You don’t have to wait long to start harvesting! Learn how to start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. In this series, explore how to transform your surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods, to feed you and your family when you need it most – right away! We pull and poison them, but weeds can be a nutritious source of food or healing medicine. We'll show you how to identify the best edible weeds. Take advantage of weeds in your garden by harvesting them for nutritious treats. Try these purslane recipes, and learn about more edible garden weeds.
Edibles for Emergencies: Seeds, Wild Greens & Eating the Weeds
In light of COVID19, we are witnessing an unprecedented interest in local supply chains, food security, health & wellness, and immunity. People want to take action, but where to begin?! In this article, we will explore how to transform our surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods. To feed ourselves, and our family when we need it most. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to start harvesting: we can start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. This will mark the first in series about edible landscaping and emergency situations.
Yesterday marked the Vernal Equinox, the welcoming Spring, along with equal hours of daytime and night. This is the cusp of spring and winter, with equal darkness and light. In many ways, this parallels our current global situation: while there is great fear present, there is as much to give us faith! Important conversations are happening everywhere, and we are all being given an opportunity to pause and reflect on what really matters. While humans take a break from “business as usual”, nature is springing to life and filling this empty space. Dolphins and swans have returned to the canals of Venice. Smoke has cleared, and once polluted skies are now again blue. Families are spending time together in the sun. Passion projects are given energy and life. This is a once in a lifetime event on a global scale. Life will never be the same again, and maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of the end of a long dark “winter” for humanity. Is this the first glimpses of “spring”? What is emerging from within this emergency? This is a choice point. We have the power to choose and respond how we move forward from here. The growing light is beckoning us to tend the earth, plant seeds, and work together with the forces of nature!
“Life does not accommodate you; it shatters you. Every seed destroys its container, or else there would be no fruition.” – Florida Scott-Maxwell
We are being called to transformation. As we move from the darkness into the light, winter into spring, we must protect and care for what is growing. We must care for our little seeds! We usually experience wild weather swings throughout the month, one day being balmy and warm, the next threatening snow. These are tumultuous times, for the plants as well! It’s important to protect seedlings and tender plants all throughout March, because you never really know what the weather will bring. In any case, with a little care, you could be harvesting very soon! If you get started with sprouting, you could be harvesting in a matter of days. In times of emergency, this means everything.
Sprouting – Grow Your Own Food (Fast)
Growing your own food can be quick and easy, and you don’t even need a garden! Sprouting is the easiest way to start seeds, and you can skip planting, and go straight to harvest. Sprouting seeds are a great non-perishable food item for emergencies, are lightweight for transportation, can easily be stockpiled (in a cool, dry place away protected from pests), and are bursting with high-density nutrients that feed the body and boost the immune system.
Link: 10 Best Benefits of Sprouts:
Link: How to Start Seeds in a Jar:
Link: Buy Organic, Non-GMO Sprouting Seeds:
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Starting Seeds – Step-by-Step
Starting seeds successfully is one of the most rewarding and uplifting tasks in the garden. Unsuccessfully starting seeds is easily one of the most frustrating experiences, and to avoid this disappointment, it is important to follow best practices. Below you will find some principles and practices to get you started.
Step 1: Take inventory. What seeds do you have? What seeds do your neighbours, friends and family have? Purchase or trade locally if possible, or order online. Take inventory & choose what you can/want to grow. If you don’t have seeds, here are some links to a few of our favourite recommendations:
Seeds of Change – Quick Growers Collection (for short growing seasons and quick harvests)
Salt Spring Seeds – Heritage & Heirloom Organic Seeds:
Richters Herbs – Medicinal, Culinary & Aromatic Seeds & Plants
West Coast Seeds:
Step 2: Make a plan. Create a personal planting calendar. If you’re not sure what to start and when, check out the links below:
West Coast Seeds Planting Chart (Canada):
Step 3: Choose how much to grow. How much space do you have? What are the dimensions of your plot? Grow a bit extra to offset losses, you can always give some away if you have too much. Seedlings make a great gift/trade. Use the crop planning chart below to help estimate how many seeds you’ll need:
Step 4: Use clean pots/trays with good drainage to prevent disease.
Step 5: Fill pots/trays with a high quality organic potting mix, and/or prepare a seeding bed outdoors with good, fluffy soil tilth. Those little seedlings are strong for their size, but clumps of soil or clay will make their lives more difficult than necessary.
Step 6: Label your seedling as you are planting them! Forgetting is far too easy, so label them as you go, with name/date.
