More Free Food: Edible Weeds

Edible Weeds: free, no plastic packaging and nutritious.

Why wouldn’t you eat them, rather than buy packaged greens from the shop.

We really need to flip our thinking from only buying food from a supermarket to having an acceptance of also eating what is freely available.

Edible weeds are not weird. They are where modern edible plants found in supermarkets originated from. The only difference is you now buy the tampered version.

My teenage daughter refuses to try edible weeds, saying that a dog might have urinated on them. Well, guess what? Farms have dogs and wild animals as well.

In fact, I would argue that edible weeds have had less handling than supermarket produce.

It’s estimated that farm produce is handled by approximately eleven people before you purchase it. From the grower, the picker, the packer, the transporter, the shop attendant, and the customers picking and choosing. How do you know if any of these people washed their hands after toileting?

So, whether your greens are from the shop or foraged, you should always wash your food before eating it – after all, a dog may have wee’d on it.

Edible Weed Safety

As with any foraged food, if you’re not 100% sure about identifying a plant as safe to eat, then don’t eat it.

Other things to be mindful about are the potential for weeds to have been in contact with herbicides on roadsides, and from any pollutants that may already be in the soil.

It’s a good idea when trying any new food to only consume a small amount in case you are part of a minority who develop an allergy to a particular food item.

Chickweed

This is my all time favourite edible weed. It’s delicate, has a mild lettuce taste and grows abundantly!

Chickweed is a delicious addition to a salad, or even as a salad base. I chop it up to around 1 cm lengths and eat it with wild lettuce, young mallow leaves, clover and violet flowers.

It is considered a superfood, containing twice the amount of iron than spinach, has 15-20% protein and is high in vitamin C.

The plant is harvested by cutting the top 5 cm of the plant with scissors and as it is so prolific, you’ll be able to harvest again in 4 to 7 days.

Chickweed has a look alike called petty spurge which is not edible. They are easy to tell apart. When the stem of petty spurge is broken it oozes a white sap. Chickweed does NOT have a white sap. Another difference is the middle of the stem of the chickweed plant contains a string like fibre.

Have you tried chickweed yet? It’s likely that it’s growing in your lawn or garden.

Edible weeds: chickweed
Chickweed close up

Wild Lettuce

Another of my favourites as a delicate salad leaf. I eat the young tender long light green leaves as they have a similar taste to well, lettuce.

All modern lettuce plants originated from this plant. It’s most tender when at the rosette stage where the leaves are flat on the ground, yet is still just as good when leaves are picked from the top middle of a pale green plant.

As the wild lettuce gets older it turns a darker green and becomes bitter and spiny – definitely not a pleasant addition to your salad.

Edible weeds: wild lettuce
A tender young wild lettuce

Wild Brassicas

The wild brassica is the common ancestor plant of the cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

The brassica family tree
The grand-daddy ancestor plant

The young wild brassica looks a lot like a broccoli seeding. The older plants are similar looking to a broccoli that has grown tall and gone straight to the flowering stage.

I find the wild brassica flowers visually similar to broccoli flowers and they taste just as good. They are yummy to nibble on just because you can, or can be added to a salad.

Young leaves from the wild brassica can also be added to salads. The older leaves which are similar to broccoli leaves, are better cooked as wilted greens, added to a stir fry or a soup.

These plants are high in folic acid, carotenoids and selenium.

Stinging Nettle

Ever had a nettle sting you? Now it’s time to get your revenge on these plants – by eating them.

You’ll need to carefully harvest this plant whilst wearing gloves. Select the tender young leaves from the tops of the plant for eating.

Disarming the sting to make the plant edible is done by blending, drying or cooking.

The easiest way to disarm a nettle is to blanch it in boiling water.

Nettle is a good spinach substitute and is popular in Italian recipes such as ravioli, gnocchi, pesto and added to soups and stews. Check out this link for stinging nettle recipes.

Nettles are high in iron, protein and calcium.

Edible weeds: stinging nettle
Get your revenge on these weeds

Sweet Violet

These beautiful plants grow came from Europe and have since naturalised in Australia. They are now known as weeds.

Even though considered a weed, the lovely blossoms are very edible and high in vitamin C. They make a colourful addition to any salad.

However, you don’t have to stop with only eating violets as all the viola varieties have edible flowers, including Johnny jump-ups and pansies.

Sweet violets growing wild
A beautiful weed

Nasturtium

This one surprised me as I already knew the nasturtium leaves and flowers are edible, however, I didn’t realise the plant was considered an environmental weed.

Apparently, it takes over damp shady areas and outcompetes the native plants. All the more reason to keep eating it!

The leaves from the nasturtium plant have a peppery taste and are a great addition to a salad or sandwich. You can also add the colourful flowers for some extra pizzazz.

Dried nasturtium seeds are said to be a good pepper substitute – it’s not something I’ve tried as yet.

This plant is high in vitamin C.

Edible weeds: Nasturtiums
Actually a weed: Nasturtium

Further Information

If you missed the earlier post on edible weeds, don’t worry, you can find it by following this link: Free Food, Edible Weeds in Australia. Even though the title says ‘Australia’ the weeds discussed in the article are common around the world.

For more sources of information:

  • Visit your local library: The Weed Forager’s Handbook, or Edible Weeds and Garden Plants of Melbourne
  • Join Facebook groups: Edible Weeds, Wild Food & Foraging in Australia
  • Purchase a reference guide to keep on you
  • Read Edible Weeds blogs
  • Attend local foraging workshops
  • Ask a local forager for advice
  • Watch YouTube videos about edible weeds

Which edible weeds do you recommend?

Comment below to share the knowledge!

Mrs Hack

I'm an everyday person on a journey to save money and care for the environment at the same.

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