Did you know your garden is hiding all sorts of nutritional and medicinal Gold?
From curing heartburn, cystitis and coughs to providing free protein, vitamins and minerals, common weeds have some truly amazing benefits. Sadly, most people simply dig them up, mow them down or kill them in various ways.
So, let’s take a closer look at what’s really growing in your backyard:
Creeping Charlie (It is Also Strongly Antibacterial)
Historically, it has a rich background and was even used in beer making as a clarifying agent to improve flavor before hops were used. It was also used by painters as a remedy for lead colic. Mostly, it was used as a tonic. Since Creeping Charlie is extremely rich in vitamin C.
It was often made into a tea. The Holistic Herbal recommends it for sinus problems, coughs and bronchitis, tinnitus, diarrhea, hemorrhoids and cystitis. Its actions are listed as, “Anti-catarrhal, astringent, expectorant, diuretic, vulnerary and stimulant”. Studies indicate it is also strongly antibacterial.
Lamb’s Quarters (Alleviate Achy or Swollen Joints)
Like other so-called “weeds” (like purslane), lamb’s quarters and orach are incredibly nutritious. They are high in fiber, protein and is loaded with both Vitamins A and C. Lamb’s quarters is also high in manganese, calcium, copper and has a bit of iron, and is high in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
While at the same time it is also an extremely valuable medicine. When the leaves are chewed into a green paste and applied to the body, it makes a great poultice for insect bites, minor scrapes, injuries, inflammation, and sunburn. The greens are beneficial for soothing arthritic joint pain when chewed into a mash and placed directly on the sensitive areas.
Kudzu (Increases Circulation)
Kudzu roots contain starch that is often used as thickeners and to make drinks. The roots, leaves, and flowers contain many antioxidants. And the plant has a high crude protein content and up to 60 percent digestible nutrients, which makes it an excellent food source for people and animals. Because it is so prolific, it also makes a great survival food.
Kudzu has shown some promising results in reducing the desire for alcohol in studies. Although the mechanisms through which it works remain unclear, kudzu shows an ability to both decrease the amount of alcohol a person drinks, and help prevent hangovers.
Kudzu increases circulation, an action that tends to reduce muscle pain and stiffness, and increases blood flow through the coronary arteries. One kudzu compound is a beta-blocker, which reduces a racing pulse induced by stress.
Plantain (Plantain leaves were used commonly in folk medicine for skin )
Another common weed that can be used topically to treat burns, stings and other wounds. It should not be mistaken for the banana-like Caribbean fruit! While the young leaves are tasty either raw or cooked, the older leaves are a bit tough and unpleasant tasting. A hundred grams of plantain contains the same amount of vitamin A as a large carrot, and is very rich in riboflavin and vitamin B1.
Research has shown, Has considerable clinical reputation in the treatment of earache, toothache, and enuresis. Sharp pain in eyes, reflex from decayed teeth or inflammation of middle ear, sores, or insect stings. The root was used for fever and respiratory infections.
Stinging Nettle (It’s Used for Urination Problems and Joint Ailments)
Another popular medicinal weed, you’ll require gloves or thick skin when picking this! It’s used for urination problems and kidney stones, joint ailments and as a diuretic. The leaves are also said to help fight allergies and hay fever.
Nettles are rich in vitamins A, B2, C, D, and K and have important nutrients like antioxidants, amino acids and chlorophyll. They’re also a good source of calcium, potassium, iodine, manganese, and especially iron.
Boiled nettle makes a side dish similar to collard greens and is great when added to omelets. You can also make some delicious dips, teas, soups and pesto.
Mallow (Which is Soothing for the Digestive and Genitourinary Tracts)
Unlike its name suggests, the flavor of this plant is nothing like marshmallow. Tea made from common mallow root forms a gelatinous mixture, which is soothing for the digestive and genitourinary tracts.