Step 7: Double check you are planting your seeds at the right time. Timing is everything! Don’t start too late or too early. You want to make sure there is a smooth transition into transplanting. Consult your planting calender and read on the seed packages to confirm. Follow the other directions on the package!
Step 8: Fill containers with potting mix, and when planting seeds, cover the seeds with soil 3x the width of the seed.
Step 9: Gently and evenly water the soil. Using a spray bottle can help.
Step 10: Encourage germination by keeping the seedlings warm with a plastic cover. You can also use a heating pad to encourage sprouting.
Step 11: When the seed has sprouted, ease off on the watering, let the soil dry out before watering again, and remove plastic covers to prevent moisture related diseases. Delicately stir the soil around the seedling with a toothpick or fork to increase aeration and maintain soil health. Most trouble with starting seeds is because of dampness and stagnancy, in the soil or in the air.
Step 12: If you have been heating the seedlings, remove the heat at this time.
Step 13: Keep the air moving! If in a cold frame, keep the lid open, and vent greenhouses.. Use a gentle fan for indoor plants. Once again, dampness and stagnancy kills seedlings!
Step 14: Harden your starts off slowly, exposing them to gradually to the outdoors over four or five days. On a sunny warm day, place the starts in full shade, and bring them in at night. For the next few days, leave the starts in dappled shade, gradually increasing exposure to the sun, leading up to several hours in direct sun on the third day. On the fourth day, plant the starts in their final location, ensuring plenty of watering. Some starts may benefit from a light shade cloth while they recover, so keep a close eye on those little plant babies!
28 Edible Weeds You Can Find in Your Own Backyard
Steph is a certified Square Food Gardening Instructor who has been gardening for more than 10 years in Canada where the winters are long and cold, and the summers are unpredictable. She is a volunteer for her community’s Incredible Edible project. In the past she created an educational gardening space for seniors and taught classes at a local community center where she created her own curriculum and activities. She participated in several local municipal garden days where she set up a booth to educate citizens about the joy of gardening.
If you look around you, there are likely dozens of plants nearby that you may consider nothing but a nuisance, but look again. Some of those so-called weeds may actually be a nutritious source of sustenance that costs nothing to use. In fact, some people may even thank you for taking them off their hands. Edible weeds are all around us, pulled up, poisoned and burned because someone failed to see the value in them.
Once you know which to look for and what you can do with these complimentary consumables, you’ll be able to source food and medicine at a price you can’t beat. You may even be helping the planet and your garden in the process. We’ll show you which weeds are valuable resources in disguise and how to identify them below.
What is a Weed?
First, what makes a plant a weed? While the behavior of a plant plays a part in how we label it, our perceptions and ideas about plants have the most significant impact on whether we consider them problematic or not.
When I held gardening classes at my local senior’s center, I became fast friends with an Indian woman who made the most delicious food. She also taught me a great deal about how we perceive plants. As I plucked weeds from the communal garden space, she pointed out that the plants I removed, in many cases, were good to eat. She would take the pulled remnants and bring them home to cook with. It was an eye-opening moment for me, and now I’m much more curious about the plants I consider annoying and invasive.
I firmly believe that the concept of a ‘weed’ is a human construct. There are no weeds. We’re the ones who impose our perceptions of Mother Nature.
It’s often human behavior that creates problems when we take plants from different continents and allow them to flourish outside of their native habitats. Humans also introduce plants to their gardens or yards without proper research or investigation.
For one person, a dandelion may represent an ugly nuisance: a blemish on an otherwise perfectly manicured lawn. For another, the vigorous yellow flower is a nutritious edible weed that makes the ideal addition to a lunchtime salad or the perfect ingredient for an evening cup of tea.
My Own Experience
In my yard, the previous owners of the property planted a pretty trailing vine for added privacy on an outdoor fence. They apparently didn’t do their homework, and the vine creeps into my garden each summer.
I made the same mistake with purslane. I sowed seeds a few years ago thinking I was planting an easy to grow succulent and didn’t find out until later that purslane is a persistent bugger that’s tough to get rid of.
It returns every year with a vengeance and outcompetes whatever else is growing alongside it. In the first year, it was a yummy edible that I picked for salads. Now, it’s a weed because it keeps coming back without me wanting it there. But more importantly, because I planted something without thinking.
When you forage the plants below use, be sure you know what you’re picking. Some plants have look-alikes that can be unpleasant or downright dangerous.
Additionally, keep in mind that if you want to cultivate any of these edible weeds, planting them may be illegal, on top of a potential nuisance.
Finally, because these plants are considered pests, pick only from sources that you know haven’t been poisoned.
1. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
You might spot purslane in your favorite seed catalogs, but it can also be a weed. It grows almost anywhere because it can tolerate poor soil conditions. That said, it’s delicious. I put purslane seeds in my balcony containers and have been surprised (and annoyed) at how well it has thrived.
Tastes like: Purslane makes a crunchy addition to your salad, and it has a slightly acidic flavor.
How to identify: This edible weed looks like a miniature succulent plant.
Eating: Eat the leaves of this plant in a salad.
Caution: Don’t let your cat or dog munch on it, because it’s poisonous to them.
2. Borage (Borago officinalis)
The small purple-blue flowers of this plant attract bees and butterflies. Borage is an annual, but it’s self-seeding. It’s quite hardy and easy to grow.
Tastes like: Borage tastes like cucumbers, oddly enough, and it’s delicious.
How to identify: Look for a droopy plant with small star-shaped flowers.
Eating: The leaves and flowers of this plant are edible. Use it in soups, salads, cocktails, and desserts.
Caution: Don’t consume borage seed oil without first speaking to your doctor.
3. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
You can use milk thistle in food dishes in place of spinach, though it’s known more for its medicinal qualities.
Tastes like: This can be a bitter plant, but it has a sweet aftertaste. Cooking helps.
How to identify: Milk thistle is pretty distinctive. Keep your eyes out for a spiky plant with purple flowers.
Eating: You can eat the young stalks roots and flowers. You can also eat the leaves, but cut off the spines first. Cook it as you would spinach or eat it raw. You can also roast the seeds and use them as a coffee alternative.
Caution: Only eat this plant after you’ve removed its spikes. Additionally, it can cause nausea and diarrhea in some people.
4. Cleavers (Galium aparine)
This funky-looking annual weed has many fitting nicknames, including kisses and sticky weed.
Tastes like: For such a strange-looking plant, it sure tastes good. It has a flavor similar to pea shoots.
How to identify: Cleavers have branching stems with sticky, grippy hairs and little white flowers.
Eating: You can eat the leaves and stems of this plant, but since it’s sticky, it doesn’t work great in salads. Eat it as a lettuce substitute in a sandwich, instead.
Caution: Don’t eat this if your skin is irritated after touching it. If this occurs, you may be allergic.
5. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Two things I love combined in one plant: garlic and mustard! This edible weed is considered invasive in many parts of North America, so you can do your part to eradicate it by eating it all up.
Tastes like: This plant has notes of horseradish and garlic.
How to identify: Look for a low-growing cluster of lily pad-like leaves.
Eating: You can eat every bit of this plant, including leaves, flowers, roots, and seeds.
Caution: Avoid eating garlic mustard raw too often because the plant contains cyanide. Cooking it can help reduce the toxin level, however.
6. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Probably the most well-known edible weed out there. Dandelions grow liberally on lawns and uncultivated land across the country. They spread prolifically, and we attempt to get rid of them with great enthusiasm, which is odd because they’re edible and incredibly nutritious.
Tastes like: The flavor depends on the part of the plant you consume. It ranges from earthy to nutty.
How to identify: Look for the infamous puffy poofs during the seeding stage that come from the pretty yellow pom-pom flowers.
Eating: The roots, leaves, and flowers of this plant are edible and contain medicinal properties. Cook it up like spinach or eat it raw.
Caution: Don’t eat this ubiquitous edible weed without washing it first, because it may be covered in poison.
7. Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
Also known as curly leaf dock, this plant is capable of growing up to 1.5 meters in height and is often found growing along roads.
Tastes like: It might not look like it, but this plant tastes like lemon because it contains oxalic acid.
How to identify: Look for the distinctive narrow leaves with curly edges. The stems turn brown in the late summer.
Eating: Consume this raw when the leaves are young. Once the leaves get older, they should be cooked. Don’t eat the leaves after they have turned brown. You can peel and eat the stems and cook the seeds, as well.
Caution: Don’t consume raw yellow dock regularly.
8. Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
A brassica, shepherd’s purse is a tasty and nutritious edible weed.
Tastes like: This plant tastes like a mildly flavored radish or mustard greens.
How to identify: It’s easiest to spot when it’s seeding, because it has distinctive purse-shaped pods. It has hairy, lobed leaves.
Eating: Eat this edible weed when the leaves are young, either raw or cooked. Makes an excellent cabbage substitute.
Caution: Be sure you’ve made the right identification when nibbling this. It also resembles a poisonous plant.
9. Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters is an unappreciated plant. It helps restore poor soil in addition to being nutritious and, some even say, tasty.
Tastes like: This plant has a salty flavor, and it’s often used as a substitute for spinach leaves.
