Eat your Weeds!
by Rob Sproule
Weeds. We either love to hate “˜em or just plain hate “˜em, but did you know that some people just plain love “˜em? To those in-the-know, weed control can be a tasty affair! Here are some insider tips for how to learn to love your weedy nemesis’.
As adults, we indoctrinate ourselves to think of dandelions as the faceless enemy that will lay waste to our lawns and quickly forget how much we loved them as children. Besides rubbing the yellow colour onto themselves, blowing seeds, popping off heads and making bouquets are all quintessential parts of childhood. If children play in your yard, please think twice before reaching for the chemicals.
However, as pretty as they are, dandelions are also a famously invasive and persistent weed. For those who covet the perfect lawn, getting rid of them can become the summer’s white whale. Fortunately, there are a surprising number of ways to not only control them, but also appreciate them.
If you can’t beat them, eat them! Not only are dandelions edible, but they are also incredibly good for you. They are packed with more Vitamin A, boast more beta-carotene than carrots and pack more iron than spinach. The leaves are excellent for the liver and kidneys, though people with irritable bowel syndrome shouldn’t partake.
The leaves are most flavourful before flowering in spring or after the first fall frost. Picked at those times, they can be added raw to salads and have a crisp taste similar to endive.
Mature, post-flowering leaves acquire an unpalatably bitter taste and fuzzy texture. A long boil or steam will tenderize them.
Never eat dandelions unless you’re sure they haven’t been sprayed with herbicides.
One of the most ubiquitous weeds in Canada, chickweed (Stellaria media) is fast to grow, hard to kill and surprisingly good in salads. It grows into a dense, tangled mat and spreads quickly via surface nodes and rapidly developing seeds.
Imagine what a thick, tangled, curly-haired, green wig would look like if you threw it on the dirt in a heap. That’s basically chickweed. Its unique habit is to grow in and around itself, getting deliberately tangled, so the only way to pull it out is by the fistful.
While it probably won’t be on your radar during drought years, chickweed thrives during cool, wet growing seasons. It grows quickly, with a germinated seed sprinting to flower in as little as a month.
Chickweed has uses other than just being annoying. Its fresh leaves (the younger the better) are chock full of vitamin C, magnesium and other nutrients. You can even buy chickweed herbal supplements in health food stores.
It has a subtle, somewhat grassy taste and is surprisingly good in salads and soups, though if using it in soup, only add it in the last five minutes or it will basically disintegrate. You can use the stems and flowers, as well.
It has anecdotal medicinal uses, though there’s precious little medical research to back up the claims. People have eaten it for stomach and lung problems, rubbed it on their skin to treat boils and abscesses, and even used to make a diaper rash cream. Just for the record, I don’t endorse its effectiveness for any of that.
Purslane – Superfood
Originally hailing from southern Europe, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is now abundant on every continent except Antarctica. Unless you live in the arctic, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve got purslane growing nearby.
Also commonly known as portulaca, moss rose or pigweed, purslane is the only weed I know of with the dual designations of noxious weed and superfood. It’s as hard to get rid of as it is delicious.
Purslane is a creeping annual with fleshy, succulent leaves and small but showy, yellow flowers. Being a succulent plant, it stores water in its fleshy leaves and is well-adapted to droughts.
Look for it at the edge of lawns along sidewalks, where the foot traffic, overflowing from the concrete, has bashed the lawn into smithereens. It’s also the first plant that tends to peek through cracks in your driveway, and if not pulled, it can eventually damage the concrete.
Purslane is a nutritional powerhouse. It boasts more omega-3 fatty acids (the good stuff in fish) than any other leafy plant. It’s packed with vitamins A, B, C and E as well as calcium, potassium and more.
Purslane’s mild taste has been described as being something between cucumbers and green beans. The tips are the most tender, and the leaves have a tangier taste if harvested in the morning when more malic acid has built up. All parts are edible.
Cultures around the world use purslane in everything from seedcakes (Australia) to traditional medicine (China). You can eat it raw in salads or cook it into stir-fries and other dishes as you would other leafy vegetables.
If you’re going to harvest it, make sure the area hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals, and look for decent-sized plants””the ones peeking up through my driveway aren’t very appetizing.
In recent years, purslane has been popping up as a trendy veggie everywhere from farmers’ markets to high-end restaurants. There’s certainly enough of it, and I expect to see much more of it on plates in the years ahead.