Like many of the other weeds listed, the leaves are better tasting when eaten young and can be cooked in place of other greens. The seed pods are also edible and contain an impressive 21% protein.
Chickweed (Deemed to relieve Cystitis and Irritable Bladder Symptoms)
This garden weed is an excellent source of vitamins C, A, and D as well as of valuable amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc! The chickweed has a delicate flavor that resembles the one of spinach. It works well when freshly picked and added to sarnies and summer salads. If you dislike the taste, you can still reap its benefits by mixing it in soups and stews.
As a medicine, the chickweed can be used as a topical remedy for minor cuts, eczema, burns, and rashes. It is also a mild diuretic, so it is deemed to relieve cystitis and irritable bladder symptoms.
Purslane (Preventing Heart Disease and Heart Attacks)
A nutritional powerhouse, Purslane contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. It’s rich in vitamins A, C, E as well as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron.
Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like fish) can help prevent cardiovascular disease like and lower blood pressure. Eating a heart-healthy diet is the key to preventing heart disease and heart attacks.
Dandelion (That May Help Lower a Person’s Cholesterol)
Probably the most well-known of all weeds, the humble dandelion is actually bursting with vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. The great news is that there’s probably a ton of this nutritious weed in your backyard.
Dandelion has been used throughout history to treat everything from liver problems and kidney disease to heartburn and appendicitis. Today, it is mainly used as a diuretic, appetite stimulant and for the liver and gallbladder.
Every part of this common weed is edible, from the roots to the blossoms. Use the leaves in sandwiches and stir fries – they boast more beta carotene than carrots, meaning they are great for healthy eyes! Roots can be made into a herbal tea, or roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. The sweet flower heads will add color to salads and can be used to make wines.
Sheep sorrel (Maintain Blood Sugar Levels and to Support the Liver)
A close relative of curled dock and wood sorrel, the sheep sorrel plant is often found in overgrown backyards.
A good source of vitamin C and E, historically sheep sorrel has been used to treat inflammation, diarrhea and even scurvy. It’s also used to treat urinary tract infections, to maintain blood sugar levels and to support the liver.
Because of the potassium oxalate levels, this weed shouldn’t be eaten in excess but small amounts liven up soups, salads and stir fries with their lemony and tart taste. It’s also fantastic when paired with seafood or chicken.
Mullein is a fast-growing plant that is pretty easy to detect. It produces large leaves that grow up a tall stalk loaded with yellow flowers. Both the flowers and leaves of this plant can be eaten raw or in tea. Just be careful, as the hairs on the plant can irritate some people’s skin.
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
Another early wild green, shepherd’s purse can be found everywhere across the US.
The leaves, shoots, seeds, flowers, and even the roots of shepherd’s purse are edible. The leaves are a great substitute for cabbage and take on a peppery taste. They are best young.
The root can be dried and ground up as a substitute to ginger. The seeds are difficult to harvest unless you’re incredibly patient. The leaves and flowers can both be added to fresh salads for a bit of peppery flavor.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Hairy Bittercress (genus Cardamine) is one of my favorite backyard wild edibles. It's a mustard so it has that characteristic "zing" that all mustards have. It's common in disbturbed areas and all parts are edible.
Eat the young, tender leaves, which are milder in cooler weather, raw in salads or as an herb. Larger leaves can be cooked. The seed pods are also good eaten raw and the small white flowers make a nice garnish.
Lady’s Thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
One of my favorite ways to eat Lady’s Thumb is as a breakfast food. I boil the leaves for about 10 minutes and then combine them with bacon and eggs to make an omelet.
Some folks love boiled leaves mixed with garlic and butter as either a side dish to a meal or as a flavoring in stews, soups, casseroles, or as part of a marinate for meat dishes.
Years ago our property was full of burdock. This thistle grows tall and has flowers that resemble milkweed. Surprisingly burdock was used as the original recipe for root beer.
