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We Eat Weeds
by Rashel Tremblay

lambsquartersMy three children, now ages nine, four and two-and-a-half, are often seen picking up green plants and eating them. People are always asking, “Are they allowed to eat that?” “Yes, we eat weeds!”

We are a family that eats a plant-based, live-food diet and, on our many adventures outdoors near rivers and in forests, we often wondered which plants were tasty and safe enough to just pick up and eat in the raw. After identifying a few plants considered “weeds” (i.e. Pesky and Undesirable) we began to see them everywhere – near the library, in the parks, even poking out of sidewalk cracks! Once I’d shown Faenin, who was then two- and-half, which wild greens are edible, he always had to stop to have a little taste. As a result, we’ve had comments like “Are you crazy?! What are you eating?!” and “Weirdos” when we are all snacking on someone’s lawn!

In order to minimize potential contamination by pesticides (after all, weeds are heavily sprayed in many areas) check with your local municipality for regulations on where, when and if they spray, and only eat from areas you know are not sprayed with pesticides (your lawn, a neighbor’s lawn, protected wilderness areas) and always avoid roadsides, especially near conventional farms where salt and pesticides run off into ditches.

   

Last summer, we were lucky enough to have some space to grow our own food in my parents’ organic gardens, located in southwestern Ontario. We wanted the benefit of pesticide-free food that tastes better and fresher than in the grocery store. In the process of growing our own food, we also made friends with the weeds. To our great surprise and joy, the wild greens we used to forage for grew as volunteers – and prolifically, too!

A patch of newly-turned, composted chicken manure turned up a delight for Faenin who exclaimed, “Look at all that big purslane!” We ate the purslane every day but could not compete with the prolific patch. Lambsquarters grew abundantly in the fertile garden soil and malva or mallow was found in an unused pasture (as well as in our own yard).

All of these “weeds” have brought great flavor and healthfulness to our diet. Edible wild greens are higher in vitamins and mineral content and contain elements not found in conventional grocery store fare. And they are always fresh!

Lambsquarters

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) is a prolific annual plant, with as many as 75, 000 seeds on one plant. Originating in Europe, it can be found all over North America where fertile soil has been disturbed. Lambsquarters is one of the first greens to poke up out of the ground in spring and is available all through summer, although it is best eaten when young. Fernald and Kinsey (see the Learn More section at the end of this article) call it “one of the most valuable, though promptly destroyed, crops of the garden before vegetables are planted … nearly everyone who tries it, unprejudiced by the knowledge that it is an everyday weed, is enthusiastic.” While weeding the greens we planted on purpose, we munched on the lambsquarters instead of tossing it aside.

Sometimes known as wild spinach but regarded by many as superior, lambsquarters has 309 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams of raw leaves and 11,600 international units (IU) of vitamin A plus thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Author Nelson Coon calls it “one of the most basically useful of all ‘weeds’.” The aboriginals of New Mexico grow it on purpose for food, it has been used to fatten up pigs and chickens and it was even found in the preserved body of a man thrown in a peat bog in Denmark over 1,500 years ago.

Purslane

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is another prolific plant, with more than 52,000 seeds found on a single plant. Native to India and Persia then introduced in Europe and brought to North America, this low-growing, edible green is the commonest of all weeds and one found most often as a garden “pest” throughout most of North America. Fernald and Kinsey said, “The crop of purslane has more potential value for food than the ignorantly nursed or neglected planted crops.” And my family agrees. On a hot and humid day nothing beats a feast of purslane for quenching thirst, perhaps because it is ninety-two percent water. A continuously growing plant, purslane can be enjoyed from June to October. Many people eat the seeds and preserve the stems by pickling them. Purslane contains 2,500 IU of vitamin A in 100 grams of leaves, 10 milligrams of riboflavin and it is a great source of EPA, an extremely important long-chain omega-3 fatty acid crucial for brain development and found only in fish oil or Klamath Lake algae. Purslane is even mentioned by Thoreau in his classic book Walden, perhaps for its many medicinal uses as well as being a common edible weed.

Mallow

The mallows (Malva neglecta) are also called “cheese- weed” or “fairy cheese,” referring to the disk of nutlets shaped like a round, flat cheese; it is certainly not cheesy tasting but considered “safe and proper food for the doll parties of childhood.” Indeed, my father first introduced me to fairy cheese growing outside my home and told me that his father showed it to him when he was a child. Another import from Europe, mallow is found in waste and desert places all across North America. Malva pusilla or low mallow will “overrun the country dooryards and village waysides.” Botanist Elmor Merrill wrote, “This plant is possibly the richest in vitamins and minerals of any plant ever analyzed in nutritional laboratories of the world.” We prefer eating malva raw like spinach and, possibly because of its demulcent properties (soothing to the bowels, kidneys and urinary organs), I crave a good meal of malva when I feel a bit queasy. I have also rubbed mallow on my seven-year-old to help take away the pain, inflammation and swelling from a wasp or bee sting with good results.

We have enjoyed a wonderful assortment of edible greens and look forward to trying some other new weeds this year, perhaps something like sumac lemonade, dandelion tea or nasturtium salad.

Learn More

Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America by Merritt Lyndon Fernald and Alfred Charles Kinsey (Dover, 1996)

The Dictionary of Useful Plants by Nelson Coon (Rodale Press, 1978)

Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier and David Foster (Stackpole Books, 2008)

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America (Peterson Field Guide Series) by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999)

Feasting Free on Wild Edibles by Bradford Angier (Stackpole Books, 2002)

The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers by Timothy Coffey (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

The Forager"s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer (Forager’s Harvest Press, 2006)

Stalking The Wild Asparagus (special edition) by Euell Gibbons (Alan C. Hood & Co, 2005)

Weed ‘Em and Reap: A Weed Eater Reader by Roger Welsch (Falcon, 2006)

www.wildmanstevebrill.com

www.rawfunfamily.com

Rashel Tremblay is a single mother to three children. They spend their time life learning and growing food on the shores on Lake Erie.

     

 

 

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