Food is underfoot. Wild and edible plants often grow in your garden, on your lawn, in the cracks of sidewalks and in the corners of greenhouses. These plants grow of their own volition, finding opportunities in suitable and available soil. Thus they become a challenge to the humans who seek to control “their” little patch of Earth. We perceive of these plants otherwise known as weeds as rebellious or wild as we perceive of them maintaining their autonomy while infringing upon ours. Many of us have a particular expectation; that nature comply with our need for order and a culturally determined aesthetic that is not informed by an understanding of the whole.
How would it be if we looked at this as an opportunity to co-create rather than a struggle to control? Just a thought as I admittedly must adjust frequently (and for the past 13 years or so) to this different way of doing and being with the plants in my garden.
Many common, wild edible plants grow in soil that has been disturbed. This includes fields and gardens where the soil has been turned over and land that has been converted to a backyard or a lawn, etc. Aside from their innate motivation to survive and reproduce, weeds make a contribution to land where a disturbance has occurred. They re-establish integrity and balance preventing erosion, feed the soil by providing compost and others by providing food and habitat for insects and other creatures and take part in creating community otherwise known as an ecosystem.This community of plants, animals and insects will foster a progression or evolution of that ecosystem.
Hmm…sounds noble eh? Re-establishing integrity and balance? Feeding the soil and others? Participating in the creation of a community with the outcome being progression or an evolution of that ecosystem? see Feed the soil and others? I see here the wisdom of the plants and am again reminded of one of the first things I learned as a student of herbalism; the plants are our teachers!Many wild edibles hail from somewhere else and got here on the shoes or hooves of new arrivals to North America. Many of these plants may also have arrived on the North American continent in the apron pockets of these new arrivals intent on taking the seeds of food and medicine plants they knew well with them. Examples of naturalized plants are: dandelions, lamb’s quarters, purslane, chickweed, nettles and yellow dock. After finding their way here, they decided that they rather liked the growing conditions. In fact… they liked them so much that they went…well…wild! Another factor contributing to their succesful naturalization is that they didn’t have the natural predators (insect or animal) that they may have had “back home.” Here they found they could flourish!
So, why eat the weeds when there are so many cultivated vegetables available to us? The first obvious reason is that they grow in abundance. Secondly, it cuts out the middle person. You don’t need to go to the store or even to a farmers’ market to purchase it. You don’t need to rely on anyone else but yourself to get it. Once you’ve learned to identify these easy to identify plants, you can harvest them on your own.
The next obvious reason is that it doesn’t cost anything extra. Thus a locally sourced, abundant food that you can access yourself and doesn’t cost you extra, should give edible weeds a place on the *community food security resource list.
In addition, wild edible weeds are nutrient dense! In fact, many of them contain a generous amount of vitamins and minerals that exceeds the amount found in cultivated vegetables!
Let’s take some examples. If you have a garden, you may be well acquainted with Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album) also known as pigweed or goosefoot. Lamb’s quarters are often seen as a nuisance plant by gardeners. However, they are edible! They are a wild spinach and can be eaten raw or cooked. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, one cup of raw lamb’s quarters contains a significant amount of the following vitamins A,B2 and C, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber. Just an additional note though, raw lamb’s-quarters contain oxalic acid also present in high amounts in spinach and rhubarb. It has been suggested to consume foods high in oxalic acid in moderation. According to Dr. Andrew WEil, a well-known author, physician and natural health practitioner, “the oxalic acid in vegetables is broken down by cooking.
My suggestion is that if lamb’s-quarters is taking up space in your garden, be grateful first and then pull it out and eat it! You may want to do this when the plant is young though. In the interest of balance (weeds grow prolifically when given room), it is best to harvest a weed before the plant matures to avoid dispersing the seeds that ensure future progeny. That is of course unless your intention is to harvest seeds or you are welcoming the reproduction of the plant in abundance.
Ahh…then there is the American lawn owner’s “public enemy No.1,” the dandelion. Ironically, this plant that many have tried to rid their lawns and gardens of is, one of the most nutritious vegetables (cultivated or wild) out there! Besides doing the job of aerating the soil, dandelion is nutrient dense nourishment. The entire plant is edible and the roots and flowers are medicinal. According again to the USDA, one cup of raw dandelion greens contain significant amounts of: vitamins A,C, K, and calcium. Yes, I know many of us see dandelion as overzealous; the leader and preacher of a sun cult hell bent on taking over your lawn. We might try recognizing this as exuberance. When we really get to know the dandelion, we realize that it offers some pretty big benefits for all involved. Though it shares a trait with the mountain goat; ambition, it actually blesses us with many attributes. Who would think that a flower that simple and cheerful would take its responsibilities so seriously? Once you’ve embraced its gifts, you may look upon it with softer eyes.
*Community Food Security-The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/ Community
food security focuses on this within a particular community.
*Menstrum- “the solvent used to make extracts.” The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, A Home Manual by James Green p. 305
*Herbal Sources of Minerals compiled by Susun S. Weed,copyright 1979
Note: Please be cautious of where you pick wild edibles. Avoid the sides of roads and other areas that might be contaminated with lead and other heavy metals and toxins.