The leaves, roots and stems are all edible. The leaves can be a bit bitter, but are great for wrapping foods to put on the fire. The roots are best after the plant has sat for a year as they take on a woody flavor. Otherwise, they taste a little bitter. The stems can be peeled and aren’t as bitter as the leaves eaten fresh.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
Like sheep sorrel, wood sorrel grows readily and is all edible. The leaves, flowers and seed pods of this plant are all edible and have the same, familiar citrus bite to them as its cousin.
Wood sorrel can be added fresh to salads, added to soups (seafood soups are greatly complimented by this plant), or made into a sauce that you serve atop your favorite dish.
Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata)
Borage is one of the most common plants you can grow if you want to attract pollinators. As an annual, it is self-seeding, so you’ll likely find that it returns to your garden year after year. Interestingly, borage tastes a lot like cucumbers.
For best results, you’ll want a droopy plant that has tiny star-shaped flowers. You can use the leaves and flowers in salads, soups, desserts, and cocktails.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Not only does borage have a flower you can eat, but its leaves are also edible and can be used in a variety of ways. Its flowers have a refreshing taste that is reminiscent of cucumber. Pick blooms early in the morning and use them to brighten up a fresh salad, add some zest to a sandwich, mix into dips, and cook up in soups or stews. Harvest borage leaves when they are young for the best taste and texture.
You can use borage fresh as salad greens or steam them up like you would spinach or kale. Another option is to dry the leaves and set them aside for use as a dried herb or seasoning. It can also be used to steep in teas and is a delightful treat when candied.
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Also known as bedstraw, cleavers has been used for centuries in the kitchen and home. It was once dried for bed filling, and bundles of it were used as a rudimentary strainer for frontier and backwoods cooks. Some species are used as a form of vegetable rennet to coagulate cheese, and the seeds have been roasted and used as a herbal coffee substitute.
The name cleavers comes from its herbal usage since it’s noted for having the ability to “cleave out illness.” I’ve used cleavers tincture successfully to treat urinary tract infections where it also has the added benefit of being a diuretic which helps move things along.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
Curly dock, also known as Yellow dock, (Rumex crispus), can be eaten raw or cooked, although it contains high levels of oxalic acid, which inhibits the body's ability to absorb calcium and forms kidney stones. So it's best eaten in moderation.
Use only the smaller, younger leaves, as bigger leaves tend to be bitter and tough and contain more oxalic acid. Curly dock can be eaten in salads, soups, and as a cooked green.
Brassicas contain high levels of vitamin C, A, E, K, as well as folate, calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus. They are a good source of dietary fibre and have something that no other fruits or vegetables contain, namely glucosinolates.
Wild brassica comes from the same plant family as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. Spring is the best time to harvest brassica, which tastes great cooked or raw.
The leaves and petals of nasturtium are extremely nutritious as they contain vitamin C and iron. The leaves also have antibiotic properties which are at their most effective just before the plant flowers.
The flowers, seed pods, and leaves are all edible. They’re pretty, too, so they make great garnishes for your favorite entree or salad.
Wild fennel looks just like its cultivated cousin, fennel, and is often seen growing by the side of the road. You shouldn’t harvest wild fennel from roadways, though, as it can be contaminated with pollutants from passing cars.
However, at more than two meters tall, wild fennel produces delicious seeds, greens, and stalks, all of which can be cooked and eaten in the same way you might eat regular store-bought fennel.
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
Milk thistle flower heads average between 4 and 12 cm. long and wide, and are light purple in colour. They flower from June to August in the northern hemisphere or December to February in the southern hemisphere (these grow in many countries).
