Eating Weeds

Got a need for weed? As it turns out, Keanu has nothing on the wind-blown, Mother Nature-sown greenery sprouting opportunistically between cracked sections of pavement, upon traffic medians, in untended public parks and most certainly in your backyard. Even better news for those who like to live on the straight-and-narrow – indulging is totally legal and there are absolutely no short-term physical effects, even if you choose to nom-nom your way through a biggie-sized batch of dandelion-bud brownies!

In all seriousness, strategically foraging and harvesting wild plants is something that you really should try at least once (with the assistance of an expertly researched field guide) and here’s why. Okay, okay… there’s no denying that it’s actually pretty hip these days, but this eco-foodie trend entails so much more than getting freebie salad that also happens to do your body good.

Munching on Mother Nature’s weeds actually makes the most of a plentiful natural resource that is innately organic when harvested in areas that are far away from traffic, pollution and exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides. Need another reason to give it a try? How about the fact that eating locally is one of the most effective ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint? Hmmm, good point. That’s worth digging in the dirt a little bit, isn’t it?

If ever there were an ideal time to sow your wild eco-tendencies, the time is now! Let’s raise a fork to new taste bud-tantalizing culinary explorations with these 6 highly touted (and oh-so-tasty) weedy sensations:

Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

19th century California gold rush workers benefitted from the scurvy-preventing properties of this fully edible, mild-tasting plant, but even if you already eat vitamin C-packed foods by the bucket load, you’ll still want to indulge. Best consumed fresh or lightly sautéed, miner’s lettuce is as delicious as it is attractive, with circular leaves cupping a delicate, central flower stalk (and yes, go ahead and chow down on both).

Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

Towering up to 6 feet in height, this bunny rabbit and porcine fave (which rocks a serious dandelion doppelganger profile) tastes like a cross between sweet lettuce and stringless celery. Whether nestled into a salad or transformed into a medicinal tea, sow thistle has it goin’ on (nutritionally and flavor-wise) despite being deemed one of the most invasive weeds to plague the globe.

Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Sharing bloodlines with the common mustard plant, this seed-pouch toting weed possesses slightly cabbage-like, peppery stems that are highly favored in gourmet circles either raw or cooked. It is also used internally and externally via poultice, tea, infusion and the like to treat a number of health concerns, including wounds, kidney issues and nose bleeds.

Mallow (Malva parviflora)

Great at alleviating sore throats, gastro-intestinal issues, food poisoning and even dandruff due to the naturally mucilaginous properties found in every part of the plant (seeds, flowers and roots included), mallow is an all-purpose weedy superstar. This plant is so entirely DIY-delightful that you can transform its scalloped leaves into a shampoo OR a grape-leaf stand-in for your favorite dolmas recipe!

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickens think that this vitamin C-packed ground cover is the bee’s knees, and considering that it’s reminiscent of fresh alfalfa sprouts crossed with spinach, they’re perhaps far more culinarily savvy than one would think. Pulse it in your food processor for a naturally creamy pesto sauce that will make your face glow from within and your body hum with health.

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Yet another nutritional powerhouse that rivals Swiss chard and spinach in flavor and nutritional content (with off-the-charts levels of vitamin A and calcium), the next time you make a green-filled pasta or savory bread, consider adding finely minced lamb’s quarters instead. With naturally pest-repelling, white powder-coated leaves, this annual plant is most appealing in flavor and consistency when plucked young.

Image: miheco

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