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Spring Foraging by way of Spring Weeding: 6 Edible Garden Weeds

The arrival of spring brings new life everywhere: blooms, buds, baby lambs… even indoor plants sense the change in the air and take a cue to begin vigorously growing new leaves after months of dormancy. Weeds are in no way an exception. Unwanted greenery has already started coming in strong around the freshly sown beds on our farm, and even more weeds are taking advantage of the warmth in the greenhouse, growing up out of every available corner.  Spring is an especially important time to keep weeds under control, because it’s difficult for young seedlings to compete with wild plants for light and nutrients.

Weeds, although often fully at odds with the goals of a gardener, are not inherently bad. Without a uniting botanical definition, weeds are simply the plants that are growing in a place where they weren’t planted. They are pesky, sure, but also impressive in their survival skills: unfazed by stomping feet or peeing dogs, keeping a seed launched launched in the ground sometimes for years until the opportune moment to emerge. And, while we wait for the first lettuce leaf or asparagus spear of the season, some weeds are worth a little of our culinary attention. The next time you bend down to pull out a large green clump, keep in mind that it may make a better addition to your lunch, rather than the compost pile.

Here are a few edible spring weeds we’ve found on our farm in April:

DSC09065 Field Onions: wild onions that can be eaten whole: green stems or tiny pearly bulbs.

 

DSC09058 Stinging Nettles: if you touch nettles, they will sting, but if you harvest with a glove and then expose them to heat (quick boil or pan fry), they’ll make great soup or pesto

 

Lamb’s Quarters: so far, we’ve only spotted little ones in the greenhouse, but soon this prolific weed will be hard to miss. Sautéed, it tastes like a nutty spinach. Lamb’s Quarters: so far, we’ve only spotted little ones in the greenhouse, but soon this prolific weed will be hard to miss. Sautéed, it tastes like a nutty spinach.
Dandelion: use the leaves for a sharp salad green and the flowers and roots to brew a coffee alternative. Dandelion: use the leaves for a sharp salad green and the flowers and roots to brew a coffee alternative.
Chickweed: makes another great spinach substitute or a smoothie ingredient. Chickweed: makes another great spinach substitute or a smoothie ingredient.
Garlic Mustard: this highly invasive green is detrimental to our native flora and fauna, so the more of it that’s eaten, the better. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and the root preserved as a horseradish substitute. Garlic Mustard: this highly invasive green is detrimental to our native flora and fauna, so the more of it that’s eaten, the better. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and the root preserved as a horseradish substitute.

Notes:

- Be sure you know what you are eating when trying something new, especially a weed. If possible, check in with someone who has experience eating wild foods or consult at least two foraging sources.

- Weeds should be pulled out completely (root and all) to prevent them from coming back. It’s best to pull them before they flower and set seed, so they don’t multiply and take over (and, most greens taste better if harvested before they bolt anyway).

8 thoughts on “Spring Foraging by way of Spring Weeding: 6 Edible Garden Weeds”

  • Michelle H.
    Michelle H. 05/06/2013 at 7:29 am

    We actually plant some of these in the gardens at the historic village I work at. Dandelions are a great source for vitamin C and the flowers can also be turned into wine and jelly. Lamb's quarter is actually better for you than spinach and I also have used it to stuff pork loin. You butterfly the loin place lambs quarter, garlic, and feta on it then roll it and secure with string and roast.

    Reply
  • Karen Powell
    Karen Powell 05/06/2013 at 7:55 am

    I have been eating a weed since childhood. My mother told me about Sheepshire. Its a small red clover looking plant with tiny yellow flowers. The entire plant is edible (but I don't like the root) and I leave a section of my garden strictly for it. I pick and eat or put it in salads for a tart taste.

    Reply
  • Iain Mack

    Dandelion heads may be popped like corn before they open, and the blooms make tasty wine!

    Reply
  • Nancy

    I am sitting here eating a "mess" of poke as I am reading this. I have eaten wild "weeds" for years. The garlic mustard sounds great, but it does not look familiar at all. And I really want to try stinging nettle, but also not sure if it grows here near me in west Ga. I have been out searching for morels this spring, too, to no avail! Happy hunting!

    Reply
  • Jane

    are you sure wild garlic (onion) is OK? I've heard from a few sources that it's somewhat toxic.

    Reply
  • MelecaAhhnette de Jong
    MelecaAhhnette de Jong 05/06/2013 at 11:15 pm

    Love info on edible weeds...people should know more of this stuff! I have a weed that is rather invasive in my yard, but no one knows what it is...my sister said she found people picking it there...and the rabbits love it...where can I find out what it is?

    Thanks...
    Meleca

    Reply
  • SJ

    I allow some Lambs Quarter to mature each summer, thinning to only one every 3 to 5 feet just outside the raised bed. In our 100+ desert summers, they provide shade canopy for the plants, hens, and even the gardener. Also, when greens are slim pickings, the hens beg me to pull a few leaves and toss them their way. In a pinch, new shoots cook up like spinach... but it takes alot. It may be a weed; but I've learned it's very useful and worth the xtra work each Spring.

    Reply
  • helene von rosenstiel
    helene von rosenstiel 05/30/2013 at 5:11 pm

    I have always wondered what the difference is between chives and wild onions, since both come up early, and look pretty much alike- clumped together, skinny thin and green. I can only be sure of the chives because i know where I planted them. Any ideas?

    Reply

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