Every year we spend countless billions of dollars and hours of our time eradicating the healthiest foods on the planet.
We dowse these weeds with chemicals, shuddering at the thought of these invaders taking over our fields, pastures and gardens. Or, we handpick them from between our fragile domesticated crops and toss them in the trash, bypassing the compost bin, chicken yard and goat pen.
Growing up, I watched my grandfather make sure that every bindweed plant was sprayed with chemicals so it wouldn’t choke out the wheat crop. I watched a friend’s expression widen into horror, as I blew dandelion seeds into the wind, freeing them to glide on the currents and settle wherever they would. He acted as if I had just unleashed the devil himself. As a child, I wondered, why were people horrified of such a beautiful yellow flower?
Weeds are nutritionally superior to our domesticated crops and better acclimated to growing conditions, making them hardy and resilient. Our ancestors all over the world revered these plants for food and medicinal properties. Here are several edible wild plants-herbs-that you should learn how to identify so you can add these nutrient-dense foods to your diet. Be sure to use a field guide for plant identification.
Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.)-high in iron, beta-carotene and potassium. The blossoms can be made into a wine or fritters. Dandelion roots, made into a tea or added to soups, relieve acne, eczema and water retention by strengthening the liver.
Lamb’s-quarters (Chenopodium album)-rich in iron, calcium, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Throughout history, lamb’s-quarters were used as a nourishing food during times of famine and war. It is more nutritious than spinach and requires no care in the garden. It is also called goosefoot, because of the shape of the leaves. Can be eaten raw or cooked. The tea can relieve sunburns and headaches.
Nettles (Urtica dioica)-high in iron, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Because of the stinging hairs on nettles, they should be cooked. Use them in soups and as steamed greens. Nettles are excellent for skin, hair and nails.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)-Chicory flowers are used to garnish salads, main dishes and cakes. Young leaves are picked before the plant flowers and added to salads. The root is sautéed as a vegetable or it is dried, roasted and brewed as a coffee. Make a poultice of the leaves for inflamed skin.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)-high in vitamin C. Traditionally, chickweed was given to frail people to strengthen them. Add the leaves, flowers and stems to soups, salads and stir-fry dishes. Chickweed is also made into a salve for skin disorders for everything from diaper rash to psoriasis.
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Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare, P. erectum)-high in silica. Used to strengthen the connective tissue in the lungs and as a remedy for swollen arthritic joints. Steam the young tender stems and add to stews or quiches. Add the seeds with your other grains to make gruel and breads. Always cook knotweed, eating it raw can cause intestinal discomfort.
Common Mallow (Malva neglecta)-rich in beta-carotene. The leaves are soothing and anti-inflammatory. Can be eaten raw or cooked, and is used to thicken soups. Made into a tea or syrup, it relieves sore throats, coughs and ulcers. Make a poultice from the fresh shredded leaves and water for skin rashes, burns and insect bites. Garnish your salads with the delicate pink and white flowers.