Don’t weed your yard; munch your way through it! -Ellie Hadsall
Definition of weed: “A plant that is not valued where it is growing; usually of vigorous growth.” If we value a wild plant, it is no longer a weed; instead it becomes a desired plant in Mother Nature’s garden.
If you have a yard, or access to an untreated natural field, you can:
- Eat organic, non-GMO greens daily, for free!
- Enjoy a full range of potent vitamins and minerals.
- Gather plants with no need to water, weed, or tend.
Weeds we have enjoyed from “Mother Nature’s garden” are lambsquarter, amaranth, golden globe mallow, cheese mallow, dandelions, pepper grass, wild violets, poke salat (young leaves only), young sunflowers, many varieties of wild lettuce, London Rocket, sow thistle, flixweed, and purslane. Search online for edible weeds in your area of the country. Always be sure you can identify them correctly, so you do not choose something that is poisonous, such as hemlock, which looks similar to wild carrots!
You can live off yard “weeds” from spring through fall without needing to plant a garden. In some areas, cold-hardy weeds can thrive through the winter. For consumption, you need to practice organic, sustainable living so no harmful chemicals are present. At our recent Albuquerque home, nature provided sufficient plants to feed not only our family, but any open minded friends who loved culinary adventure. No, our yard did not look like an empty lot! In fact, it looked quite charming (in my biased opinion, and demonstrated by the genuinely enthusiastic response of visitors).
Weeds frequently contain a higher vitamin and mineral content than domesticated vegetables we grow in our gardens. For sure, they contain more vitality than commercially processed, stored, and transported vegetables.
In times of drought, food shortages, and financial crises, wild plants can help sustain us. They can be eaten fresh, frozen for later use, or dried to use in teas and soups, providing a vital source of vitamins and minerals. Weeds naturally grow where environment supports their health and vitality, thus they are well nourished. They adapt to climate and soil conditions, so that cultivation, expensive amendments, and special attention are not necessary. We spend billions of dollars annually to grow crops for our table, when nature offers a wide variety for free.
Some weeds are excellent companion plants for a garden. Wild plants are natural to an area, establishing where they instinctively find proper nutrition and sustenance. They enrich soil providing a vital environment for worms and microbes to thrive. When controlled, tall edible weeds such as lambsquarter, amaranth and sunflowers, provide shade to allow heat-sensitive vegetables, such as lettuce, to grow longer in the summer heat. These plants also loosen the soil so moisture soaks in more deeply, and they send roots deeply into the ground to pull minerals up toward the surface, in a form that is usable by garden plants with shallower root systems. Specific weeds, such as purslane, provide living green mulch to control other undesirable weeds.
Once wild plants emerge in the spring, you can maintain them in one area and weed them out in the rest of the yard. To keep your supply going, as a plant species reaches maturity, allow some to go to seed for next year’s harvest. We retain an area of our garden for weeds, and allow occasional ones among other vegetables to provide the aforementioned benefits. For example, I have maintained a lambsquarter bed in the front yard where it thrived under a shady tree. I kept it trimmed to a 6-8 inch height by regular picking. If I couldn’t eat it fast enough, I trimmed it with a weed eater. When regularly harvested or trimmed back, weeds grow new branches with fresh leaves. This allows plenty for our consumption while providing a beautiful green ground cover. A patch of purslane can thrive in the garden and an amaranth patch flourished one year near our compost heap. Birds perch on larger weeds, and dine on the seeds.
Wild plants are beautiful and when blooming they are frequented by bees and butterflies.
As you pick the greens, be sure to thank them for their beauty, companionship, and service. Most taste best when picked in early morning or evening. Wash them in a pan so you can empty the washing water back into the yard to recycle and return floating critters such as worms or snails back to the soil. To store them in the fridge for later use, I spread washed greens evenly on a towel, roll it up and place it in the washing machine. Set it on the spin cycle; it removes moisture thoroughly. Place spun-dry greens into a storage container and refrigerate up to a week. If you don’t have a washer, gently twist or press on the rolled towel to remove excess moisture. Pick extra ones for freezing. Dry leaves for future use as herbal teas or other remedies suggested for each plant.
Words of caution: when first eating wild greens, take it easy. You get greater nutritional benefit than with domestic plants, so you can eat less. If you experience diarrhea, cut back or only eat occasionally. Eventually your body will adjust and love you for it.
Weeds also have medicinal value. Our yard has included additional inedible weeds used for healing. Two found in our yard are mullein which is healing for lungs, and the common goat head sticker plant. Long disliked for the plethora of sharp sticker seeds it bears, this plant’s seeds can provide healing for the urinary tract. Every balanced ecological system holds within it healing remedies necessary to treat illnesses in that area.
Are you ready to try cooking with weeds, adding add richer nutrition to your diet? My book, Nature’s Garden: Edible Wild Plants in a City Yard, includes practical information on harvesting and preparing weeds! Learn more or order here.
Take your life in hand and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.