How to identify: This is an unattractive weed, which is why it’s pulled up so often and ignored as a food source. Look for its dusty powder-coated leaves.
Eating: The leaves of this plant are edible, and you can cook them or eat them raw. It’s also tasty dried and added to soups.
Caution: Don’t get caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Make sure you’re picking lamb’s quarters and not a toxic doppelgänger.
10. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
This edible weed grows close to the ground and spreads liberally. Bees love yarrow.
Tastes like: The flavor is like a milder version of anise.
How to identify: Keep an eye out for a kind of fern-like plant with clusters of tiny yellow or white flowers.
Eating: Eat the leaves raw or cooked.
Caution: Don’t feed this to your pets. Additionally, be careful when ingesting it yourself, because some folks are allergic.
11. Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata)
This edible weed is a nutrient-packed plant that contains plenty of vitamins. Its nickname, miner’s lettuce, comes from the fact that back in the day it was eaten by miners to stave off scurvy.
Tastes like: It smells citrusy and tastes like earthy lettuce.
How to identify: Look for a plant with round, almost heart-shaped leaves. The stem shoots straight through the center of the leaves, which makes it easy to spot. When blooming, the tops are dotted with small delicate flowers.
Eating: Nibble on the leaves, stem, and blossom of this edible weed. Delicious in salads.
Caution: Don’t mistake this for purslane even though its other nickname is winter purslane because they don’t taste anything alike.
12. Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
A plant in the mustard family, bittercress grows in a mat-like formation and commonly invades lawns.
Tastes like: This plant has a pleasant flavor similar to fresh micro greens and don’t let the name fool you. The leaves aren’t bitter.
How to identify: Grows in a cluster or clump with shoots topped by white flowers.
Eating: All above ground parts are edible, but the flowers can be bitter.
Caution: You shouldn’t store this edible weed for later. It’s best eaten fresh.
13. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Unlike other types of weeds, chickweed is relatively innocuous. It’s not a towering monstrosity that clamors for space. Instead, chickweed grows close to the ground, spreading like a mat.
Tastes like: If you’ve ever eaten grass, then you know what this tastes like.
How to identify: Look for a fuzzy ground cover with small white flowers and oval-shaped leaves growing in opposites.
Eating: Consume the leaves cooked or raw in salads or as you would eat spinach.
Caution: Don’t feed it to animals in large quantities. It’s mildly toxic, especially to horses.
14. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
A perennial that pops up often in the wild, its leaves and roots are edible.
Tastes like: This plant tastes like wood, with a spicy twist.
How to identify: This scraggly, stemmy weed has tiny blue flowers and likes to grow alone in barren areas.
Eating: The leaves and roots are the best part of this plant.
Caution: As pretty as it is, don’t bother eating the flower, because it’s bitter.
15. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
This perennial has a long history a medicinal treatment, but it also makes good eating.
Tastes like: Depending on how you prepare it, this plant tastes like spinach.
How to identify: Stinging nettle, true to its name, is covered in tiny stinging hairs so you might feel it before you see it. Look for arrow-shaped leaves with variegated edges and fuzzy white flowers.
Eating: You can nibble on the leaves, roots, and stems of this plant, although young leaves are the most prized. Use it cooked in soups or as a side dish.
Caution: Don’t eat this without cooking it first to remove those nasty little hairs. You may also want to wear gloves when harvesting.
15. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
I love sorrel. I planted it in my garden two years ago, and it’s a beautiful specimen. Wood sorrel bares little resemblance to garden sorrel, however.
Tastes like: Sorrel tastes lemony thanks to the presence of oxalic acid, which lends a sour, acidic flavor.
How to identify: This plant often gets mistaken for clover. It differs in that the smaller branches grow at a 90-degree angle to the central stalk.
Eating: This edible weed is as refreshing as it is tasty. Eat the immature seed pods, leaves, and flowers in soups, salads or sauces.
Caution: Don’t eat too much of it in one sitting and keep away from all types of sorrel if you have arthritis or suffer from kidney stones.
16. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
A well-known medicinal plant, valerian can also be eaten.
Tastes like: Has a flavor reminiscent of earthy pine.
How to identify: Look for a straight, tall plant topped with small flower clusters.
Eating: Only the leaves and seeds are edible raw, but you can use the root in tea.
Caution: Don’t dry it and use it later. It smells and tastes terrible when dried.
17. Onion Weed (Asphodelus fistulosus)
Smells like onion, but spreads like a weed. Thankfully, you can munch on this invasive plant.
Tastes like: As the name implies, it tastes like an onion.
