(WellnessNova.com) - It’s that time of year again when delicious edibles are starting to pop up in the garden and the planted rows of dirt are starting to look more like an organized plan. Inevitably, with the vegetables come the weeds and a lot of time is spent pulling them out and hauling them to the compost.
But is everything you are throwing away actually useless? You probably already know dandelions are edible and great in salads and in fact all parts of the plant, including the roots are useful and have health benefits.
There are actually a whole host of other edible weeds in your garden that are often overlooked. These weeds are not only tasty but also high in a number of vitamins and nutrients.
So slow down before you head to that compost! Here is a list of the top five edible weeds in your garden and how to identify them.
No, not the banana-like plantain you are used to seeing in the supermarket. This plant shares the same name as the banana-like fruit but that’s where the common ground ends.
Plantago Major is a low-growing weed with broad, tough leaves that have thin ribs or stringy fibres. You have probably seen it in your weeding or walked on it a million times. It is so prolific and hardy, it comes up between cracks in pavement, in lawns and in the garden.
Completely taken for granted by many, this plant actually has a rich and long tradition of being used for medicinal purposes in many cultures around the world, including Native American.
It can be brewed in a tea and is said to help various stomach ailments, including heartburn and indigestion. It has been used as a poultice to treat many different skin conditions and rashes as well as insects bites and stings, poison ivy and burns and cuts.
There have been a number of scientific studies conducted on the many benefits of plantain and it seems there is nothing it doesn’t help or cure. Every part of the plant, including the seed has some type of healing property and yet most people completely ignore its existence.
The easiest way to eat plantain is to either steam it or pan fry it like kale or eat the smaller more tender leaves in a salad. It is said to taste somewhat like Swiss chard and the greens contain high amounts of Vitamin A, C and K.
Chickweed is another prolific weed that likes to crop up in the cool shade between the rows of a garden. Its tender small leaves creep low to the ground and it has tiny white flowers. It likes soil that is pH balanced and so when it crops up, it is a good indication of healthy soil in your garden.
A pretty little plant, but quite invasive, this weed is often pulled out and chucked on the compost heap without a second thought. But this plant has a deep history as a valuable food source and health tonic.
Archaeological evidence as far back as Neolithic times in England has shown the presence of chickweed in the home and the 1st century Greeks were using it for eye and ear problems. It is said to aid in weight loss and has even been used as a treatment for tuberculosis.
Chickweed is fantastic in salads. Its delicate small leaves aren’t very strong in flavor but contain vitamins A, B and C. Some people think it tastes slightly like raw corn. It makes a nice addition to lettuce leaves or kale and can also be very lightly steamed but be careful not to overcook it.
Purslane or Portulaca is another pretty low-growing plant that has tear-shaped, small leaves with an almost rubbery texture. Its leaves sort of resemble the jade plant and the stems are a darker reddish brown colour. They like summer temperatures and drier soil.
This weed is native to India and was a favoured food of Gandhi. Interestingly enough, purslane is of huge nutritional benefit to vegetarians because of its omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane contains EPA and DHA, which is most commonly found in fish. As well, it contains high amounts of ALA or alpha-linoleic acid, found in vegetables.
It also contains vitamin A in very high amounts as well as vitamin C.
Purslane has been used for centuries as a salad green and can also be stir fried or added to soups. It has a light, crunchy texture and a slightly pepper, almost salty flavor. Give it a try next time you see it! You may even find it in your locals farmers market.
4. Lamb’s Quarters
Chenopodium album or lamb’s quarters is easily recognizable by its goosefoot shaped leaves, and it’s even sometimes called goosefoot. The leaves may also have a light white powdery looking coating.
It’s related to quinoa and beets but its more recognizable cousin is spinach and it is also similar in taste. It grows in patches near rivers and streams, is a very prolific and hardy garden weed and is quite easy to find throughout Canada and the U.S..
It contains many vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C and manganese, iron and calcium. One cup of lamb’s quarters contains 73 percent of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 96 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C!
Mild and versatile, use it anywhere you would use spinach. Put it in a salad or sauté it lightly with some olive oil and salt and a bit of garlic. Throw it in a smoothie! Just eat this weed.
5. Stinging Nettles
What can you say about stinging nettles? So misunderstood! This weed has an unfortunate name and most people are taught from a young age to avoid it, or risk an itchy rash. But nettles have some amazing health benefits.
Nettles of many varieties have been used for thousands of years to treat internal and external bleeding and for its blood purifying qualities. Prepared as a tea, stinging nettles have also been proven to provide relief to people suffering hay fever. Nettle tea has also been found to help with stomach problems such as diarrhea and bloating and is also used to stimulate milk production for nursing mothers.
Stinging nettle has also been an effective treatment for people with urinary and prostate issues and the root is also used to treat high blood pressure in some European countries.
But how do you handle this tricky weed? Gloves are they key of course, and the great thing is, once the leaves are cooked, they lose their fine little needles. Boil them for three to four minutes and then put them into an ice bath. Once cooked, they can be used for a variety of dishes, chopped up and added to soups and even pizzas.
To make nettle tea simply add a packed cup of leaves to a few cups of water in a pot and boil and sweeten with honey if you desire.
Weeds aren’t all bad. They can be healthy and a cheap source of nutritious veggies.