The Art of Growing Edible Weeds

Back in the late ’90s, I worked as a vegetarian chef at a health food store. The Executive Chef, Leslie, was the poster child of natural living. She took great care in securing organic food purveyors and carefully inspected every piece of produce that entered the store.

Leslie ordered fresh edible flowers every day to ensure all entrées were accompanied with what she referred to as “gifts from Heaven.”

She enlisted help from a local farmer and commissioned him to grow edible weeds and medicinal herbs. Every day, he would arrive with an armful of green goodies which had been fertilized using remnants of fruit and vegetable pulp derived from juiced drinks prepared at the store’s juicing bar.

Prior to working with Leslie, I considered weeds as a nuisance. As a child, I spent countless hours helping my mom pick weeds out of the garden. Past experience made it difficult for me to understand Leslie’s passion for them. That is, until I tried her burdock root stir fry. From that moment on I was hooked.

The past few years I’ve tried my hand at growing an edible weeds garden. The best thing about growing weeds is they require little care with zero fertilization. After attending a gardening class I was armed with information for growing native plants. The instructor recommended Dandelions, Burdock Root, Sheep Sorrel, Purslane, and Chickweed.

Dandelions

I have childhood memories of my grandmother munching on dandelions as she removed weeds from her garden. Back then, I wasn’t brave enough to eat the bright yellow flowers. I was more interested in waiting until they became fluffy white balls that I could blow like a bubble wand.

Today, I have appreciation for these vitamin-packed, iron-rich weeds. Both the leaves and flowers can be used in garden salads. The leaves make a great side dish when cooked in a tablespoon of bacon grease and tossed with bacon bits. The flowers can be dipped in pancake batter and pan- or deep-fried. While not the healthiest choice, deep-fried dandelion flowers are quite the treat!

Dandelions can be made into a tea, chai, or even homemade wine. They can be cooked in soups and stews, puréed into pesto, tossed in salads, added to pasta, baked into cakes and pies, added to pancakes, and transformed into a tasty syrup. A great source for dandelion recipes is ProdigalGardens.info.

Burdock Root

As mentioned earlier, Burdock Root was my first experience eating edible weeds. Since then, I’ve used Burdock Root in capsule form to help with digestive disorders. Consuming it fresh seems to provide faster results, so I try to keep some on hand as often as possible.

I’ve discovered the secret to growing burdock root is to plant new seedlings each year. Although this weed is a perennial and will come back year after year, first year roots are less bitter. This weed is part of the thistle family. Its purple flowers are covered in brown seed burrs that stick to clothing, socks, and shoe soles. It is recommended to use gardening gloves when extracting roots from the soil.

Burdock root is often used with Asian dishes; particularly stir fried foods. One of my favorite recipes is Kinpira Gobo, a spicy recipe made with Japanese 7-spice or crushed red pepper flakes.

According to AlternativeDr.com, “Burdock can interfere with the action of medications used to control blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, talk to your health care provider before taking burdock.”

Sheep Sorrel

Sheep Sorrel is a hardy, robust plant with leaves shaped like arrowheads and reddish-brown flowers that extend 8 to 12 inches above. The leaves are quite sour; making them the perfect addition to sweet-and-sour soup or adding to salads in lieu of vinegar-based dressing.

When cooking with sheep sorrel, it’s important to harvest a lot of leaves because they shrink down to almost nothing when cooked. One cup of fresh leaves yields approximately 1/4-cup when cooked. This weed is perfect for seasoning grains such as couscous, amaranth, and rice. It’s also a good choice for homemade tomato sauce and vinaigrettes.

Sheep Sorrel is frequently used in soups. A good source for sheep sorrel soup recipes is Cooks.com.

Purslane

Purslane is most commonly used as a ground cover, but this edible weed has actually been deemed “one of the most nutritious greens in the world.” In fact, CulinaryMusings.com states, “Purslane used to be cultivated as a food crop in the United States, and is still a major food crop in many countries, including India.”

Purslane has a tart, peppery flavor that marries well with salads, salsas, marinades, soups, gazpacho, green beans, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes.

Those new to cooking with Purslane may find the recipes offered at Aggie-Horticulture.tamu.edu the perfect introduction to this delectable edible weed.

Chickweed

Chickweed is a delicate plant that presents with a mild flavor. Mature plants have small white flowers and fine hairs that grow on one side of the stem. It is well-suited for salads, salad dressings, pesto, soups, and stir-fried dishes.

According to LearningHerbs.com, “Chickweed is high in vitamin C, calcium, and iron as well as many other important minerals. It is also very nourishing for the lungs.”

One of my favorite Chickweed recipes is Chickweed Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette published at YankeeMagazine.com. This flavorful salad consists of chickweed, red leaf lettuce, avocado, orange slices, walnuts, and goat cheese. The tangy dressing incorporates the juice of oranges and lemons, orange zest, and extra virgin olive oil which enhances the mild flavor of this dainty edible weed.

In closing, it’s important to become familiar with edible weeds before consumption. Never eat weeds that have been sprayed with toxic chemicals. If you are taking prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs it is wise to consult with a medical practitioner or herbalist to avoid potential contraindications.

Sources:
Prodigal Gardens: Medicinal Herbs and Wild Foods
AlternativeDr.com: Burdock Root
Culinary Musings: Purslane