We are in the time of year farmers refer to as the “hunger gap.” The stores of winter veggies are mostly depleted (or sprouting/rotting) and the new crops in the ground are simply too small to eat! It feels like there should be more local fresh food available right now, but the true abundance of our cultivated gardens is still a ways out. Luckily, our wild weeds have a lot to offer.
Ralph Waldo Emerson questioned, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” A weed by itself is not a “bad plant.” Many of our wild weeds have more nutrition than their cultivated counterparts, and they need less water and attention. Many weeds also have traditional medicinal uses which help to treat the ailments which occur at the time of year when these plants are at their peak.
If you are looking for weeds to eat- make sure to pick them from an area that is not right next to the road or next to an area that has been sprayed (if you see a bunch of dead or burned looking plants in the area that’s a good hint that it’s been sprayed).
Also, if you are trying your hand at this for the first time- do some research to make sure the plant you are eating is in fact the plant you desire! The ones profiled here are fairly fool poof (meaning they don’t have a bunch of poisonous lookalikes) but it’s still a good practice to get to know these plants!
One of the most common edible weeds around these parts is Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia spp). A succulent treat- the whole plant is edible and makes a deliciously fresh spring salad. It’s even found in fancy salad mixes sometimes!
Another common weed that’s edible is Chickweed (Stellaria media), which is a spring tonic herb that is cooling and soothing for the body and high in vitamin C! Look for a line of little hairs along the stem and tiny white flowers for a clear ID. Try adding it to a salad, or mixing it with arugula or spinach in a spring pesto.
And then there’s Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) of course! Most people consume dandelion leaves before the flowers appear (they are less bitter that way) but since we are well into dandelion blooming time, you may want to try the flowers as a fun treat. Add them to salads or try this fun fritter recipe! Make sure what you think is a dandelion only has one flower on each stalk. A great first forage food for the bees, this plant is also awesome for our livers and digestive systems.
If you want to learn more about the weeds around us and their many uses (fair warning though- you may never “weed” your garden again!) check out the book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair.
Or get hands on with local experts and treat yourself and your family to the Wild Food and Medicine CSA taught by Sierra Harvest’s own Rachel Berry!