Weeds get a bad rap. In fact, most municipalities pay a pretty penny to remove unwanted, pervasive plants from neighborhood parks. But would they continue to do so if they knew how incredibly delicious and nutritious many 'weeds' can be? We were recently guided by master forager Wildman Steve Brill through New York's Central Park, where we discovered eight extremely common weeds that are not only delectable, but grow pretty much everywhere. Whether you live in the city or the boonies, you've likely passed by most of these in your neighborhood park, on the side of the road, or right in your backyard. What makes weeds wonderful is their knack for perseverance and survival, without water, fertilizers or any of the things that most commercial crops need to thrive. Knowing how to find food anywhere is a useful skill - and not only if you happen to get lost in the woods. Scroll down for eight common and delicious weeds you perhaps never realized you could eat.
1. Garlic Mustard
Garlic mustard is a member of the mustard family which is quite common to the Northeast and spreads rapidly in droves. This shade-loving species tastes and smells like (you guessed it) mustard and garlic. The fact that it’s distasteful to insects makes it that much more prevalent. To harvest, simply strip off the flowered tops. Since it’s considered such an invasive weed, park rangers generally don’t mind if you help yourself. It’s delicious so it’s a bit of a wonder people try so hard to get rid of it with herbicides and the like, when it could be easily collected and consumed instead, as a nutritious food source.
2. Poor Man’s Pepper
Another member of the mustard family, related to horseradish and tasting a lot like wasabi is Poor man’s pepper. This lovely, spicy-leafed plant is quite plentiful, especially on the East Coast. Identifiable by its toothed leaves, white flowers, and flat, circular seedpods, this peppery edible is known for its bold horseradish flavor. Back in the olden times, people who were too poor to afford pepper would pick this weed to flavor their food and make it peppery. Studies suggest that poor man’s pepper has cancer preventative properties.
3. Field Pennycress
Field Pennycress is the third type of yummy wild mustard weed we’re showcasing today. It actually looks almost identical to Poor Man’s Pepper with penny-shaped flowering summer seedpods. It also looks a lot like another delicious edible mustard plant called “Shepherd’s Purse” – that one is tasty too. The “pennies,” which sprout in summer, are slightly milder tasting than its peppery spring leaves. Keep your eyes open for their four white cross-shaped petals. The penny seeds offer a kick of spice to any dish.
4. Wood Sorrel – also known as Oxalis
Yellow wood sorrel is a delightfully sweet common weed that tastes lemony – my kid says it tastes like lemonade! It can be spotted along the sides of roads and trails, and in partially-sunny wooded areas. Often mistaken for clover, the yellow wood sorrel is distinguished from clover by its three heart-shaped leaves and bright yellow petals. It may be even better luck than a clover, since some say that this species of plant was the original “Irish Shamrock” that Saint Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity.
5. Wild Violet
It’s confounding to know that these gorgeous purple flowering plants are considered “weeds” and eradicated with a passion (and herbicides) by insane gardeners.. Not only are wild violets beautiful, but delicious and super good for you as well! Their mild flavor and crunchy leaf is a wonderful alternative to lettuce, with a delicate flavor that compliments most other foods. Search for wild violet‘s by their heart-shaped, saw-toothed leaves, yet another edible weed that some people claim helps prevent cancer.
Those distinctive swaying reeds with the corndog shaped flower on top are the bounty of wetlands, lakes and ponds. Cattails are ripe for the picking before they grow their bushy tails in late spring. Unbeknownst to most people, their hearty white stalks taste just like a fresh cucumber. You can also apparently eat the roots and the corndog-like flower, but we like the stalk the best. To gather cattails, yank the whole stalk from the marsh and peel it right before eating.
7. Common Mallow
This round, pleated leafed plant is closely related to the hibiscus with a mild flavor for offsetting other wild, mustardy greens. It is signified by its long stalks, pretty white tubular flowers, and notched leaves. The leaves are a perfect alternative to lettuce in salads, and its seeds contain over 20 percent protein. In traditional Austrian medicine, Malva neglecta has been steeped in tea or even in baths as a means to cure ailments of the skin, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract.
Dandelions are widely known for their edibility, even though most still consider the highly invasive species to be quite the eye sore. The perennial is quite the survivor, and will sprout new leaves if the taproot is left in the ground after plucking. Dandelions are rich calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese. Nowadays, you’ll find dandelion greens on many spring menus, often blanched to remove bitterness or sauteed with garlic as you would with kale or spinach. The flower petals are best enjoyed raw in salads, or harvested to make a sweet dandelion wine. Some people even roast the roots to make caffeine-free dandelion coffee, and it is also one of the traditional British ingredients of root beer.
Inspired yet? If not, watch our video below to get a better look at some of these plants. Or better yet, take a stroll in your local park, roadside, or backyard with this handy app and a sense of adventure.