Substituting edible weeds for other vegetables

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some people, and gardeners especially, often just see them as weeds but in many cultures and traditions wild edibles are very common.

I have found that the Asians in Britain who cannot import the seeds of their traditional spinach varieties for use in the different kinds of curries substitute Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) for one kind and the leaves of the Amaranth for another, and also they use Fat Hen (which is an Amaranth relation after all) for the same purpose.

Every gardener is “plagued” often with invasions of chickweed – and no, my chickens turn their beaks up at the stuff so the more for me – and that makes a great substitute for pot herbs and also for the likes of salad cress in egg & cress sandwiches, for instance, and in my opinion it tastes better than salad cress.

So, don't always be tempted to immediately pull up something because it is a weed, that is to say, something growing in a place where it should not be growing, as far as the gardener mind is concerned. It may just be a treasure waiting to be discovered. If it is not thee is still time to pull it out before later, before it sets seed.

There are time when we are far too quick to see all that we have to sown as undesirable but many wild edibles, from which many of our domesticated vegetables spring after all, have much higher nutritional values that do the domesticated versions.

Sorrel (Rumes acetosa) could be called a cut and come again spinach and is, more or less, a wild spinach and the best thing as regards to this and other wild edibles is that they happily grow where domesticated varieties – even of the same kind – will not. In fact many edible weeds thrive much better in poor soil than in soil that is regularly fed with compost, manure, and such.

Dandelion, the bane of the lawn care person, is another one of those wild edibles or edible weeds that we often overlook as a possible food source and it is, in fact, one of he few milky sap plants that are edible and this one in its entirety. Even the stems, those tubular things that hold the milky sap, can be used much like chives, chopped or cut up, though they do not have the same taste.

Many people do go foraging for such wild foods, and in Greece Horta is a common dish, made from a variety of gathered wild edibles. But why do we want to go foraging when such plants can be grown at home, together with our other vegetables that we grown, in our plots? And, best of all, wild edibles will, more often than not, grow where other vegetables will not, such as in too much shade or on very poor soil on the margins.

In France also, for example, dandelion and sorrel (and there is a commercial version of this vegetable also about referred to as French Sorrel, which is slightly milder then common sorrel) are grown not only in the vegetable gardens of the cottagers and other individuals but even in market gardens for sale in the markets.

© 2016