by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
For some time now already I have been deliberately growing edible weeds in my garden and aside from those that popped up all by themselves, such as dandelion and chickweed, both of which are very good eating indeed, I have also brought in other purposely, as plants, such as sorrel (Rumex acetosa).
Sorrel (left) and Goosefoot (right)
Why grow edible weeds?
Edible weeds, like all weeds, need little to no input and basically look very much after themselves. They only need harvesting. Some do not like feeding or such at all and thrive best when left to do their own thing.
Many edible weeds are better for us than are cultivar (leaf) vegetables, including the cultivated varieties of those weeds. Dandelion is a great salad vegetable, akin to rocket (arugula) though not a relation, and sorrel, basically, is a cut-and-come-again spinach though, once again, not a relation to the other plant.
Weeds will grow in your garden anyway and thus it is better to harvest those that are good to eat, you save yourself a lot of work that way and get great stuff to eat to boot.
But why not simply forage for them in the wild?
Some of them you can no longer get once the tree canopy has closed and the light conditions on the forest floor are too low. In your garden, even in the shade, they will, however, more often than not, keep going and growing.
Growing those wild edibles yourself in your yard means that you know – more or less – what has come in contact with them, especially as regards to animal waste matter, such as dog or fox urine and such. You also know that they have not been exposed to chemicals or car exhaust fumes, and other nasties.
All you have to do when you want some of those vegetables for your meal is to pop out the door and pick some fresh from the plant. No need to go out looking for them in the wild.
Ground elder is another, very invasive weed that many gardeners get plagues with. If you would want to eradicate you will end up spending hours or you will have to resort to chemicals. The positive side, however, it is a very valuable food and it was, in fact, introduced to the British Isles by the Romans as a food crop, and it is great eating. Therefore why bother eradicating it. Just eat it.
If you would wish to grow this plant on purpose my word of caution is to retain it in some sort of planter so that it cannot escape into the wild, or has little chance to do so.
If you have it popping up in your garden for the first time then grab it as it just develop and plant it into a container as a wild veg. Should the patch have gone beyond being able to be relocated then contain it, if possible, by sinking paving slabs into the ground to a good depth all around. Thus you may be able to contain the plants and their enormous root system and make use of it as a veg in perpetuity.
All edible weeds that you grow should, ideally, be grown in containers to prevent them spreading to where you may not want them. In generally weeds, because they grow fast, may interfere with the growth of other vegetables that you may wish to grow, and that in a number of ways.
On the other hand, some weeds make good companion plants and one especially and this is, yet again, and edible one, namely goosefoot, also known as fat hen or lamb's quarter. It acts as a sacrificial plant for the leaf miner. The bug will rather burrow around in the leaves of the goosefoot than those of your veg and therefore goosefoot, and also for the fact that it is good to eat, should not be eradicated.
Goosefoot, in the same family as quinoa, is an annual, that is to say it reproduces from seed only and not from any rootstock unlike dandelion which spreads by seed but also stays as a plant in the ground, or sorrel, or ground elder. I tried to introduce goosefoot into a container in my garden last summer but I did not get the plants to produce the needed seed to perpetuate themselves. In fact something ate them and it was not me.
Just some food for thought here as to why not just forage your yard and encouraging the wild things you like to eat to your home.