Friday, July 24, 2009

Pass the Weeds, Please (Episode I)

I’ve been intrigued by foraging for food in my backyard my whole life. My neighbors and I searched for wild strawberries, ate “onion grass”, and came up with a recipe for “lemon grass” cheese sauce. At the time, it did not concern me whether or not these things were toxic. Lucky for me, they weren’t!

Now I am a suburbanite who does not want to use fertilizer or weed killer to have a lush, green bed of grass in my lawn. Instead, I like to arm my children with baskets to go collect dinner from the lawn. Backyard foraging has become a fun family activity. Here are some of the things we can find in our mid-atlantic yard:

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – This is my absolute favorite weed. I like to just pluck off some of the succulent leave and eat them plain because they are tasty. They have a little bit of a lemony flavor to them. A sprig of purslane makes a great addition to a toss salad, an addition to a tomato sauce, or as a component of a pesto. What is unique about purslane is that the leaves are naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which is rare for green vegetables. The stems are high in Vitamin C. I like to put purslane in a container garden – it doesn’t need too much tending. Most often purslane is considered a weed and people are trying to eradicate it, but if I see some growing in a friends yard, I just say “May I have your weeds?”

How to Identify Purslane

Nutrition Information for Raw Purslane

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – This is my second-favorite weed. Besides the fact that it is a beautiful flower and makes great bouquets, necklaces, rings, and hair accessories, it is extremely useful food and herbal remedy. Have you ever eaten that Whole Foods “Spring Greens” in a bag salad mix? You are probably eating Dandelion greens. The leaves are great in the spring for salads, pesto, or sandwich toppings. Dandelion greens are a great source of Vitamin A and C as well as fiber. The roots are great in the fall for a bitter tea or as a nutritional supplement. Dandelion roots harvested in the fall are high in inulin (soluble fiber). The flowers can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and ground into flour.

How to Identify Dandelions

Nutrition Data for Dandelion: Greens

Wild Blackberries (Rubus allegheniensis) – We have these growing all along our fenceline as well as on our bike-riding route. What could be better than free blackberries? The brambles can be prickly, so take care when picking these. Make sure to wait until they are dark purple before picking – otherwise, they won’t taste very good. Use them just as you would blackberries: Freeze them, make a jam, add to a fruit smoothie, or best – just eat them as you pick!

How to identify Wild Blackberries

Some words of caution…
  1. Don’t eat any foraged food that is from an area that may be exposed to insecticides, road salt (from snow), or any foreign chemical substances that you don’t know about.
  2. Make sure to clean anything that you pluck from your yard thoroughly.
  3. Make sure you can absolutely, positively identify something before you eat it. Many plants in your yard are poisonous.
  4. Don’t encourage non-native invasive species to grow. Check with your state or local invasive species organization.

Properly identifying anything you forage is very important. Here are some great resources to help with that. I am a big fan of naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill who has written a book on the subject and has a wealth of information on his website: He includes tons of information on identifying plants that are edible and is working on a book for foraging with kids.

An organization called Plants for a Future ( has a searchable database of edible plants with all kinds of information on uses of the plants and any hazards or warnings about their usage. It is an excellent free resource.

Frugal and Fun: Backyard Foraging is a Finer Thing. (See more Finer Things at Amy’s Finer Things Fridays).

This is a series and I plan to share more foraging tips, resources, and recipes to try.

1 comment:

Amy @ Finer Things said...

Very interesting perspective! I never would have thought to eat my weeds. :)