden and yard.
Starry chickweed is edible and has a mild flavor.  This was a green that settlers looked forward to every spring to have something fresh and green to eat.  They thrive in cool/cold weather.  They are quite prolific in my garden this time of year.  I add these to salads.

Wild onion, leeks and garlic are all edible.  You can tell what they are by taking off a tip and smelling the greenery; it will have that distinct allium odor.  Garlic is hollow and round stemmed while onions and leeks have solid stems.  Another great add to salads, butters or potatoes.  I use these just like I would chives.
Wild onion
Dandelions are edible from root to flower.  The leaves are great in salads or as wilted greens.  Cold temperatures make them mild in flavor so if you have tried them in the summer, try them again this time of year.  The flowers can be used in salads as well or fried, but dandelions flower only in warm months.  The root can be dried and used as a coffee substitute.  Dandelions have over 100% of vitamin A and over 500% of vitamin K.  The dandelion is actually a European import.  They were brought over by early settlers.  At one time they were thought to have medicinal properties.  It is likely that it was just getting nutritious greens after a long winter that was the reason for improved health.  

You can buy cultivated dandelions from many seed companies that were bred for their large leaves and sweet taste.  I have had Italian dandelion for a few years and it tastes great.  I bought several more varieties this spring, Thick Leaved Improved, Nouvelle, Debelleville, Rugels and Vollherzigen.  Grow Cultivated Dandelions

Cultivated Italian dandelion, note the large leaves
Plantain greens are mild and nutritious.  A great add to salads or even wilted greens.  Eat these leaves when they are small and tender.  The bigger leaves become fibrous.  It has a nutty, asparagus-like flavor.  They are loaded with iron and other vitamins and minerals.

American cress has a peppery flavor that can be used like you would arugula.  It is very winter hardy.  If you steam the leaves, the leaves have a mild taste.
Spring American cress in bloom

Lamb's quarters have velvety leaves and are best wilted.  They are found most commonly in urban areas.  They have the taste of spinach with a powerful nutritional punch for daily nutritional needs-10 times the vitamin K, 3x vitamin A, all the vitamin C and half your calcium and magnesium.  Wow!
Lamb's quarters

Sweet clover to me has a kind of tart apple taste.  Another nice addition to salads.  Sweet clover is from the legumes family so are a source of protein when complemented with whole grains.  They also provide fiber, vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12 and minerals manganese, magnesium, copper, since, and selenium.  Sweet clover does contain coumarin, a natural blood thinner, so it is recommended to be used in small quantities, less than 4000mg a day which is a perfect amount for a salad topping.
Sweet clover

Garden sorrel is considered by some to be a weed.  It is one that I also use as a salad green.  It is rich in fiber and vitamin C and also contains vitamins A, B-6, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Garden sorrel

Even after your garden lettuce, mustard and spinach greens have succumbed to the frigid temps of winter, you can still get fresh greens by using edible "weeds".  Bon appetit!  
Pot with "volunteer" chickweed, clover and dandelions with a couple of lettuce plants

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