Edible garden weeds often get overlooked as a valuable resource in our own backyards. Yet these nutrient-packed plants offer a range of health benefits and exciting new tastes for your dishes.
Learn about the benefits of common edible weeds and show you how to identify, harvest, and cook them when you're ready to eat weeds.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Table of contents
- Edible weeds for a productive garden
- Burdock: A tough weed with tasty parts
- Chickweed, cleavers, and clover for urinary tract health
- Dandelion - The classic edible weed
- Jewelweed & Mallow Plants
- Wild Broadleaf Plantain
- Stinging Nettles & Thistles
- Wood Sorrel - a common edible garden weed
- Recipe Ideas for Edible Garden Weeds
- Frequently Asked Questions Edible Garden Weeds
- Harvest edible garden weeds for nutrition and to be more self-reliant
Edible weeds for a productive garden
Edible weeds can really boost your garden yield. And they can help feed your family when you're trying to live off the land.
Learn about different types of edible greens and their uses, and get delicious recipes to start getting your family eating weeds. But first, let's go through some of the weeds commonly found growing in Canada and the United States.
Burdock: A tough weed with tasty parts
Burdock is a pretty persistent weed. And it's indeed difficult to remove from your garden.
However, every part of this common edible weed is packed with nutrients. The root is one edible part often used in traditional Japanese cuisine. And burdock leaves and stems can be cooked like spinach or added to soups.
- Roots: Rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
- Leaves: High levels of vitamins A and C as well as calcium.
- Stems: Good source of protein when cooked properly.
Dock plants as blood cleansers
Different species of dock plants, such as curly dock and yellow dock, are considered edible garden weeds.
Like burdock, they've been used for centuries as a blood cleanser. Try cooking them like spinach or added to soups for an earthy flavor, similar to other cooked greens. Dock plants are also rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, and calcium.
Chickweed, cleavers, and clover for urinary tract health
Due to their diuretic properties, all three of these edible plants have been traditionally used to treat urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Additionally, red clover has been known to help balance hormones in menopausal women by providing phytoestrogens which mimic estrogen activity in the body.
You can learn more about these plants' medicinal properties in The Boreal Herbal - hands down one of my all-time favorite books about wild food and medicine plants of the north.
Tip: identifying and utilizing wild plants in a garden and the wilds can be useful for people interested in living off the grid or practicing self-reliance. However, it's essential to discriminate between useful and poisonous or noxious weeds. Please be very careful when eating these wild greens since some can be dangerous if ingested.
Dandelion - The classic edible weed
When it comes to eating weeds, your first thought is likely the dandelion plant, commonly found growing across North America. Taraxacum officinale may be the most recognized edible garden weeds that invade lawns everywhere.
And they have a ton of uses!
Add these dainty flowers to salads of leafy greens. This classic edible weed is nutritious and flavorful, from salad green to dandelion tea.
Harvesting tips for dandelion greens
The best time to harvest dandelion greens is early spring when they are young, tender, and ready to invade lawns. And you know, since we moved to the far north, we don't get nearly as many dandelions as we did when we lived in other parts of Canada.
Anyhow, as the warm season progresses, the dandelion plant changes. And the older leaves can begin to taste bitter.
Cut the dandelion leaves off at their base with a sharp blade or scissors for harvesting. Wash them thoroughly before consuming them or making your favorite dandelion recipe.
This is particularly important as dandelion leaves may have been exposed to dirt or pesticides from neighboring plants.
Cooking methods for dandelion roots
- Roasting: Clean and chop dandelion roots into small pieces, then roast them in an oven at 350°F (175°C) until crispy and golden brown.
- Making Tea: Boil cleaned dandelion roots for about 15 minutes, strain the liquid into a cup, add honey if desired, and enjoy your homemade herbal tea.
- Frying: Slice cleaned roots thinly like chips, then fry them up with some oil until crisp.
Dandelion flower recipes
Besides their leaves and roots, dandelion flowers are also edible. They can be used fresh or dried in various recipes such as pancakes, fritters, or even made into dandelion wine. Some of our favorite dandelion recipes include dandelion tea and dandelion salads.
Dandelions are delicious, nutritious, and packed with vitamins A, C, and K and minerals like calcium and potassium.
