While most people think of weeds as being detrimental to your garden, the opposite is true. There are many benefits that weeds provide, and edible weeds are no different. It is correct that weeds compete with other plants for space and nutrition, however, weeds shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly. Not only do weeds help restore fertility to the soil by accumulating nutrients in the root zone, but they also attract beneficial insects and microorganisms to support a biodiverse ecosystem.
Aside from their agricultural benefits, weeds can actually be used in many dishes, teas, and snacks as well. Read on to learn more!
What Is Special About Weeds?
The benefits that weeds have in the ecosystems that they are placed in is immense. Weeds are remarkable plants that demonstrate the unique ability to thrive in environments where other plants may struggle. They’re often the first plants on the scene after soil has been damaged or left unfertile through unsustainable cultivation practices.
In addition, many weeds are edible, highly nutritious, and delicious too! We’ve made a list of some common edible weeds that you might even have growing in your backyard. So before you take out the weed whacker, see if you can identify any of these edible weeds and reconsider your approach to growing a diverse edible landscape.
Common Edible Weeds
For any of the weeds mentioned below, a quick internet search will reveal dozens of intriguing recipes to try!
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion is perhaps the most common edible weed found cropping up in lawns all over the country. Not only do dandelion flowers provide an important source of nutrition for bees, but they’re also a lovely garnish on a dandelion leaf salad.
Edible parts: Leaves, stems, roots, flowers
How to use it: Dandelion has a wide range of edible and medicinal uses. People use them in salads, tinctures, ice cream, wine, salves, etc.
2. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is a hardy plant with a succulent texture and mild taste that complements a variety of dishes. In many parts of the world, it’s cultivated for its edible use. It also has exceptionally high omega-3 content.
Edible parts: Flowers, leaves, stems
How to use it: Purslane can be used in salads, stews, dips, be pickled, or more.
3. Burdock (Arctium sp.)
Burdock has a long taproot that helps break up difficult soil and accumulate vital nutrients. It’s also edible and is versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of recipes.
Edible parts: Stalks, leaves, roots
How to use it: Asian cultures often use burdock roots in stir-fries or curries. You can use the tender flowering stalk or the leaves for recipes from salads to sauerkraut.
4. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate)
Garlic mustard can be hard to get rid of once it takes hold in your garden. Fortunately, it has a potent flavor that makes it an excellent addition to many dishes. As the name suggests, it packs a garlicky, mustardy punch.
Edible parts: Leaves, flowers, roots, seeds
How to use it: Since it has such a strong flavor, garlic mustard is often used in sauces or as garnishes. Try using it to make a pesto or chimichurri. Alternatively, a quick sauté will tone down its sharp flavor.
5. Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
This infamous weed is thought of by most to be an invasive scourge that threatens to take over entire neighborhoods. However, not many people know that it’s a delicious, edible plant that contains high levels of powerful antioxidants.
Edible parts: The shoots are edible while still tender, from April to May
How to use it: Japanese knotweed tastes like tangy rhubarb when raw. When it’s cooked, it takes on a more asparagus-like flavor. You can use them in similar ways to these two plants or come up with a recipe of your own.
Other Viable Options
Here’s a short list of some other plants for you to research as you continue your deep dive into the world of edible weeds.
- Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
- Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
- Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
- Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Plantain (Plantago spp.)
- Violets (Viola spp.)
- Cleavers/Bedstraw (Galium sp.)
- Clover (Trifolium sp.)
- Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
- Mallow Species (Althaea sp.)
- Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
In many cases, weeds are misunderstood! Hopefully, after reading this article you have a better grasp of the benefits, and utility that weeds can provide for you and your garden!
Interested in growing your own food forest? Check out our food forest blueprints and let us help you get started.