My mother had a book she’d brought with her from the apothecary shop. The pages were made of old parchment and covered in ink drawings of plants. Neat handwritten blocks told their names, where to gather them, when they came in bloom, their medical uses. But my father added other entries to the book. Plants for eating, not healing. Dandelions, pokeweed, wild onions, pines. – The Hunger Games
This month I’ve been exploring topics in urban self-reliance in a series I’m calling Adventures in Homesteading. I realized quickly on that this series wouldn’t be as easy as referring to books or blogs to wade my way through (hence the word “adventures”). Today’s post is one of the more adventurous ones I’ve done on the blog before, and it may take some of you out of your comfort zones too. However, I hope you’ll keep an open mind as you work your way through it today. And if nothing else, I hope I’ll inspire you to get out there and learn something new.
Last weekend, I took a course offered by Tilth Alliance on Weed Foraging. Not a moment too soon either – I learned about the class about a week before it happened. If you’ve never heard of Tilth Alliance, you need to check them out. They have all kinds of classes: beekeeping, chicken raising, organic gardening, composting, and more. Amazing hands-on stuff!
The class took place at their Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, but they have gardens and farms in several other locations. Now I used to live in Seattle, but I had no clue this place existed. Couple the fantastic community gardens with a beautiful sunny spring day, and I swear the stress just melted off me. Breathtaking!
Our instructor was Melany Vorass and this gal is a bone fide urban homesteader. She and her husband raise chickens, bees, and goats right in Seattle! In fact, she mentioned at one point in the class that one of her goats had given birth the day before.
But Melany does more than just raise chickens for her food. She forages. Weeds.
Now here’s a suggestion you likely have not heard ever on a coupon blog: one way to save on organic greens may be to walk in your backyard and pick some weeds! Many of them are entirely edible and delicious.
Here are a few weeds I learned about during our foraging walk.
Red Dead Nettles. These guys apparently have a strong flavor and it comes from the mint family. I found this fun post where a blogger boils up a big pot of them and eats them. I’ll keep that in mind.
Chickweed. This weed likes to grow in thick patches in the shade. Ms. Vorass suggested that it tastes best before it goes to flower. I tried some anyway. It felt a bit odd, just picking up some weeds and eating it, but hey, some other members of the group were doing it and no one was keeling over. It actually was mild, pleasant. Not unlike other greens you’d throw in your salad except that it had a slightly weedier flavor. You can eat it raw or cooked.
Shotweed. When I learned you could actually eat this blasted weed, I was elated. Do you have these in your yard? They are particularly loathsome at the end of the summer, when they have dried up. You go to pull them out and the seeds start shooting everywhere (usually in your eye). Believe it or not, it’s a member of the mustard family. It supposedly tastes peppery, but I didn’t try it. The flavor is mildest before it goes to seed (like the ones pictured above).
Mallow. As in MARSH-mallow! This weed works as a thickening agent. (An ingredient in the root is actually used to make marshmallows, yes.) The wagon wheel-shaped seed head it will eventually produced is also edible.
Catsear. Here’s another weed I tried. It looks an awful lot like dandelion at first glance, but on closer inspection you’ll notice the leaves are thicker and fuzzy. It tasted kind of like your hands smell after weeding. Mild, summery. (Hey, I’m trying here.)
Dandelion. Yes, dandelions are edible – both the stems and flowers. If your yard looks anything like mine, I’d daresay you have a salad growing out there. Go pick it. Remember Laurie who guest posted on Homesteading 1-2-3? She actually has a post up on how to make your own dandelion cookies and wine. (Now that’s just genius!)
There were many others, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll leave it at that. You can sign up and take a class yourself through Tilth Alliance. If you’re not local, it may be worth the effort to find a class or two in your neck of the woods, too.
I sense the questions bubbling to the surface, so let me quickly give a few caveats:
- Only eat weeds or other plants that you know to be safe.
- Make sure you have permission to pick (city parks & other public spaces might be a no-go).
- Be careful to not pick weeds very close to pollutants – such as near a roadway.
- Probably not a good idea to pick weeds adjacent to dog doo.
- Washing weeds before you eat them is probably a good idea.
- Etc. Etc. Etc.
The truth is we live in an area that has a surplus of weeds. Maybe it’s time to think of them as organic salad greens and green smoothie fixins’ and less as pests.
Have you eaten some weeds before?
Disclosures: I feel some general disclosure is needed here. Can you just all use common sense, pretty please? Don’t run into the forest, eat a bunch of plants, end up in the ER and then try to sue me later. Please folks, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do….