Start using small amounts of these classic weeds in your meals today. Add these dainty flowers to spring salads and other mixed greens, including wild garlic, garlic mustard, and mustard greens.
Reminder: This post is about identifying and growing weeds for eating in a garden. Growing edible greens helps feed families and save money, especially for people living off the grid or practicing self-reliance. But it's absolutely critical to learn which edible garden weeds are safe to eat before you get started.
Jewelweed & Mallow Plants
Jewelweed and mallow plants can provide natural remedies for various ailments. These edible weeds offer remedies for bug bites, poison ivy rashes, sore throats, and mucous membrane protection.
Using Jewelweed as a Natural Remedy
Impatiens capensis, more commonly known as jewelweed or spotted touch-me-not, is a common garden weed that has the potential to provide relief from numerous skin irritations.
It's particularly effective against poison ivy rashes and insect bites due to its anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties.
- To use jewelweed for poison ivy treatment, crush the stems and leaves to release their juices. Apply this juice to the affected area immediately to relieve itching and irritation.
- Make a soothing jewelweed salve by infusing crushed jewelweed in oil (such as olive or coconut oil) over low heat for several hours before straining out the plant material. Add beeswax to thicken it into a balm consistency if desired.
- Jewelweed tea made from steeping fresh leaves in boiling water may help alleviate mild digestive issues such as indigestion or bloating when consumed internally.
By the way, you might also like this calendula salve recipe. We use it on our chickens, but also on our kids!
Mucilage-rich Mallow Plant benefits
Mallow plants (Malva spp.) are a group of edible weeds that contain mucilage, a slimy substance that coats and soothes irritated tissues. Mucilage-rich plants like mallow can benefit sore throats, coughs, and digestive issues.
- To make mallow tea, steep fresh or dried leaves in boiling water for about 10 minutes before straining out the plant material. Drink this soothing tea to help alleviate throat irritation or coughing.
- Mashed mallow leaves can be applied topically as a poultice to relieve skin irritations such as rashes or insect bites.
- Use young mallow leaves in salads or saute them with other greens to boost nutrients and mucilage benefits in your meals.
Both jewelweed and mallow plants offer natural remedies straight from your garden. Introduce these edible weeds into your daily meals to help you become more self-reliant and enjoy better health by using nature's gifts.
Wild Broadleaf Plantain
If you want to add more nutrients to your diet, look no further than the wild broadleaf plantain growing in your garden. This commonly-found weed offers an impressive nutritional profile, including a high Omega 3 fatty acids concentration.
Identifying Wild Plantain in your garden
Wild plantain (Plantago major) is a low-growing perennial herb that thrives in compacted soils. It's often found along garden paths and beds where foot traffic has disturbed or compressed the soil. We've even seen it growing in the cracks of a parking lot in downtown Yellowknife.
You might recognize broadleaf plantain plants by their leaf shape. The large leaves are oval-shaped with parallel veins running from base to tip, while the flower stalks bear tiny greenish-white flowers at their tips.
To ensure you've correctly identified wild plantain before consuming it, cross-reference with online resources or consult a local expert on edible plants.
Tip: If you're using foraging to teach your children, you might like our plantain unit study. You'll find it down at the bottom of this post.⬇️⬇️⬇️
Ways to eat plantain
The entire wild broadleaf plantain plant - leaves, seeds, and roots - can be consumed either raw or cooked. Here are some popular methods to try
- Fresh Leaves: Young tender leaves can be added directly into salads for a mild flavor and extra nutrients. They can be eaten raw.
- Cooked Greens: Older leaves become tough; however, they can still be boiled like spinach or sauteed with garlic as a tasty side dish (source).
- Tea: Dried leaves can be steeped in hot water to make a soothing herbal tea known for its anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties.
- Seeds: The seeds of wild plantain can be ground into flour or added whole to dishes like oatmeal, granola, or smoothies for an extra boost of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Adding wild plantain into your family's diet adds variety and helps you take advantage of this common garden weed's numerous health benefits. Remember, the leaves can be eaten raw. So watch for the large leaves next time you're weeding your garden.
Wild plantain is a nutritious option, rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can benefit any diet. On the other hand, stinging nettles and thistles provide valuable resources for bees in your garden and are edible plants you can harvest.