How to identify: Look for this edible weed growing in the shade. It’s a delicate, thin-stemmed plant with drooping white flowers.
Eating: The leaves are delicious raw, and the has a mild onion flavor.
Caution: Don’t yank it out of the ground. Carefully remove onion weed by digging it out to prevent it from spreading.
18. Horsetail (Equisetum)
Once used as a medicinal treatment for several conditions including arthritis.
Tastes like: The leaves taste like grass. Made into a tea, it resembles the flavor of black tea.
How to identify: an odd brown stem at first until the weed turns green and branches out.
Eating: Consume the shoots in the early spring. Once the cones turn brown, this plant turns bitter.
Caution: Despite its name, don’t let horses eat this weed. It’s poisonous to them.
19. Lady’s Thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
How could a weed ever have such a proper-sounding name? More often used as a medicinal plant rather than eaten, lady’s thumb is related to buckwheat.
Tastes like: This plant has a lovely pepper flavor.
How to identify: You’ll find this weed by looking for flower spikes that sit atop a stem with a base of long slender leaves that often feature a dark spot.
Eating: You can eat the leaves, shoots, flowers, and seeds of this plant.
Caution: Don’t eat this plant if you’re suffering from a kidney ailment.
20. Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
A horribly invasive species, kudzu was introduced to North America in the 1800s. The fast-growing plant is so prolific that it is becoming a major problem in some areas. Thankfully, the one good thing about this rapid-growing invader is that you can eat it.
Tastes like: For being such an invasive plant, it has a delicate flavor a bit like snow peas.
How to identify: Look for a vine with leaves in a group of three and crimson flowers when blooming.
Eating: Don’t try to eat the vine of this plant, but you can eat the leaves, flowers, and roots. It’s great chopped up in quiche and eggs.
Caution: This is an easy edible weed to forage, but don’t ever plant it on purpose. In some areas, planting kudzu is actually illegal.
21. Pigweed (Amaranthus)
You’ve probably had an encounter with pigweed without even knowing its name. It’s also known as amaranth. In some places, lamb’s quarters are called pigweed, but they’re two distinct plants.
Tastes like: This plant with a funny name has a mild lemon taste with salty notes.
How to identify: Look for a tall stem topped with small, clustered flower spikes.
Eating: Young leaves are best, but you can cook or dry the older leaves as well. Roast the seeds for a treat.
Don’t: Don’t be in a hurry to eliminate this plant, because pigweed can also help you with pest control.
22. Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea)
How could something that smells like pineapple ever be considered a nuisance?
Tastes like: The name says it all. This plant tastes like a mild pineapple.
How to identify: Look for a bare-bones version of chamomile, because it is easy to mistake the two plants. If you crush the leaves between your fingers, you can be sure it’s pineapple weed because of the scent.
Eating: If you come across this in the wild, pick and eat the leaves and flowers on the spot. It also makes a wonderful tea. The older the plant gets during the growing season, the more bitter it becomes.
Caution: Don’t eat it in large quantities at first. Some people are allergic to this weed.
23. Burdock (Arctium)
A biennial with a bad reputation because of its sticky, grippy little burrs. Surprisingly, burdock is packed with antioxidants.
Tastes like: Burdock tastes like artichoke, though that depends on which part of the plant you’re eating.
How to identify: This plant looks like something you should avoid, thanks to its annoying little burrs.
How to eat: Peel and boil the stems. You can also eat the immature flowers or young leaves.
Caution: Don’t plant burdock on purpose. It’s a problematic plant in many regions. The burrs may harm animals or at the very least cause discomfort if stuck to their fur or skin.
24. Mallow (Malva)
This low-growing plant is related to okra and hibiscus, and it’s not only edible but has medicinal properties as well. On top of that, it’s handy to have around the kitchen because the leaves secrete a mucus when boiled that can be used as an egg white substitute or a thickener for liquids.
Tastes like: The fruit tastes a bit like capers, and the leaves are mild. They will take on the flavor of the things you cook them with.
How to identify: Look for a plant growing along the ground with long, geranium-like leaves sprouting from a central point.
How to eat: Eat the leaves and flowers raw or cooked. All parts of the plant can be eaten.
Caution: This plant is a prolific grower.
25. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
This edible weed is related to French sorrel and tastes much the same.
Tastes like: Sheep sorrel has a tangy, citrus flavor with a slightly bitter edge.
How to identify: This plant grows in a clump of arrow-shaped leaves with a red rosette in the springtime.
How to eat: You can eat the leaves from this plant, which are delicious chopped in salads. The seeds are also good raw or cooked. Ground up dried leaves can be used to make a flour for baking or to thicken soups.
