Eat your (wild) greens!

I’m definitely in a cooking/food phase right now. Since I’m trying very, very hard to not eat any grains, I’m consuming lots of veggies these days. Besides the veggies I buy at market, I’m also eating greens from my yard. But not the typical greens that people grow like kale and lettuce. I’m harvesting weeds.

“Weed” is actually a relative term. Hard core organic gardeners will tell you that a weed is simply a plant growing where you don’t want it to grow. Even grass can be considered a weed if it invades your flower beds. Many of the plants that are typically considered weeds are edible, and an adventurous person can make some decent meals with these plants that are free for the taking.

Dandelion greens from Next Barn Over Farm

Dandelion greens from Next Barn Over Farm

Dandelion greens

Most people have heard that dandelion greens are edible, but have you tried them? They are rather bitter, but can be made more mild by blanching. Saute in olive oil with garlic, a few anchovy fillets, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Toss with pasta for a filling meal, or enjoy them without the pasta as a side dish.

I haven’t actually eaten the dandelion greens from my yard yet, but I’m working up to that. I typically get a deep craving for bitter greens in the spring but not so much at this time of year.

Lambs quarters

Mature lambs quarters

Mature lambs quarters

In the U.S. this is a little known edible plant. Just last weekend, though, I was watching Rick Bayless’ Mexico — One Plate at a Time and in one segment he was raving about a quesadilla he was eating in Mexico City that was filled with sautéed lambs quarters. Lambs quarters is supposed to taste like spinach. I haven’t tried it yet, as I’m not fortunate enough to have any growing in my yard. I saw some today while I was out walking the dog, but I didn’t want to pick a plant growing in a stranger’s yard without knowing whether they use pesticides.


Common purslane from Wikipedia

Common purslane from Wikipedia

I’ve tasted purslane several times over the years and have never found it very compelling. Recently I decided to give it another try since I have a lot popping up in my yard and the nutritional profile is so compelling. I searched for recipes and found surprisingly few, although one web page raved about how fabulous purslane pairs with cucumbers. So, I made a cucumber salad dressed with homemade vinaigrette and added purslane leaves from plants pulled out of my garden beds. The salad tasted…OK. I can’t say the purslane added anything flavor-wise, but I ate all of the salad over the course of a couple of meals with some cold roasted chicken. I think I may try adding it to scrambled eggs for breakfast one day.

Wood sorrel

I only learned about this plant within the last month, but it is my favorite backyard “weed.” During the annual volunteer day at my work, I spent several enjoyable hours at City Farm. While I was weeding a herb bed, the program manager pointed out this plant to me and requested that I not pull it. I asked him what it was; I had seen it in my own garden and always pulled and composted it. He told me the name and noted that the area restaurants paid quite a bit for this little plant. He had me try a few leaves and I was hooked. The taste is tangy and I find it a delicious addition to green salad.

Here’s a link to a fancy-looking salad recipe that features wood sorrel. I just bought some organic apricots at the farmers market yesterday, so maybe I’ll give this a try. Ever since I’ve learned how yummy wood sorrel is, I’ve been careful to leave it in place when I’m weeding my garden, just as I learned at City Farm.

Have you tried any edible weeds yourself? Would you be likely to give any of these plants a go?

A few final notes:

  • Be safe and don’t pick weeds from areas you think may be contaminated with toxins or pesticides. I feel safe eating the plants I’ve noted because they come from my own yard.
  • Spend a bit of time looking at photos of an unfamiliar plant from various angles and across the course of its growing cycle so you can be confident that the plant you’re picking is what you think it is. Better yet, carry a field guide or check the plant against those same sources after you bring it home if you have any doubts.
  • My chickens would go crazy for all of these greens. If you have a pet rabbit, guinea pig, or bird, perhaps they’d like these as a low-cost treat, too.