You don’t have to wait long to start harvesting! Learn how to start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. In this series, explore how to transform your surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods, to feed you and your family when you need it most – right away! We pull and poison them, but weeds can be a nutritious source of food or healing medicine. We'll show you how to identify the best edible weeds. 20+ Edible Weeds in Your Garden (with recipes!) Eating edible weeds is an easy way to increase your garden’s productivity. While everyone loves to bring in the harvest, weeding is most people’s
Edibles for Emergencies: Seeds, Wild Greens & Eating the Weeds
In light of COVID19, we are witnessing an unprecedented interest in local supply chains, food security, health & wellness, and immunity. People want to take action, but where to begin?! In this article, we will explore how to transform our surroundings into a resilient edible ecosystem bursting with superfoods. To feed ourselves, and our family when we need it most. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to start harvesting: we can start seeds, eat the weeds, and harvest wild greens. This will mark the first in series about edible landscaping and emergency situations.
Yesterday marked the Vernal Equinox, the welcoming Spring, along with equal hours of daytime and night. This is the cusp of spring and winter, with equal darkness and light. In many ways, this parallels our current global situation: while there is great fear present, there is as much to give us faith! Important conversations are happening everywhere, and we are all being given an opportunity to pause and reflect on what really matters. While humans take a break from “business as usual”, nature is springing to life and filling this empty space. Dolphins and swans have returned to the canals of Venice. Smoke has cleared, and once polluted skies are now again blue. Families are spending time together in the sun. Passion projects are given energy and life. This is a once in a lifetime event on a global scale. Life will never be the same again, and maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of the end of a long dark “winter” for humanity. Is this the first glimpses of “spring”? What is emerging from within this emergency? This is a choice point. We have the power to choose and respond how we move forward from here. The growing light is beckoning us to tend the earth, plant seeds, and work together with the forces of nature!
“Life does not accommodate you; it shatters you. Every seed destroys its container, or else there would be no fruition.” – Florida Scott-Maxwell
We are being called to transformation. As we move from the darkness into the light, winter into spring, we must protect and care for what is growing. We must care for our little seeds! We usually experience wild weather swings throughout the month, one day being balmy and warm, the next threatening snow. These are tumultuous times, for the plants as well! It’s important to protect seedlings and tender plants all throughout March, because you never really know what the weather will bring. In any case, with a little care, you could be harvesting very soon! If you get started with sprouting, you could be harvesting in a matter of days. In times of emergency, this means everything.
Sprouting – Grow Your Own Food (Fast)
Growing your own food can be quick and easy, and you don’t even need a garden! Sprouting is the easiest way to start seeds, and you can skip planting, and go straight to harvest. Sprouting seeds are a great non-perishable food item for emergencies, are lightweight for transportation, can easily be stockpiled (in a cool, dry place away protected from pests), and are bursting with high-density nutrients that feed the body and boost the immune system.
Link: 10 Best Benefits of Sprouts:
Link: How to Start Seeds in a Jar:
Link: Buy Organic, Non-GMO Sprouting Seeds:
“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Starting Seeds – Step-by-Step
Starting seeds successfully is one of the most rewarding and uplifting tasks in the garden. Unsuccessfully starting seeds is easily one of the most frustrating experiences, and to avoid this disappointment, it is important to follow best practices. Below you will find some principles and practices to get you started.
Step 1: Take inventory. What seeds do you have? What seeds do your neighbours, friends and family have? Purchase or trade locally if possible, or order online. Take inventory & choose what you can/want to grow. If you don’t have seeds, here are some links to a few of our favourite recommendations:
Seeds of Change – Quick Growers Collection (for short growing seasons and quick harvests)
Salt Spring Seeds – Heritage & Heirloom Organic Seeds:
Richters Herbs – Medicinal, Culinary & Aromatic Seeds & Plants
West Coast Seeds:
Step 2: Make a plan. Create a personal planting calendar. If you’re not sure what to start and when, check out the links below:
West Coast Seeds Planting Chart (Canada):
Step 3: Choose how much to grow. How much space do you have? What are the dimensions of your plot? Grow a bit extra to offset losses, you can always give some away if you have too much. Seedlings make a great gift/trade. Use the crop planning chart below to help estimate how many seeds you’ll need:
Step 4: Use clean pots/trays with good drainage to prevent disease.
Step 5: Fill pots/trays with a high quality organic potting mix, and/or prepare a seeding bed outdoors with good, fluffy soil tilth. Those little seedlings are strong for their size, but clumps of soil or clay will make their lives more difficult than necessary.
