As you step out into your garden be careful you might be stepping into a salad bar. There are familiar lawn weeds which people pull up and throw away not realizing that they are throwing away nutritious salad ingredients. You read that right there are lots of edible weeds growing everywhere.
The most popular and recognizable among weeds is the dandelion. The leaves and even the flowers make a wonderful salad. If you don’t have a garden some specialty food markets may sell dandelion greens however picking your own is a whole lot cheaper. The best are the tender leaves when they first appear in the early spring and in late fall at which time they are the sweetest. Later on the leaves can give off a bitter taste however if you soak them for awhile in cold water they are still edible and the taste doesn’t bother you at all. The flowers have a mildly bittersweet flavor and are best mixed in a salad along with the chopped up greens. The best thing is that dandelions have more beta-carotene than carrots. You can make salads two ways with lemon juice, some pepper and olive oil or with a spoonful of sour cream and a bit of soy.
Next up we have purslane which is a plant with round, succulent leaves and a reddish stem. It seems to grow just about everywhere. It is full of antioxidant vitamins which as vitamin A and C and also includes healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The leaves and stems can be eaten fresh or in salads and on sandwiches or in soups and recipes instead of spinach. Purslane has a taste similar to spinach.
Bamboo is actually a type of grass and a very invasive weed. Bamboo shoots offer lots of fiber and some think they taste like corn. The shoots should be cooked before eating. Take away the outer leaves and remove the tough flesh. Then cut them across the grain into one-eight-inch slices and boil in an uncovered pan for 20 minutes or longer until there is no bitter taste. Once ready they can be added to salads or stir-fries or eaten with soy.
Japanese knotweed most common in the U.S. in the Northeast or Midwest. They have green and red shoots and should be harvested when the weed is 6 to 8 inches tall so it doesn’t turn woody. The tough leaves or rind are removes and then steamed or simmered. They have a rhubarb-kind of taste.
Lamb’s quarters are not found in the supermarket meat section. These are a weed referred to as “wild spinach”. It appears in the early summer and is full of calcium and protein also including vitamins A, C, and K. One recipe comes from the author of the book Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw. Wash the greens and sauté with olive oil while they’re still wet as the steam helps them to wilt. Afterwards add some salt, garlic, pepper and a squeeze of lemon or lime.
At the grocery store watercress can become expensive to purchase. However if you can find it growing somewhere locally you can stock up. They usually grow by streams and riverbanks in practically every U.S. state. The best way to eat this weed which is rich in antioxidants is raw in salads.
In the late 1800s an invasive weed was introduced in the South by the Japanese — kudzu. Southerners use kudzu in many different ways including adding it when making jellies and jams. Usually using the flowers that come out in August and September. The roots can be steamed or boiled until tender and then add soy sauce or miso. Kudzu has been used in Chinese medicine to treat allergies, colds, fevers and as an aid for digestion. You can make tea by chopping up the leaves and boiling for around 30 minutes. It’s great to treat whatever ails you.
Finally we come to red clover which can be found all over the U.S. It is a known remedy to protect against cancer and found to have a protective effect against prostate and colon cancers. Keep in mind that there has been some evidence that phytoestrogens can have the opposite effect on breast cancer so don’t overload on red clover. Having a meal now and then of red clover flowers sprinkled on rice or cooked in soy sauce is great for your health and will clean up your yard. Red clover flowers are also high in protein. The white clover is also edible but not as nutritious or flavorful.