Caution: Don’t each too much raw sheep sorrel at a time.
26. Violets (Viola sororia)
Violets are almost as hated as dandelions when it comes to lawn maintenance, but I think the native wildflower gets a bad rap. Though they can spread like, well, a weed, the pretty flowers are delicious, and the plant also has medicinal properties.
Tastes like: This pretty little plant has a mild, sweet pea flavor.
How to identify: When the plant is blooming, keep an eye out for the little purple flowers. When it isn’t blooming, you can spot it by the low-growing, heart-shaped leaves.
How to eat: The flowers can be eaten raw and add a bit of color to a salad. You can also candy them or turn them into jelly. The leaves can be eaten raw.
Caution: Since this plant is not loved by homeowners, be sure you are collecting specimens that haven’t been poisoned.
27. Mullein (Verbascum)
This weed isn’t a prolific spreader, but it grows freely in barren soil. People have used the soft, furry leaves as toilet paper throughout history, which is why it is sometimes called Cowboy Toilet Paper.
Tastes like: It has a slightly bitter, earthy, astringent flavor.
How to identify: This plant is easy to spot. It is a fuzzy grayish mound of large leaves in its first year. In the second year, it sends up a tall stalk covered in yellow flowers.
How to eat: You can eat the leaves and flowers raw, but it is best turned into a tea.
Caution: The hairs on this plant can irritate the skin for some people.
28. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
This edible weed clearly doesn’t want you to get near it. It’s covered in little spikes from head-to-toe. The effort is worth the result, though.
Tastes like: The raw leaves are bland, the stem and root taste like a Jerusalem artichoke.
How to identify: Bull thistles look like any thistle except they have short daggers on the surface of the leaf.
How to eat: You can eat the cooked root or stem as you would any veggie, either baked or boiled. You can also eat young leaves raw. Flowers can be roasted when they are young, and you can also roast the seeds.
Caution: Wear gloves when harvesting. Make sure you remove all of the sharp bits before eating.
Edible weeds are one of those hidden treasures that are everywhere once you know how to look. It may even make you look at weeding your own garden in a whole new light. If you have a favorite plant that others consider a weed, be sure to let us know in the comments below.
16 Edible Weeds: Dandelions, Purslane, and More
Weeds are widely believed to be a gardener’s arch-enemy. They stifle crops, steal water, hog sunlight, and create what some deem an eyesore in otherwise impeccably groomed flowerbeds and lawns. They’re not all bad, though: Edible weeds, it turns out, are exceedingly useful.
Instead of burning your abundance of dandelions, chickweed, or wild amaranth—or worse, spraying them with toxic weedkiller—take the zero-waste approach and repurpose them into dandelion tea, amaranth seed polenta, or chickweed pesto.
Here are 16 edible weeds and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Do not eat any plant unless you have identified it with certainty. Steer clear of plants that grow near roads and railroad tracks and of those that could have been sprayed with garden chemicals.
Though they can ruthlessly invade flower beds and vegetable gardens, weeds are wonderful in other ways. They can be remarkably attractive—particularly the chipper yellow pom-pom blooms of the dandelion and the dainty, daisylike flowers of chickweed—and you have to commend them for their tenacity, as they seem to thrive even in the least hospitable places.
What Are Weeds?
A weed is any wild plant that’s undesirable in its setting—usually a human-controlled setting—whether that be a garden, lawn, farm, or park.
The term “weed” is in itself so relative that its definition is ever-changing. Historically, weeds have been associated with invasive plants, but research within the past couple decades has revealed that many species regarded as weeds today evolved from domestic (i.e., native) ancestors. Their defining quality is, therefore, undesirability: They’re either unpleasant to look at or pose some sort of biological threat.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The quintessential weed, dandelions are rich in vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. Every part of this flowering herb, from the roots to the bright-yellow blossoms, can be eaten raw or cooked.
Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any point in the growing season, and while the youngest leaves are considered to be less bitter and more palatable raw, the bigger leaves make delightful salad additions. If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The sweet and crunchy flowers can be eaten raw or breaded and fried. Use them to make dandelion wine or syrup. The root of the dandelion can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute or added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is a heat-loving succulent that has fleshy, jadelike leaves and grows in small clusters low to the ground. It thrives in harsh environments, like in sidewalk cracks and in gravel driveways. The humble garden weed is a nutritional powerhouse, outrageously rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Purslane has a sour, salt-and-peppery taste similar to spinach, and it can be used in much the same way as the more mainstream leafy green. Add it to salads, sandwiches, and stir-fry, or use it as a thickener for soups and stews. It has a crispy texture, and the leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooking purslane, be sure to sauté it gently and not for long, as overcooking it can create an unappetizing slimy texture.