Stinging Nettles & Thistles
I've been scratched enough times now to understand why stinging nettles and thistles may be unwelcome guests in your garden. Despite their prickly nature, these plants offer essential nutrients to benefit pollinators like bees. And surprise, surprise, they're also valuable additions to human diets too.
The importance of nettles and thistles for bees
While you might not appreciate the presence of nettles (Urtica dioica) and thistles in your garden, they do play a crucial role in supporting bee populations. These plants produce nectar-rich flowers that attract various species of bees, providing them with much-needed sustenance during the growing season.
Beyond benefiting pollinators, nettles and thistles also offer nutritional value for people. Nettle foliage contains vitamins A, C, and K1 and minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. Similarly, thistle leaves contain antioxidants like flavonoids which help protect against oxidative stress.
On a side note, I can't wait to get bees. Dan isn't so sure. It's on my homestead projects list, though.
Harvesting and preparing these plants for consumption
Remember to wear gloves if you decide to harvest nettles or thistles from your garden for personal use. These plants can cause skin irritation due to their tiny hairs or spines on stems.
- Picking: For nettles, choose young tender leaves, preferably during spring when they are most nutritious. Pick thistle leaves throughout the growing season, but choose young leaves, as older leaves tend to become tough and bitter.
- Preparation: To neutralize the nettle's sting, blanch the leaves in boiling water for a minute or two before using them in recipes. Then remove spines from the leaf edges with scissors or a knife for thistles, then wash thoroughly.
- Cooking: Prepare these plants for cooking like you'd prep spinach. Add them to various dishes such as soups, and stir-fries, or even make them into pesto. Nettles also make a delicious tea by steeping dried leaves in hot water for about five minutes.
Adding nettles and thistles to your homestead recipes adds variety and nutrients and helps support local bee populations, essential in pollinating our food crops. So, consider eating them next time you come across stinging nettles or thistles.
Reminder: Nature provides so much if we just know where to look. The more you learn about foraging, forest gardens, permaculture, fishing, hunting, and living off the grid, the more independent and self-reliant you will become.
Wood Sorrel - a common edible garden weed
Discover wood sorrel, possibly the most common edible garden weed. This tangy plant can be easily identified in your garden and used in various recipes to add a unique lemony flavor.
Identifying Wood Sorrel in your garden
Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is a small perennial plant with heart-shaped leaves that grow in clusters of three, resembling clover.
Wood sorrel's leaves are more pointed than clover, which have rounder shapes. Additionally, wood sorrels produce tiny flowers ranging from white to pink or yellow, depending on the species.
To ensure you're harvesting the correct plant for consumption, properly identifying wood sorrel is essential.
Tasty Wood Sorrel recipes
The lemony taste of wood sorrel or even garden sorrel adds a delightful zing to various dishes. Here are some ideas on incorporating this edible weed into your meals.
- Salads: Add fresh young leaves of wood sorrels as a salad green into salads for a lemony flavor. They can be eaten raw or used as garnish over other dishes like fish or roasted vegetables.
- Soups: Chop up tender stems and leaves, then toss them into soups just before serving, as they don't require much cooking time. Add them to vegetable broths or creamy potato soups for a refreshing flavor.
- Pesto: Combine wood sorrel leaves with other greens like basil or spinach, garlic, nuts (pine nuts or walnuts), olive oil, and Parmesan cheese to create a unique pesto sauce. Use this as pasta sauce, sandwich spread, or dip.
- Sorrel Tea: Make an invigorating tea by steeping fresh wood sorrel leaves in hot water for about 10 minutes. You can add honey or lemon juice to taste if desired.
Recipe Ideas for Edible Garden Weeds
Now that you're familiar with various edible weeds, it's time to get creative in the kitchen. And by the way, I'll be adding weed recipes to this section regularly so check back often.
From salads to soups and unique pesto variations, these dishes will help you make the most of nature's bounty. Here are some delicious recipe ideas featuring edible weeds from your garden.
Salads featuring weeds
Add edible garden weeds to your diet by simply adding them to salads. The fresh flavors and textures can elevate a simple salad into something extraordinary.
Mix dandelion greens, and wood sorrel leaves, mustard greens, or wild plantain leaves with other leafy greens for a nutrient-packed meal. Toss in some white clover or red clover flowers for added flavor and nutrition. My kids love these crunchy flowers.
