Grow and eat your weeds

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Anyone who misread the headline as “grow your own weed” has only him- or herself to blame for this. I am here talking about weeds not weed. Weeds as in “plant in wrong place”, as gardeners often refer to them, or worse.

How many times, as a gardener, have you cursed the weeds in your beds, and as a farmer in your field? Well, don't get mad. Get even.

Get even with your weeds in the garden by eating them. However, there are so many edible native weeds that can be foraged for than ever will arrive in your garden. On the other hand why not grow them yourself.

Yes, I am serious. Let them grow and use those that you have and bring in others that you like and enjoy.

Personally I have decided that if I can grow them, and after all weeds need no looking after and grow without any help from me, even and especially in bad soil, I will.

The edible weeds that I grow are vegetables that I do not have to look after, that I can grow and let grow in marginal soil, and that I also do not have to go out for to hunt down.

In addition to that, having grown in my own garden, I know where they have been, so to speak, what has come in contact with them, especially as regards to chemicals (if one does not consider the possibility of chemtrails, and whether they are real or not shall not be the debate here, and other aerial spraying, the mist of which could have reached here), and to vehicle fumes, dogs, foxes, etc.

What we refer to as weeds in our garden today, in the main, bar the toxic ones, were food before man ever broke one single furrow of ground and they, often, also are the ancestors of many of our domesticated food plants of today. And many have higher nutritional value than do have their domesticated offspring.

The list of wild vegetables, referred to by many as “weeds”, by others as “wild edibles”, is very long indeed and some are also obscure and known only to the initiated. Furthermore some have deadly cousins or look-alikes and thus should only be gathered by those that really know their stuff. But, then again, we are not talking here about gathering them in the wild, aka foraging, but by actually and deliberately growing them in the garden.

One of the easiest weeds to identify – and to grow (it needs absolutely no help whatsoever) – is the humble dandelion and that is aside from its versatility. All parts of the plant can be used and it is one of the few milky sap plants that are, in fact, not toxic.

Dandelion has so many uses that it is just amazing and I love to see the reaction on the faces of people asking me what, as a professional gardener, I would advise them to do with the dandelions in their garden or lawn and I tell them “eat them”.

The leaves are equal to rocket, especially wild rocket, when young and are great in salad. When they get older they are somewhat tougher and bitterer and thus they are best used like spinach.

The flowers also can be eaten raw and used many other ways and the root can be roasted as a substitute coffee, albeit one without any caffeine. Dandelion is of the same family as chicory from which root the French make chicory coffee. As this, in the same way as the grain-based Caro Coffee, does not contain any caffeine it is ideally suited for those that like coffee but do not wish for it to contain caffeine or whose beliefs forbid the use of stimulants, such as for members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

Chickweed is another great edible weed that is prolific in most gardens and that is easily recognized. What few people do seem to realize though is that there are two varieties; the ordinary one and the so-called mouse-eared one. The leaves of the latter are a little large than those of the former and are “furry”.

This plant, the tips of it ideally, can be used in any recipe that calls for “pot herbs” and makes a great substitute for salad cress in “egg and cress” sandwiches.

Another weed that tends to pop up in gardens and that can grow rather tall – and goes to seed quickly making more – is lamb's quarter, also known as fat hen or goosefoot. It is a member of the amaranth family or related to it and again it is a useful plant. Care must be taken though as to the use of it as the leaves contain oxalic acid. However, the acid is being rendered harmless by cooking.

If you use the leaves raw in salads, which can be done, then do not overdo it. When used as spinach, which is the most common use, then there is no problem.

It is, however, not only the leaves that can be used but also the stem, and the plant can grow to about 3foot in height and have quite a stem, and the flower head. In fact the seeds can also be used and are similar to quinoa. In fact, quinoa is a member of the gosefoot family.

The stems can be steamed and used like asparagus and the flower heads like broccoli. And, as said, the seeds can be used in the same way as are quinoa seeds. But you must be fast here as the plant goes from flowering to seed release rather quickly.

Fat hen, goosefoot, lamb's quarters, or whatever the name that may be used in any particular area, is also a great companion plant for most garden vegetables as it will attract the leaf miner and, hopefully, leave the other vegetables (and other plants) alone.

Another very useful weed, edible to boot, that requires no introduction, I should think, is the Stinging Nettle.

Here the leaves and tops, the younger the better, make for a great soup, spinach dish, as well as the leaves, per se, make a great tea. There are many other uses for this plant too but they are not on the edible list, such as fiber for sails and clothing, being similar to hemp, and the long, stringy roots can be used as a substitute for cordage.

Another, very invasive weed, though originally introduced to the British Isles by the Romans as food, is Ground Elder. It has many culinary uses too and, once again, is very good in way of nutrition and health. If you grow this candidate, however, contain the plant thoroughly in a container to that it stands no chance of escaping to the “wild” of your garden.

Obviously, there are other weeds in the garden that you do not want, even if you grow edibles weeds, and that is those that, well, are not edible and not beneficial really in any other way. Those you do not want to entertain as they may compete for nutrients with the weeds you do want for eating and the (other) vegetables that you grow.

© 2013