Step 6: Label your seedling as you are planting them! Forgetting is far too easy, so label them as you go, with name/date.
Step 7: Double check you are planting your seeds at the right time. Timing is everything! Don’t start too late or too early. You want to make sure there is a smooth transition into transplanting. Consult your planting calender and read on the seed packages to confirm. Follow the other directions on the package!
Step 8: Fill containers with potting mix, and when planting seeds, cover the seeds with soil 3x the width of the seed.
Step 9: Gently and evenly water the soil. Using a spray bottle can help.
Step 10: Encourage germination by keeping the seedlings warm with a plastic cover. You can also use a heating pad to encourage sprouting.
Step 11: When the seed has sprouted, ease off on the watering, let the soil dry out before watering again, and remove plastic covers to prevent moisture related diseases. Delicately stir the soil around the seedling with a toothpick or fork to increase aeration and maintain soil health. Most trouble with starting seeds is because of dampness and stagnancy, in the soil or in the air.
Step 12: If you have been heating the seedlings, remove the heat at this time.
Step 13: Keep the air moving! If in a cold frame, keep the lid open, and vent greenhouses.. Use a gentle fan for indoor plants. Once again, dampness and stagnancy kills seedlings!
Step 14: Harden your starts off slowly, exposing them to gradually to the outdoors over four or five days. On a sunny warm day, place the starts in full shade, and bring them in at night. For the next few days, leave the starts in dappled shade, gradually increasing exposure to the sun, leading up to several hours in direct sun on the third day. On the fourth day, plant the starts in their final location, ensuring plenty of watering. Some starts may benefit from a light shade cloth while they recover, so keep a close eye on those little plant babies!
28 Edible Weeds You Can Find in Your Own Backyard
Steph is a certified Square Food Gardening Instructor who has been gardening for more than 10 years in Canada where the winters are long and cold, and the summers are unpredictable. She is a volunteer for her community’s Incredible Edible project. In the past she created an educational gardening space for seniors and taught classes at a local community center where she created her own curriculum and activities. She participated in several local municipal garden days where she set up a booth to educate citizens about the joy of gardening.
If you look around you, there are likely dozens of plants nearby that you may consider nothing but a nuisance, but look again. Some of those so-called weeds may actually be a nutritious source of sustenance that costs nothing to use. In fact, some people may even thank you for taking them off their hands. Edible weeds are all around us, pulled up, poisoned and burned because someone failed to see the value in them.
Once you know which to look for and what you can do with these complimentary consumables, you’ll be able to source food and medicine at a price you can’t beat. You may even be helping the planet and your garden in the process. We’ll show you which weeds are valuable resources in disguise and how to identify them below.
What is a Weed?
First, what makes a plant a weed? While the behavior of a plant plays a part in how we label it, our perceptions and ideas about plants have the most significant impact on whether we consider them problematic or not.
When I held gardening classes at my local senior’s center, I became fast friends with an Indian woman who made the most delicious food. She also taught me a great deal about how we perceive plants. As I plucked weeds from the communal garden space, she pointed out that the plants I removed, in many cases, were good to eat. She would take the pulled remnants and bring them home to cook with. It was an eye-opening moment for me, and now I’m much more curious about the plants I consider annoying and invasive.
I firmly believe that the concept of a ‘weed’ is a human construct. There are no weeds. We’re the ones who impose our perceptions of Mother Nature.
It’s often human behavior that creates problems when we take plants from different continents and allow them to flourish outside of their native habitats. Humans also introduce plants to their gardens or yards without proper research or investigation.
For one person, a dandelion may represent an ugly nuisance: a blemish on an otherwise perfectly manicured lawn. For another, the vigorous yellow flower is a nutritious edible weed that makes the ideal addition to a lunchtime salad or the perfect ingredient for an evening cup of tea.
My Own Experience
In my yard, the previous owners of the property planted a pretty trailing vine for added privacy on an outdoor fence. They apparently didn’t do their homework, and the vine creeps into my garden each summer.
I made the same mistake with purslane. I sowed seeds a few years ago thinking I was planting an easy to grow succulent and didn’t find out until later that purslane is a persistent bugger that’s tough to get rid of.
It returns every year with a vengeance and outcompetes whatever else is growing alongside it. In the first year, it was a yummy edible that I picked for salads. Now, it’s a weed because it keeps coming back without me wanting it there. But more importantly, because I planted something without thinking.
When you forage the plants below use, be sure you know what you’re picking. Some plants have look-alikes that can be unpleasant or downright dangerous.
Additionally, keep in mind that if you want to cultivate any of these edible weeds, planting them may be illegal, on top of a potential nuisance.
