Discovering Edible Weeds

February 1, 2006

Edible Weeds are sadly overlooked as a source of food, nutrition, and variety that can be a valuable addition to our daily diets.

After all, many of the edible plants that we call weeds are close relatives to the vegetables and herbs that are cultivated in our gardens. But these edible weeds grow on their own accord and are free for the picking.

Gardeners quickly become experts at identifying weeds in order to eliminate them before they grow out of control and take over the vegetable plot. So why not kill two birds by learning to identify weeds and also utilize the edible ones that inhabit your landscape.

Before you start here’s the warning: if you’re not positive about the identification of any weed or plant growing wild… Don’t Eat It! Even with a positive ID start slowly when introducing edible weeds to your diet to make sure that you can tolerate the new food.

Finally, don’t harvest or consume any edible weeds or wild plants growing along side a highway, from polluted environments, or in an area that may have been treated with any type of chemical spray. So to stay on the safe side just use the wild edibles growing in your own garden and landscape.

Some edible weeds such as the dandelion are well known and easily recognizable. Others such as chickweed, purslane, and plantain are common but not as familiar to many gardeners.

The best way to learn to identify edible weeds is to study with someone who is already familiar with them. You can also locate field guides that cover edible wild plants.

Wild edible plants are reported to contain higher levels of nutrients than their cultivated counterparts that we rely upon for food. While they are often stronger tasting and in some cases even bitter, there are also plenty of wild plants that are quite tasty.

Lambs Quarter for example is an edible weed that is absolutely delicious when steamed or cooked in a small amount of water. I prefer the edible weeds that can be prepared simply or just used raw in vegetable salads. The edible plant field guides will provide suggestions on various uses and preparations.

So whether you want to utilize nutritious edible weeds from the garden to supplement your meals, or uncover a readily available emergency food source, devote a little time to discovering and identifying the edible weeds that may be sprouting up all around you.

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  • Tanya Bailey

    Hello, can you please tell me what the longest rooted edible weed is in Canada? Thanks

    Tanya Bailey
    Spruce Grove, AB

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Tanya, I could only guess at that one and might be way off, but I believe that one of the varieties of dock and dandelions would rank towards the top of the list. Again, that’s just a guess and there are so many different edible weeds that are sure to send down deep root systems.

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  • Mariciyah

    Hola, Can you give me a list of edible weeds in florida (please)?

  • Kenny Point

    Hola Mariciyah, I’m not versed in the edible weeds in your local area, but I would guess that some like dandilion, lambsquarters, and plaintain are pretty widespread and can be found growing in Florida. It may be too warm there for some like chickweed, but then you probably have some there that won’t grow in the north. The best thing would be to locate a field guide of local edible weeds and wild plants, check with your Agriculture Extension Office, or find a gardener nearby who is more familiar with your local assortment of edible weeds.

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  • Frank Schuetz

    I pick a green wild plant that resembles clover but the leaves are much smaller w/small stems but does not grow very tall in small clumps. Can you id this plant thyat I thought was lambs quarters? This plant does resemble the plant shown above. Thank you Frank

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Frank, not a chance to identify that, there are just too many plants that fit that description to even guess. If you had a photo maybe I could be of more help.

  • Jason

    Frank Schuetz: The plant you describe (MIGHT) be wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) if it is sour to the taste, and produces small seed pods similar in shape to okra. If so, consuming small quantities should not be harmfull, but, as in the case of all plants containing signifigant quantities of oxalic acid, moderation is important – a sprig or two when ‘grazing’ is fine, but don’t make a meal of an entire plant.

  • Terry Frick

    Kenny, here in Eastern NC we have a weed with relatively broad leaves and white (deformed) carrot type roots which can be large and/or grow very deep into the sandy clay. The horses won’t touch it, and it always seems to kill off all vegetation just beneath it. It’s all over the place and can only be removed by poisons or digging it completely up to be deposited in the driveway to be smashed and dried up. If this could be dug up and eaten, we would surely never go hungry!
    BTW, we have lambsquarters everywhere and now have discovered a new addition to our table. Thx!!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Terry, I really can’t tell you what it is from your description. There is a wild carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace but that doesn’t have broad leaves. Maybe you could research it in a wild plant or weed field guide. Or take a sample in to your local ag extension office. Send a pic or let us know once you have identified it. There are so many edible weeds and wild plants that there is no reason for people to go hungry. Lambsquarters is one of my favorites, glad you’re enjoying it.

  • Alana Willis

    I have been trying to find seeds for Lambsquarter, but so far have not had any luck. Can you direct me to a website, Please?

  • Kenny Point

    Alana, Nichol’s Garden Seeds carries lambsquarter seeds.

  • charles fow

    When I was a child my friends and I would chew on a plant we called “pickles” and my mother called sweet clover. It does have light green clover like leaves. I grew a okra like tint seed pod that had a sour taste we kids enjoyed. For the life of me I cannot identify this plant. It seemed to grow next to the house and fences.

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