The young stalks, leaves, roots and flowers can be eaten. Milk thistle root can be eaten raw or cooked. Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked however the very sharp leaf-spines must be removed first. When cooked these leaves make a great spinach substitute. Flower buds can be cooked. The stems can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best when peeled and soaking is recommended to reduce the bitterness. Milk thistle can be used like asparagus or rhubarb or added to salads. They are at their best when used in spring when they are young. Roasted milk thistle seeds can be used as coffee substitute.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and grows (on average) up to 1 metre (3’) tall. Although it is a garden plant, it also grows wild in damp grasslands. Straight, hollow stems are topped by umbrella-like heads. Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. Small, sweet-smelling white, light purple or pink flowers bloom in June.
The seeds are edible and the leaves have been used in the past as a condiment. Leaves can be used to make a tea as well as the root. Be sure to use in moderation.
Onion Weed (Asphodelus fistulosus)
Edible Uses: Unlike other plants in the garlic family, the leaves are not excellent. However; the flowers are excellent in salads, making them look attractive as well as adding a persistent and lingering onion-like flavour. The bulb is rather small but a very nice mild garlic flavour.
Although no specific mention of medicinal uses has been seen for this species, members of this genus are in general very healthy additions to the diet.
Horsetail (Equisetum) also called "scourbrush", can be used to scrub dishes as well as burnish wood and polish metal. These plants are just a bit too mature to eat. The leaves around it are salmonberry, which can be eaten like spinach.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow grows along the edges of our house and property line. A common herb, this is also considered a weed when it grows in the wild where people don’t care to see it.
It is often made into tea, but the flowers as well as the leaves can also be used. Yarrow is a naturally sweet herb as long as it isn’t cooked. It’s a great combination in salads and can even be used to add flavor to ice cream.
Garlic Mustard (Lowers Cholesterol and Strengthens the Immune System)
Part of the mustard family, this particular plant is considered an invasive species in North America. However, it brings with it a lot of great health benefits – aside from being a good source of vitamin A and C, Garlic Mustard is popular as a diuretic, helps with weight maintenance, improves heart health, lowers cholesterol and strengthens the immune system.
Historically it was used to flavor salt fish but it’s also really flavorsome when mixed with mashed potatoes, soups or salads.
This summer weed is a great source of free protein if you take the time to collect and prepare the seeds. The leaves of wild amaranth are delicious and delicately flavored when pan fried, or added to any dish that ‘calls for’ leafy greens.
Culinary prepared amaranth leaves still contain vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate; with lesser amounts of thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin, and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. And the grains are comparable to wheat germ and oats in aspect of their nutritional value.
Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea)
Also known as wild chamomile, this little edible weed grew just about everywhere around my home in California. It loves hot sandy soil, and if you have a warm climate garden with good drainage you’ll likely have plenty of wild pineapple weed. Even here in Vermont, it grows all over our gravel driveway and finds its way into the dryer spots in the garden.
The blossoms look like chamomile, but without the white petals. They have a mild sweet pineapple taste, thus the name, and they’re commonly made into tea. I absolutely love this recipe for wildflower jam that uses pineapple weed and red clover as main ingredients.
Japanese knotweed is viewed by many as a highly annoying invasive weed. The best way to get rid of it is to harvest it for use in your kitchen! This plant can be harvested in the early spring, before it gets too woody. It is best used in place of rhubarb and can be steamed or added to a soup or jam.
Violets (Viola sororia)
Violets grow around our yard every spring. There are tons of species, but the genus is the same. We get the species pictured above most often in our yard and amongst old beds that are currently dormant.
The leaves of violets can be eaten raw in salads (or alone) or sauteed like any other green (or steamed, or boiled). The flowers are also edible and can be eaten alone, candied, or made into delicious violet jelly or wine.
The roots, on the other hand, are not edible.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
Chicory is grows wild along our fences and roads and throughout our pastures. Even if it weren’t an edible weed, I’d still leave it alone because I think it’s just beautiful.
It’s a scraggly looking plant with bright purple-blue flowers. It can grow quite tall- more than 3 feet!
The roots make a great coffee-like substitute. They are roasted until brown and brittle then ground and prepared just like coffee.