There is no such thing as a weed

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a child I grew up with many wild vegetables which, I must say, I have forgotten to even recognize now. However, my favorite to this day, aside from Sorrel, is the humble Dandelion.

But those are but two of the many wild edibles, so-called weeds, that can be used in a variety of ways.

Dandelion, the young leaves of plant, are great as a substitute for rocket on leaf salad and when older they can be cooked like spinach. Together with Stinging Nettle, cooked the same way, they turn into the Greek side dish “Hortes”, which means nothing more than greens.

Weed could and should be considered as a politically incorrect term. There is no biological definition of the term weed. It’s really a value judgment. One man’s weeds are another man’s salad, really, and this is certainly true as far as I am concerned with dandelion and such like.

Weed, to all intents and purposes, in the use of the term, is but a plant in the wrong place and, in formal gardens, would even be applied to plants and flowers that should not be in that formal bedding or such. It is all a matter of judgement and value.

We think of weeds as something you have to pull out, and they are invasive and you have to get rid of them. But these feisty little weeds are full of nutrients.

Another of those edible weeds is chickweed. I cannot remember as to whether I have ever, consciously, eaten it as a child and I sure have not since, but my adopted parents in the USA do eat it and also can any surplus. I feed it to the chickens. They then give me eggs. Will, one of these days, however, give the stuff a try myself, consciously. Apparently, mixed in with a little bit of cilantro, sorrel and lettuce, you can make a salad out of it. Well, as said, I'll try it one of these days.

Sorrel – and I am talking here first of all about the rumex genus – is a great little weed that, in fact, is a relation to spinach and thus can be used just like it. However, the tartness of the young leaves make it great for use in leaf salads.

The other sorrel - would be wood sorrel oxalis tastes like sorrel, almost a little sweet, and you find that everywhere. It is, however, a different genus altogether and looks like clover, but much smaller.

And then there is goosefoot, also known as fat-hen or lambs quarters. you find in people’s lawns, in flower beds, on fields, virtually everywhere. It’s even more delicate than spinach. Just sauté it in a little bit of olive oil.

Or you can cook it in olive oil and garlic, and then top some pasta with that. Add some Parmesan over that and voila. That’s an example of what you could do, but with goosefoot the sky’s the limit.

But really, I think it needs to be eaten in bulk. It’s a very mellow, mild green. Maybe some onions would be a good way to go, maybe a touch of balsamic, but really keep it very simple just as you would with spinach.

But, as it contains the same acids as rhubarb (leaves) though not as those high levels care should be taken about how much is being consumed of it.

There are many more edible weeds, for lack of a better word, and the sky is the limit there too.

Stinging nettle, which grows almost everywhere and in profusion, and which, much like dandelion, is difficult to eradicate, also is a valuable wild vegetable. It makes for great soups, can be cooked on its own, or together with dandelion, into a dish much like spinach, though much higher in the valuable trace elements and vitamins that spinach.

Furthermore stinging nettle makes for a great infusion (one is not really allowed to call anything tea that isn't tea) which is a blood cleansing tonic and especially great in Spring.

In addition to that, though it is hardly ever being used as such anymore – shame that it isn't – it is a fiber that can substitute for hemp and during the two world wars nettle was used for that and for the dying of the uniforms. It creates a khaki olive dye.

As said, this is just a small selection of edible and otherwise useful weeds and we would do well to learn them all and their uses.

© 2012