- Dandelion Green Salad: Combine dandelion greens with arugula, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese crumbles, and toasted walnuts. Drizzle with a lemon vinaigrette dressing.
- Wood Sorrel & Spinach Salad: Mix wood sorrel leaves with baby spinach, sliced strawberries or raspberries (for extra tang), feta cheese cubes, and sunflower seeds. Top it off with balsamic vinegar dressing.
- Mixed Wild Greens Salad: Create an assorted mix of chickweed leaves (check this guide on how to harvest chickweed), wild plantain leaves, and other edible weeds. Add thinly sliced red onion, cucumber slices, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
Soups made with nutritious wild greens
Soups are another excellent way to enjoy weeds' flavors while benefiting from their nutritional value. These warm and comforting dishes can be made using various garden-fresh ingredients.
- Dandelion Green & Potato Soup: Saute chopped dandelion greens with onions and garlic in olive oil until tender. Simmer diced potatoes with salt, pepper, and olive oil until tender before blending everything for a creamy texture. Blend everything for a creamy texture, or leave it chunky.
- Nourishing Nettle Soup: Cook stinging nettle leaves (blanched first to remove sting) in butter, leeks, or onions before adding vegetable stock. Simmer until tender, then blend into a smooth soup base packed with nutrients.
- Mallow & Lentil Soup: Saute mallow leaves (harvested young) with carrots, celery stalks, and onion pieces in olive oil. Then add lentils and water or broth for the cooking time required by your choice of lentil variety (green/brown/red). Season as desired. Or just saute the mallow leaves and add them to my hearty turmeric lentil soup recipe.
Unique Pesto Variations Using Edible Garden Weeds
Traditional pesto is made with basil, but why not try a unique twist by using weeds instead? These variations can be used as spreads, pasta sauces, or salad dressings. Get creative and experiment with different combinations of garden-fresh ingredients.
- Dandelion Pesto: Blend dandelion greens (harvested young for best flavor) with garlic cloves, pine nuts or walnuts, grated Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Wild Plantain & Sunflower Seed Pesto: Combine wild plantain leaves (tender ones) with sunflower seeds (toasted), garlic cloves, lemon juice/zest mixtures, and your choice of hard cheese like Asiago/Pecorino Romano/Manchego - blend everything together until it is smooth.
- Cleavers & Almond Pesto: Mix cleaver leaves (harvesting tips here) in a food processor/blender alongside almonds (raw), crushed garlic pieces, plus some grated parmesan style cheeses before adding extra virgin olive oils slowly during the blending process - season according to personal preferences then enjoy this deliciously fresh sauce on pasta dishes.
Eating weeds from your garden is a great way to maximize their potential and savor new tastes and consistencies. So go ahead and give these recipes a try - you might discover a new favorite dish.
Frequently Asked Questions Edible Garden Weeds
Can I find edible weeds in my backyard?
Yes, many common garden weeds are edible and nutritious.
Some popular examples include dandelions, jewelweed, mallow plants, wild plantain, stinging nettles, thistles, and wood sorrel. These plants can be used in various recipes such as salads, soups or pesto.
What are the healthiest edible garden weeds to eat?
The healthiest edible weeds offer a range of nutrients and medicinal properties.
Dandelions provide vitamins A and C; wild plantain is rich in omega-3 fatty acids; stinging nettles contain iron and calcium, while chickweed has anti-inflammatory benefits. However, always ensure proper identification before eating any weeds.
Why are weeds bad for a vegetable garden?
Weeds can compete with your vegetables for space, sunlight, water, and nutrients. And some weeds go wild and take over your lawn.
Some invasive species might spread diseases or attract pests that could harm your crops. However, certain edible garden weeds can also help poor soil by adding organic matter when composted.
What weeds are not edible?
Certain garden weeds should not be consumed due to their toxic nature or potential allergenic effects like poison ivy or hemlock. It's essential to properly identify each weed before consumption using reliable sources such as field guides or expert advice from local botanists.
Harvest edible garden weeds for nutrition and to be more self-reliant
Adding edible garden weeds to your recipes is a great way to add nutrition and flavor to your meals and cut the cost of buying organic produce.
In addition, some of these weeds can offer medicinal benefits that may contribute to your overall well-being. And growing edible greens and weeds is an easy first step towards self reliance, no matter where you live.