A Weed by Any Other Name

“Is that a weed?” my walking companion asked as I bent down and picked a handful of greens growing on the side of the path.

“Well, that depends on your definition,” I replied, munching into a dandelion leaf.

Back at home, I steamed more dandelion, along with plantain and chickweed leaves and added them to some of last night’s leftover curry for lunch. As I ate, I reflected on the fact that most of these so called weeds were actually more nutritious than the vegetable greens growing in my garden, easier to grow, abundant, free and tasted pretty good. So why aren’t we all eating them?

A weed by any other name could wellbe lauded on the kitchen table.

Textbooks usually define a weed as ‘plant which is growing where it is not wanted.’ While some introduced ‘weeds’ are pests, it’s good to remember that one culture’s ‘weed’ can be another’s valued crop or a sacred medicinal plant. Not all weeds pose a threat to the native species, and some native species can have weed status too.

Weedtherefore, seems more of a subjective term, and perhaps lies more in the eye of the beholder. 

Chances are that in your garden or nearby park, you’re bound to find a good number of edible weeds. Some of the more common ones are mallow, milk thistle, cleavers, clover, oxalis, onion weed, catsear, dandelion, wild lettuce, wild radish, chickweed, plantain, dock, canna lilly, nettle and fat hen.

Many of these plants have been eaten or used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years.In many countries some are still staples today. The farmer’s friend or cobbler’s peg, known well for the sticky seeds it leaves on your jeans, is used as a daily vegetable in some parts of Africa.Purslane (portulaca), rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, is one weed which is nowbeing plucked by top chefs for inclusion as a green in dishes, and is particularly popular in Greece where it is known as glistrada.

Top of my weed list though has to be the ubiquitousdandelion. Found almost everywhere, the leaves, roots and flowers are all edible. Known as the miracle plant, the United States Department of Agriculture Bulletin ranked dandelions in the top four green vegetables in terms of overall nutritional value. The richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene for one, dandelion is said to cure liver disease, purify the blood, lower blood pressure and prevent anemia amongst many other healing properties.

Part of the joy of eating weeds is the forage itself. On a friend’s farm last weekend, I wandered the fields and returned to the fire to cook up a delicious feast of field mushrooms and mallow greens. A meal of true nourishment.