4 Weeds You Can Eat

One person's weed-filled lawn is another person's salad bar.

May 20, 2009

As gardeners and lawn-care fanatics alike gear up for this year's growing season, the age-old battle between human and weed begins anew. Your relationship to these nuisance plants may change, however, once you realize that some of them aren't really weeds at all—they're lunch.

Here are some suggestions for finding free munchies in your backyard's landscape. Just remember to ID them with a credible guidebook or App if you're not plant-savvy, wash your harvest thoroughly before consuming, and don't take anything from an area that's been treated with chemicals or pesticides.


1. Dandelion
Perhaps the most familiar lawn weed of them all, the dandelion may also be the weed that’s most known to be edible. In fact, the reason it exists in the U.S. is that it was introduced by European settlers as a salad green. You can buy dandelion greens at some specialty food markets, but odds are if you have any kind of lawn there are some growing a whole lot closer. Their bitter taste isn't for everyone, so add small doses to a salad to try them out. Both leaves and stems are edible; you can also try steaming them, or serving with traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hot bacon dressing.

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2. Purslane
This plant has rounded, succulent, leaves and a reddish stem; it's sometimes called (or confused with) pigweed. You can eat the stems and leaves fresh—try them in salads or sandwiches—or use them in soups or in recipes that call for spinach (they’re related and have a similar taste). Purslane is loaded with antioxidant vitamins like vitamins A and C, and also contains health omega-3 fatty acids.

They have to be cooked before you eat them: Peel the outer leaves away and remove any tough flesh. Cut across the grain into one-eighth-inch slices, and boil in an uncovered pan for 20 minutes (or longer, if there's still a bitter taste to them). Or microwave uncovered for 4 minutes in a shallow pan of water. After they're prepared in this way, you can eat them with some soy sauce, add to salads, or use them in a asian-style chicken stir-fry or other recipes.

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3. Bamboo
This familiar plant, made into everything from floorboards to pajamas, is actually a type of grass. And if anyone in the neighborhood has ever planted any, there's a good chance some of it will spread into your yard. Bamboo shoots are a frequent ingredient in Asian cooking, are full of fiber, and are sometimes described as tasting like corn. Should any pop up in your vicinity, harvest shoots that are less than two weeks old and under 1 foot tall.

4. Japanese Knotweed
The shoots of this plant poke up from the ground in the spring amidst the dead stalks of last year's growth (the stalks look like bamboo, but there's no relation—even though it's sometimes called "Japanese Bamboo"). Harvest the green and red shoots when they’re 6 to 8 inches tall, before they turn woody. Remove any tough leaves or rind and steam or simmer for a tart, rhubarblike taste.

For more original ways to control weeds, try tapping into the power of these five low-tech weeding techniques!