Everyone who has a garden or yard sees weeds as a scourge to swiftly do away with. Stop pulling and spraying. Take stock of what you’ve got there first, because they could be edible weeds – a good source of greens, nutrition, and perhaps some herbal home remedies. Some of them are simply forgotten parts of the dietary diversity people once had that have been phased out by new discoveries, gardening trends, and that patenting fervor Big Ag has developed such a yen for.

Here’s some interesting plants you might want to start foraging for if they’re indigenous or naturalized imports that grow wild in your area. Start paying attention to what’s growing everywhere you go. You could have been composting or walking past all kinds of free food for years.

1. Clover

White Clover (Trifolium repens – pictured above) is a totally edible plant. Eat the leaves raw or cooked as a spinach substitute, or dry them to add to baked goods for a vanilla flavor. The flowers are also edible, as are the seed pods – which when dried can both be ground into a flour.

Edible Weeds: Red CloverRed Clover (Trifolium pratense) is also edible, though pregnant women should avoid it as it contains a form of estrogen.

The flour is green, and lacking properties you’re used to in cooking is best mixed with grain flours for desired results in traditional recipes. [1]  Since clover is a legume, it’s a good source of protein, which is why cows and horses eat it. Plus it’s a crop used for growing hay and silage, as well as nitrogen-fixing between farm crops – so, you can also buy seed to grow a patch or a natural lawn. That is if you can’t find any, but it’s a global weed, so chances are you don’t need to plant more.

Beneficial Properties: high protein content, beta-carotene, vitamins C and B, inositol, bioflavonoids, biotin, and choline.

Important Guidelines: Check to see if you’re allergic to it by eating a small amount before digging in! Never eat large quantities of it raw. Never ferment it. When drying – do it fast. Moldy or rotting clover becomes toxic. It should not be eaten when growing in a warm climate, the heat causes it to produce small amounts of cyanide. Even in a colder climate, it is best to consume this before summer’s heat arrives.

NRCS Distribution Maps: WhiteRed. Image courtesy of Sanja/Wikipedia

2. Wood Sorrel

Edible Weeds: Wood SorrelLook for it in moist, shady wooded areas. Oxalis acetosella which is common around the Great Lakes and most of the Eastern US states, parts of Canada, also in the UK and parts of Europe. Some regions call it Sour Grass, or Sheep’s Sorrel. It has white to pink streaked flower petals, and thin leaves with three lobes that look like a 3-leaf clover or shamrock. There are other types of Oxalis that are edible, like oca tubers known as New Zealand Yam (Oxalis tuberosa) which has been cultivated in Columbia and the Andes Mountains for a long time.

Wood sorrel has been eaten for thousands of years and used to be a common potherb and spring salad ingredient. The flowers are edible raw and a nice garnish to salads. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a lemony flavor, which comes from the oxalic acid the plant contains. [2]

North American Indian tribes found many uses for it. The Potawatomis cooked it with sugar to make a dessert, and to quench thirst while traveling the Kiowas chewed the leaves. It was popular as an aphrodisiac among the Algonquins.

Native American tribes also used it for healing. The Cherokees ate it for taming mouth sores and sore throats, while the Iroquois used it to treat nausea, cramps, and fever.

That acid compound makes it good for curdling cheese. Some say that you shouldn’t eat large quantities of the leaves, as too much oxalic acid can lead to a nutritional deficiency by binding up the body’s access to calcium. However, this is also present in a number of common fruits and vegetables, and according to science, toxicity from eating it is highly unlikely. [3]  Image courtesy of Laila Remahl, CC-by-SA 3.o.

 

3. Partridgeberry

Edible Weeds: PartridgeberryAnother shade dweller. Also called Squaw Vine, and Madder Berry, Mitchella repens L. can be found over much of the eastern half of the US and Canada in moist deciduous woods. It’s a low, ground-hugging creeping shrub with red, edible berries ripening between July and October. The leaves are used for making tea.

The juicy berries are a favorite of the ruffled grouse (partridge), so you’ll have to beat them to the fruit to harvest it. Some say they’re bland, and others sour like a cranberry. They can be eaten raw or used in sauces, pies, and jams.

The tea has been used for a very long time as a pain reliever in North America, which is where the name Squaw Vine comes from. Herbalists today still use the tea as a childbirth aid, and for relieving menstrual cramps. Image courtesy of Halpaugh/Wikipedia.

NRCS Distribution Map

Be A Wise Forager

Make sure you correctly identify the plants before consuming wild plants and weeds. Something closely resembling an edible one could make you sick. In the US you can take a sample to the local Extension Service for identification if you’re not totally sure it is what you think it is.

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Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton