***article originally published in Powell River Living, 2016***
A weed is any plant which happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But weeds are not a biological category—they are a diverse and ever-changing jumble of plants, subject to opinion and circumstance. And even though weeds have challenged gardeners for as long as land has been cultivated, many common weeds are indeed delicious and nutritious. Below are four common weeds to add to your banquet...
Because if you can't beat 'em, you might as well eat 'em!
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major)
Although plantain shares its common name with bananas' starchy relative, you're more likely to find it in your lawn than your local supermarket. Rich in protein, calcium and vitamins (A, C, K), its leaves can be eaten raw (if young) or cooked (when older). Like psyllium—a close relative—its seeds are high in mucilage. Karen Stephenson (ediblewildfood.com) suggests baking its leaves like kale chips, with salt and olive oil!
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)
Also known as Ale Hoof or Ground-Ivy, this creeping relative of mint trails its squared stems along lawns and borders. Its kidney-shaped leaves are common enough to be invisible, but its aroma is unmistakable. Use it as a potherb or infuse it for a refreshing, buttery tea. Traditionally, this European herb was used for bittering beer. Ethnobotanist Tom Nagy (outsidethehops.com) has added it to many of his homebrews, with much success!
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
This juicy-leaved annual is a pervasive groundcover on hot, dry soils and pathways. Its sprawling habit has landed it a bad reputation, though it does a fantastic job of keeping soil shaded and moist. Rich in Omega-3, vitamins and dietary minerals, this plant is an excellent addition to salads or vinaigrettes! Be sure to distinguish it from the poisonous spurge (Euphorbia), and avoid eating it on a low oxalate diet.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Borne on scraggly roadside growth, chicory's beautiful blue flowers are often overlooked; feature them in your next salad, along with minced leaves. Young flowerbuds are said to make delicious caper-like preserves, and even the root is edible; it's often roasted as a coffee substitute.
Others edible weeds include dandelions, chickweed, dock, and Himalayan blackberries. The list is long, but play it safe! Always be 100% sure of any foraged plant, start with small amounts, and be sure to eat plants in their season. Avoid plants from polluted areas (e.g. roadsides), and familiarize yourself with poisonous lookalikes. This article is not intended as a foraging guide; always consult a botanist or expert forager.