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Urban Foraging–Nature’s Pantry

By Kim Robson:

Most people think of foraging as an activity only for those lucky enough to live in remote forests or idyllic fields. But just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you can’t hunt for and collect nutritious food and plants to add to your diet. And we’re not talking about Pokemons, either. Edible and usable weeds are abundant in urban environments, too.Urban foraging

Some are commonly found in everyday cuisine: dandelion, nasturtium, and stinging nettle are often used as pretty garnishes in salads and teas. Plus, they are rich in vitamins and nutrients. Harvesting urban weeds can help us reconnect with the natural spaces where we work, live and play.

The websites Falling Fruit and Fallen Fruit feature interactive maps of cities all over the world where one can find fruits and veggies free for the taking. They pinpoint all sorts of fruiting trees in public parks, lining city streets, and even hanging over private backyard fences.

Foraging for wild mushrooms should never be undertaken without gaining expert knowledge first. This Green Mom article can help get you started.

urbanforagingForaging for plants requires only a little help. Melany Vorass Herrera, author of The Front Yard Forager, suggests carrying a field guide to help identify plants, picking only as much as you need, and avoiding areas that are polluted by heavy industry or chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and/or fertilizers. Her concise field guide and recipe book showcases the 30 most readily found edible urban weeds.

Your backyard or nearest urban patch may be populated with a variety of edible weeds, including some you may never have heard of, like lamb’s quarter, day lily, nipplewort, nettle, pineapple weed and purslane. Don’t overlook the many varieties of edible flowers, either.

Here are five common edible weeds you might find in your backyard:

lemonbalmLemon Balm

Lemon balm reduces anxiety and remedies digestive problems. Lemon balm tinctures and oils are used to treat insomnia and to calm agitation in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Use dried leaves for tea, salads, and meat dishes. Crush leaves for lemon-flavored vinegar and herb butter.

lamb-quaterLamb’s Quarter

Lamb’s quarter may be a “superfood” contender — the leaves have more calcium and protein than spinach. Its seeds can be a staple for a gluten-free diet. Lamb’s quarter is related to quinoa (both in the Amaranthaceae family) and commonly used as wheat substitutes.

Eat leaves raw or cooked. Use the seeds in baked goods like muffins and cakes.


Water stored in the leaves flushes vitamins and minerals through the body. Chickweed blossoms are rainy day fortune tellers. The blossoms close up when rain is imminent, signaling you to be raincoat-and-umbrella ready.

Its mild, lettuce-like taste makes it a good garnish in salads and sandwiches.


Tea from plantain leaves soothes toothaches, coughs and sore throats. The Plantago genus classifies about 200 plant species called plantains, completely unrelated to plantain bananas. Plantago is Latin for “sole of the foot,” which ancient Romans believed the leaves resembled.

Add leaves to salads, steep for tea, or drizzle them with oil and bake as chips.


High in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, the leaves aid bone strength and resilience. Celtic folk doctors used mallow to treat hair loss.

Add young shoots to salads. For soups, the leaves can be used as a thickener and to add a sweet taste. For baking, roots can be used as an egg white substitute.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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