Clover’s spherical flowers and supposedly lucky leaves are a common food source for honeybees and bumblebees, but they make great additions to human meals, too. There are several types of clover, the most common being red clover (which grows tall) and white clover (which spreads outward). Both are rich in protein, minerals, and carbohydrates.
Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be chopped into salads or sautéed and added to dishes for a green accent. The flowers of both red and white clover can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for clover tea.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters, also known as goosefoot, is loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamins A and C. The plant can grow up to 10 feet—although it normally doesn’t—and produces oval or triangular leaves with serrated edges. One of its most identifiable features is the pop of blue-green at the top of the plant.
Though it has a cabbagelike taste, this weed is commonly used as a replacement for spinach. Its young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or it can be sautéed or steamed and used anywhere spinach would be used. Its seeds, which resemble quinoa, can be harvested and eaten, although it takes a lot of patience to gather enough to make it worthwhile as a main dish.
Not to be confused with the tropical fruit of the same name, this common weed is made up of a nutritious mix of minerals, fatty acids, vitamin C, carotenes (antioxidants), nitrate, and oxalic acid. Plantain can be identified by its large, oval leaves that surround tall spikes sometimes covered in white flowers.
The young leaves of the plantain can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, and while the older leaves can be a bit tough, they can also be cooked and eaten. The seeds of the plantain, which are produced on the distinctive flower spike, can be cooked like a grain or ground into flour. Check with your doctor before consuming plantain while pregnant.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a broadleaf weed belonging to the carnation family. It has small, white flowers, each containing five split petals (appearing as 10 petals), and it grows in clusters on hairy stalks. Chickweed is a resilient plant that may appear on roadsides or riverbanks and can thrive in just about any soil type. It’s rich in vitamins A and C and contains about as much calcium as dandelions.
Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw—added to sandwiches and salads or ground into a pesto—or cooked. The plant has a grassy, spinachlike taste.
Chickweed can look very similar to radium weed, a poisonous plant that grows in similar conditions, so consult an experienced forager before picking and consuming chickweed.
Mallow, or malva, is also known as cheeseweed because its seed pods resemble a wheel of cheese. It shares a family with cotton, okra, and hibiscus, and apart from its distinguishing seed pods—also called “nutlets”—you can identify it by its funnel-shaped flowers, each with five petals and a column of stamens surrounding a pistil. This hardy plant can grow almost anywhere—even in harsh, dry soil conditions.
Mallow’s leaves, flowers, and seed pods can be eaten raw or cooked. Both the leaves and flowers have a very mild taste that’s often more tender and palatable in juvenile plants. Older leaves and flowers are best steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Mallow is high in vitamins A and C, protein, and carotenoids.
Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus)
Wild amaranth—or “pigweed”—leaves are another great addition to any dish that calls for leafy greens. While the younger leaves are softer and tastier, the older leaves can also be cooked like spinach.
Displaying either green or red leaves and small, green flowers in dense clusters at the top of the plant, wild amaranth has been cultivated since ancient times. The Romans and Aztecs reportedly regarded it as a staple food.
Wild amaranth seeds can also be gathered and cooked just like store-bought amaranth, either as a cooked whole grain or as a ground meal. It does take a bit of time to gather enough seeds to make a meal of them, but it’s worth the work, as they’re packed with 16% protein.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Curly dock is an oft-overlooked plant that has slender, rigid leaves and tall flower spikes packed with flowers and seeds. The plant contains more vitamin C than oranges, which means it’s also high in oxalic acid. Consuming more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day could lead to a buildup of oxalate in your kidneys.
The leaves can be eaten raw when young, or cooked and added to soups when older. In younger plants, foliage is less curly and leaves are round and broad. Mature plants develop stems whereas leaves emerge right from the root when young.
The leaves taste tart and spinachlike. Because of their high oxalic acid content, it’s often recommended to change the water several times during cooking. Newly-emerged stems can be peeled and eaten either cooked or raw, and the mature seeds can be boiled, eaten raw, or roasted to make a coffee substitute.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic is ubiquitous throughout Europe, but this favorite foraging find is also widespread among the damp woodlands of the eastern U.S. and Canada. It’s so abundant, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers it a “noxious weed,” or one that could be harmful to the environment or animals. It’s not, however, harmful to humans, who typically love stumbling upon a blanket of its signature long, pointed leaves and white flowers sprawled beneath the trees.
