Weed Salad for Beginners

PATRICIA REMY – A friend of mine has a really great garden. Her harvest of potatoes was impressive. She began planting fruit trees several years ago. This fall she had a nice load of apples.

Like her I have a constant supply of my own leafy greens in summer, lettuce tubs on the deck, cilantro and peppers in a garden plot. I’m certain that the majority of Greenzine readers do something similar.

Come late September, the lettuce has gone to seed and the tomatoes have done their thing. In contrast to my friend, I do not grow enough to preserve the surplus. She’s also gotten into hydroponics and presented me and another friend with lovely big heads of lettuce last Saturday. Having a deck or a yard which receives enough sun to grow things or space to set up hydroponics represents a huge privilege.

This year I consciously let a third of my yard grow wild in the hope that pollinators would take advantage of the sumac, asters, sweet white clover, thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, wild grape, and goldenrod. They seemed to enjoy it.

My friend and I philosophize sometimes about the fate of our vegetable supply from, for example, California. Prices will climb, because we here in Ontario cannot grow vegetables in our gardens in winter. My cousin in Toronto told me recently that she had to pay $11 for a head of lettuce, probably not even imported.

What this means is that food is getting scarcer and, therefore, more expensive. It’s not just inflation, not even “Justinflation”. We are feeling the effects of climate change on the food supply chain.

So I took out my cell phone and went on a merry search. It turns out that all of the weeds, er, pollinator hosts mentioned above, and growing in my very own backyard, are edible. The leaves and blooms of the staghorn sumac, the ones with the red speartip-shaped cluster of florets, can be eaten. Do NOT eat the sumac with white berries; in fact, avoid white berries in general.

Leaves of the wild grape, make sure you see that the vine does have grapes, even maple leaves can be shredded and ingested, tasting better when they are young. Another friend of mine makes a soup using the latter, which she declares delicious.

It’s vitally important to distinguish between Queen Anne’s lace, all parts of which can be consumed, and toxic hogweed. The purple floret in the middle of the flower is a sign of safety. Be sure to look everything up on your phone, where there are photographs, to make sure.

All parts of the common, dark purple aster are edible; I haven’t tried the pinker ones. Goldenrod tea is a reliable cold remedy. Pull the leaves off Scotch thistles (using gardening gloves), peel the stems and sautée or steam them briefly. For lunch today I chopped and stirred a bunch of young(!) thistle and dandelion leaves into some fusilli. Not exactly pasta primavera, but getting there.

If you don’t have a backyard overgrown with weeds, you can collect nature’s leafy greens, while out on a walk or hike. Maybe not those next to a road or at a spot frequented by dogs. Wash before use.
If I can get my act together, I will go one step farther, and collect, pare, and blanch some stems and/or roots of Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, and thistles, and freeze them. Then I will have my own personal green fodder for the winter.

Weed Salad for Beginners © 2023 by Patricia Remy in the Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the good article about eating weeds. Don’t forget either that, starting next summer, you can dry greens too, and then store them in bags in a drawer–no freezing– and mix them in with everything all winter. If you want fresh greens in winter, that is called sprouts. No need to buy lettuce in winter.

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