Foraging in your backyard

Growing edible weeds on purpose

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Edible_weeds_in_gardenMuch has been written, and talked, about foraging for wild foods in the wilds but no one, so far, seems to have considered – or if so then a very small number – growing those foods purposely in the backyard or the allotment.

When it comes to doing this on your allotment often the management of the allotment society will object to the growing of “weeds”, as some people have found out even when growing Jerusalem Artichokes (Sun Chokes). Some of those little Hitlers classify those vegetables as “invasive weeds” also. Thus growing wild edibles may only work in your backyard therefore.

However, as far as I am concerned, growing wild foods, aka wild edibles or edible weeds is a good idea as firstly many of them are more nutritious than cultivars and secondly they grow almost without any attention and many would grow without being introduced in your garden anyway and many a gardener is fighting a losing battle with the likes of dandelion, fat hen (aka lamb's quarter), ground elder and nettles. So why not let them grow and eat them rather than battling to remove them.

Some while back I decided to deliberately leave dandelion in place and use the leaves for use as salad leaves as they are very much like rocket; best when young. They can also be cooked like spinach, and then the age of the leaves does not matter much. The flowers, if one wanted to, can be used to make dandelion wine and the roots can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute. Dandelion is, after all, a relation to the Chicory from which the French do make a coffee.

Stinging nettle, like dandelion, is a plant that needs no introduction as to looks, and nettle is also, in the form of the younger leaves, a great vegetable as it can be made into soup, or cooked like spinach, and also makes a great herbal tea. So, again, why battle to remove it when it is that useful.

Ground elder is a seriously invasive plant and if you deliberately want to grow it – which I will be doing – it should be contained as it spreads via the roots.

It is another one of those wild plants that are very good to eat and thus well worth using, especially when the plant has decided to colonize your garden as eradication of ground elder is nigh impossible once it has established itself, and that happens fast. So, don't battle, eat.

Other great wild edibles to get into your garden are Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) which is, basically, a wild spinach and of the cut-and-come-again variety, and Ransoms, a wild garlic of which, however, predominately the leaves are used, again like spinach.

The previously mentioned lamb's quarter is a relation to the Amaranths and can be used in a variety of ways. They leaves, yet again, cooked like spinach. It is being advised that this vegetable should be eaten in moderation as it contains high levels of oxalic acid. People who use it a lot, however, consider that the acid is being destroyed in the cooking process.

The stems of Chenopodium album, which is the scientific name of this plant, can be steamed and eaten like asparagus and the mature flower heads in the same way processed like broccoli.

The Asian community in the UK likes to use fat hen, aka lamb's quarter (Chenopodium album) in curries where spinach is also used and the same wish sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and tend to grow both because of this purposely in their gardens. Chenopodium album is extensively cultivated and consumed in Northern India as a food crop, and in English texts it may be called by its Hindi name bathua or bathuwa.

This is just a small selection of wild edible and edible weeds that I am considering and I am turning over some of the beds in my vegetable garden to the deliberate growing – have done some already – of wild edibles to enable me to go foraging just outside the backdoor and will also harvest and eat those edible weeds that turn up in other beds among the crop plants.

Don't weed you weeds; eat them instead.

© 2013