Wild garlic tastes like garlic, of course, only grassier. The flavor is milder than the pungent aroma these plants put off (you’ll probably smell them before you see them). Every part of the plant is edible, from the bulbs to the seed heads. You can grind it into a pesto, add it raw to salads and sandwiches for a tangy kick, or sauté it and eat it plain. Wild garlic is higher in magnesium, manganese, and iron than bulb garlic.
Violet (Viola sororia)
Known for their heart-shaped leaves and delightful purple flowers that cover forest floors and stream banks come spring, wild violets are also called “sweet violets” on account of their sugary flavor. They’re often candied and used to decorate baked goods, turned into jam, made into syrups, brewed as a tea, or used as a garnish in salads. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and rich in vitamin C, but the roots and seeds are poisonous.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
A common winter weed in warm and mild regions of the U.S., hairy bittercress is a low-growing rosette that produces white, four-petaled spring flowers on a tall stem. The plant is part of the mustard family and has a sharp, peppery flavor similar to mustard greens or arugula.
It’s best eaten raw, either as a salad green or mixed into salsas and pestos, because cooking it can remove much of its flavor. Hairy bittercress leaves, seeds, and flowers can all be eaten, but the leaves are said to be the tastiest.
Hairy bittercress, like other plants in the mustard family, is high in antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and beta-carotene.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard is a highly invasive herb that has spread throughout much of North America since being introduced by European settlers in the 1800s. Every part of the plant—leaves, flowers, seeds, and stems—can be eaten, but harvesting them can be tricky.
Garlic mustard should be harvested while young because the shoots harden after a couple of years. They should be avoided in the summer, too, as the heat makes them taste bitter. Any other time, it has a spicy flavor similar to horseradish. It’s great as a chimichurri or a pesto—and it’s abundant in nutritional value. It’s high in fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
This highly invasive terrorizer of homes and gardens can be found throughout the Northeast and parts of the Northwest. It has heart-shaped leaves and produces little, white flower tassels in the summertime. It’s often compared to bamboo—partly because of its hollow shoots and partly because it, too, can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Despite its unfavorable reputation, it’s quite nutritious and tasty. The tart, crunchy, and juicy stems are often compared to rhubarb and turned into pie or chutney. Japanese knotweed is rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, manganese, zinc, and potassium.
This plant should be harvested while young, when the leaves are slightly rolled up and have red veins as opposed to being flat and green. Knotweed near roads should be avoided as it is often covered in herbicides. It would also be wise to incinerate scraps rather than composting them to prevent them from sprouting.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle, as its name suggests, “stings” by piercing skin with its hollow, needlelike hairs. As it makes contact, those hairs transmit chemicals to skin, causing an uncomfortable sensation and sometimes a rash. In other words, it’s not the first plant you’d think to reach for if you were hungry.
Nonetheless, stinging nettle is not only edible but also nutritious and tasty. It must be cooked or dried first—don’t attempt to eat the “stinging” leaves raw—but when prepared, it’s entirely harmless and tastes like tangy spinach. You can sauté stinging nettles, blend them into a soup, throw them on a pizza, or incorporate them into a dip. Stinging nettles, identifiable by their aggressive-looking hairs, are a great source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, sodium, and fatty acids. They should be harvested before they flower in late spring.
Sourgrass (Oxalis stricta)
Sourgrass is sometimes called lemon clover because it boasts a refreshing citrusy flavor. It’s commonly found growing in open meadows, lawns, and fields, or occasionally sprouting from sidewalk cracks. The most distinguishing feature of sourgrass is its three-season display of dainty, yellow blooms.
Without its signature sunshiny flowers, it looks a lot like clover. The difference is in the shape of the leaves: clover is oval-shaped and sourgrass is heart-shaped.
Lemon clover tastes sour and tart. It’s primarily eaten raw as an addition to salads, salsas, ceviche, sauces, and seasonings. It also makes a pretty and delicious seafood garnish. Sourgrass is high in vitamin C and oxalic acid, both of which could disrupt digestion if consumed in high doses, so this plant should be eaten only in small amounts.
Many weeds are packed with nutrition—and, besides, eating them keeps them out of your garden and out of the landfill. This is especially beneficial to the environment if they happen to be invasive.
When foraging for edible weeds, pay close attention to leaf shape, leaf arrangements, flowers and seeds, the stalk, and—one of the most important factors—where you find it. Different weeds prefer different growing zones. Also, to double-check your identification, you could use a plant identification app like Seek by iNaturalist.
Studies have shown that urban plants are no less safe to eat than those found outside of cities. That is to say you can probably eat the weeds from your urban garden so long as they aren’t regularly urinated on by the neighborhood dogs.