By Valerie Yoder
As a culture, we are completely obsessed with having weed-free lawns. Annually, Americans spend millions of dollars on billions of pounds of herbicides and pesticides to achieve the perfect green, whether it be for image or personal preference. Regardless of the reason, this ridiculous practice must stop! Our overuse of pesticides upsets the delicate balance of our ecosystem puts our families, our neighbors, and ourselves in danger.
Pesticides not only kill thousands of birds annually, but they also have been linked to the recent mass die-off of honeybees. This trend is downright scary. Without pollinating insects, birds, and bees, our crops cannot produce fruit. Pesticides are harmful to human health as well. They are cancer-causing, and rain leaches them from the soil and into our communal water supply. Our incessant “keeping up with the Joneses” just may be killing the Joneses.
My family and I haven’t used pesticides on our lawn, well, ever. We’re not concerned with controlling weeds or diminishing them. In fact, we’d love for them to thrive! Why, you might ask?The answer is simple: so we can eat them! Many of the pesky greens people spend extreme amounts of time, effort, and money fighting are actually healthy and delicious. Let’s explore a few!
We’ll start with my personal favorite, the magical dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). These little guys pop with the early rains of spring, and I’m always ecstatic upon their arrival. They are not only tasty, but all parts of this plant are medicinal.
Dandelion leaves are a wonderful, cleansing, bitter green. Their diuretic properties give our bodies a good, much needed cleanse after a long, sleepy winter. They can be eaten raw in salads, lightly steamed with butter and garlic, thrown into a stir-fry or soup, combined with other greens to make pesto, or used to make tea. If you want to ensure you’ll have dandelion tea throughout the winter, you can dry the leaves in a paper bag for later use.
Dandelion root aids digestion by stimulating bile production and cleansing the liver. It has been used internally to treat acne, eczema, psoriasis, constipation, gout, high blood pressure, and more. The roots can be dried, roasted, and ground into a powder, which can be used to make a delicious coffee substitute.
My favorite way to utilize dandelion root is to make an herbal vinegar. To do this, wash the roots and cut them up. Put them into a mason jar and fill it with warmed raw apple cider vinegar (one part plant material to two parts vinegar). Cover with a piece of parchment paper before screwing on the lid to keep the lid from rusting. Store in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks. Shake daily or as often as you remember to do so, and open occasionally to check for mold. Strain plant material and reserve liquid for use in salad dressings or take a few teaspoons daily to aid digestion.
Dandelion flowers can be added to biscuit mixes, cupcakes or pancake batters or batter-dipped and fried up as fritters. They can be infused in honey or combined with honey, lemon, and brandy to make a delicious cordial for winter hot toddys.
Another of my weedy edibles is redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), also known as oxalis. It can be found growing in shaded areas. Its flavor is bright and tangy with a hint of lemon. I like to include this plant in salads as well as in pesto, salad dressing, and gremolata. However, be careful not to eat too much of this plant at one time. It contains oxalic acid, which can be toxic if eaten in large amounts. A little is okay, though, and quite delicious!
Have you ever seen this plant? It grows profusely amongst backyard grass, in open fields, and on edges of driveways. It’s called plantain (Plantago major). Plantain is edible and it has a wide array of medicinal uses ranging from healing coughs and lowering fevers to treating broken bones and sprains. A little plantain tip: if you get a bee sting, chew the leaf and apply to the sting. This will help draw out the stinger and alleviate pain and swelling.
Other edible weeds include chickweed (Stelaria media), which can be steamed and eaten in salads; cleavers (Galium aparine), which can be made into tea to encourage lymph cleansing; and violets (Viola odorata), which have medicinal attributes and make an absolutely delicious infused honey.
For more information on eating your weeds, check out The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes, by Connie Green and Sarah Scott. You can also visit infamous Central Park forager, ‘Wild Man’ Steve Brill’s website, which provides a wealth of information on wild foods identification as well as recipes.
Happy weed eating!