Finally, because these plants are considered pests, pick only from sources that you know haven’t been poisoned.
1. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
You might spot purslane in your favorite seed catalogs, but it can also be a weed. It grows almost anywhere because it can tolerate poor soil conditions. That said, it’s delicious. I put purslane seeds in my balcony containers and have been surprised (and annoyed) at how well it has thrived.
Tastes like: Purslane makes a crunchy addition to your salad, and it has a slightly acidic flavor.
How to identify: This edible weed looks like a miniature succulent plant.
Eating: Eat the leaves of this plant in a salad.
Caution: Don’t let your cat or dog munch on it, because it’s poisonous to them.
2. Borage (Borago officinalis)
The small purple-blue flowers of this plant attract bees and butterflies. Borage is an annual, but it’s self-seeding. It’s quite hardy and easy to grow.
Tastes like: Borage tastes like cucumbers, oddly enough, and it’s delicious.
How to identify: Look for a droopy plant with small star-shaped flowers.
Eating: The leaves and flowers of this plant are edible. Use it in soups, salads, cocktails, and desserts.
Caution: Don’t consume borage seed oil without first speaking to your doctor.
3. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
You can use milk thistle in food dishes in place of spinach, though it’s known more for its medicinal qualities.
Tastes like: This can be a bitter plant, but it has a sweet aftertaste. Cooking helps.
How to identify: Milk thistle is pretty distinctive. Keep your eyes out for a spiky plant with purple flowers.
Eating: You can eat the young stalks roots and flowers. You can also eat the leaves, but cut off the spines first. Cook it as you would spinach or eat it raw. You can also roast the seeds and use them as a coffee alternative.
Caution: Only eat this plant after you’ve removed its spikes. Additionally, it can cause nausea and diarrhea in some people.
4. Cleavers (Galium aparine)
This funky-looking annual weed has many fitting nicknames, including kisses and sticky weed.
Tastes like: For such a strange-looking plant, it sure tastes good. It has a flavor similar to pea shoots.
How to identify: Cleavers have branching stems with sticky, grippy hairs and little white flowers.
Eating: You can eat the leaves and stems of this plant, but since it’s sticky, it doesn’t work great in salads. Eat it as a lettuce substitute in a sandwich, instead.
Caution: Don’t eat this if your skin is irritated after touching it. If this occurs, you may be allergic.
5. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Two things I love combined in one plant: garlic and mustard! This edible weed is considered invasive in many parts of North America, so you can do your part to eradicate it by eating it all up.
Tastes like: This plant has notes of horseradish and garlic.
How to identify: Look for a low-growing cluster of lily pad-like leaves.
Eating: You can eat every bit of this plant, including leaves, flowers, roots, and seeds.
Caution: Avoid eating garlic mustard raw too often because the plant contains cyanide. Cooking it can help reduce the toxin level, however.
6. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Probably the most well-known edible weed out there. Dandelions grow liberally on lawns and uncultivated land across the country. They spread prolifically, and we attempt to get rid of them with great enthusiasm, which is odd because they’re edible and incredibly nutritious.
Tastes like: The flavor depends on the part of the plant you consume. It ranges from earthy to nutty.
How to identify: Look for the infamous puffy poofs during the seeding stage that come from the pretty yellow pom-pom flowers.
Eating: The roots, leaves, and flowers of this plant are edible and contain medicinal properties. Cook it up like spinach or eat it raw.
Caution: Don’t eat this ubiquitous edible weed without washing it first, because it may be covered in poison.
7. Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)
Also known as curly leaf dock, this plant is capable of growing up to 1.5 meters in height and is often found growing along roads.
Tastes like: It might not look like it, but this plant tastes like lemon because it contains oxalic acid.
How to identify: Look for the distinctive narrow leaves with curly edges. The stems turn brown in the late summer.
Eating: Consume this raw when the leaves are young. Once the leaves get older, they should be cooked. Don’t eat the leaves after they have turned brown. You can peel and eat the stems and cook the seeds, as well.
Caution: Don’t consume raw yellow dock regularly.
8. Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
A brassica, shepherd’s purse is a tasty and nutritious edible weed.
Tastes like: This plant tastes like a mildly flavored radish or mustard greens.
How to identify: It’s easiest to spot when it’s seeding, because it has distinctive purse-shaped pods. It has hairy, lobed leaves.
Eating: Eat this edible weed when the leaves are young, either raw or cooked. Makes an excellent cabbage substitute.
Caution: Be sure you’ve made the right identification when nibbling this. It also resembles a poisonous plant.
9. Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters is an unappreciated plant. It helps restore poor soil in addition to being nutritious and, some even say, tasty.
Tastes like: This plant has a salty flavor, and it’s often used as a substitute for spinach leaves.
How to identify: This is an unattractive weed, which is why it’s pulled up so often and ignored as a food source. Look for its dusty powder-coated leaves.
Eating: The leaves of this plant are edible, and you can cook them or eat them raw. It’s also tasty dried and added to soups.
Caution: Don’t get caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Make sure you’re picking lamb’s quarters and not a toxic doppelgänger.
10. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
This edible weed grows close to the ground and spreads liberally. Bees love yarrow.
Tastes like: The flavor is like a milder version of anise.
How to identify: Keep an eye out for a kind of fern-like plant with clusters of tiny yellow or white flowers.
Eating: Eat the leaves raw or cooked.
Caution: Don’t feed this to your pets. Additionally, be careful when ingesting it yourself, because some folks are allergic.
11. Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata)
This edible weed is a nutrient-packed plant that contains plenty of vitamins. Its nickname, miner’s lettuce, comes from the fact that back in the day it was eaten by miners to stave off scurvy.
Tastes like: It smells citrusy and tastes like earthy lettuce.
How to identify: Look for a plant with round, almost heart-shaped leaves. The stem shoots straight through the center of the leaves, which makes it easy to spot. When blooming, the tops are dotted with small delicate flowers.
Eating: Nibble on the leaves, stem, and blossom of this edible weed. Delicious in salads.
Caution: Don’t mistake this for purslane even though its other nickname is winter purslane because they don’t taste anything alike.
12. Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
A plant in the mustard family, bittercress grows in a mat-like formation and commonly invades lawns.
Tastes like: This plant has a pleasant flavor similar to fresh micro greens and don’t let the name fool you. The leaves aren’t bitter.
How to identify: Grows in a cluster or clump with shoots topped by white flowers.
Eating: All above ground parts are edible, but the flowers can be bitter.
Caution: You shouldn’t store this edible weed for later. It’s best eaten fresh.
13. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Unlike other types of weeds, chickweed is relatively innocuous. It’s not a towering monstrosity that clamors for space. Instead, chickweed grows close to the ground, spreading like a mat.
Tastes like: If you’ve ever eaten grass, then you know what this tastes like.
How to identify: Look for a fuzzy ground cover with small white flowers and oval-shaped leaves growing in opposites.
Eating: Consume the leaves cooked or raw in salads or as you would eat spinach.
Caution: Don’t feed it to animals in large quantities. It’s mildly toxic, especially to horses.
14. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
A perennial that pops up often in the wild, its leaves and roots are edible.
Tastes like: This plant tastes like wood, with a spicy twist.
How to identify: This scraggly, stemmy weed has tiny blue flowers and likes to grow alone in barren areas.
Eating: The leaves and roots are the best part of this plant.
Caution: As pretty as it is, don’t bother eating the flower, because it’s bitter.
15. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
This perennial has a long history a medicinal treatment, but it also makes good eating.
Tastes like: Depending on how you prepare it, this plant tastes like spinach.
How to identify: Stinging nettle, true to its name, is covered in tiny stinging hairs so you might feel it before you see it. Look for arrow-shaped leaves with variegated edges and fuzzy white flowers.
Eating: You can nibble on the leaves, roots, and stems of this plant, although young leaves are the most prized. Use it cooked in soups or as a side dish.
Caution: Don’t eat this without cooking it first to remove those nasty little hairs. You may also want to wear gloves when harvesting.
15. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
I love sorrel. I planted it in my garden two years ago, and it’s a beautiful specimen. Wood sorrel bares little resemblance to garden sorrel, however.
Tastes like: Sorrel tastes lemony thanks to the presence of oxalic acid, which lends a sour, acidic flavor.
How to identify: This plant often gets mistaken for clover. It differs in that the smaller branches grow at a 90-degree angle to the central stalk.
Eating: This edible weed is as refreshing as it is tasty. Eat the immature seed pods, leaves, and flowers in soups, salads or sauces.
Caution: Don’t eat too much of it in one sitting and keep away from all types of sorrel if you have arthritis or suffer from kidney stones.
16. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
A well-known medicinal plant, valerian can also be eaten.
Tastes like: Has a flavor reminiscent of earthy pine.
How to identify: Look for a straight, tall plant topped with small flower clusters.
Eating: Only the leaves and seeds are edible raw, but you can use the root in tea.
Caution: Don’t dry it and use it later. It smells and tastes terrible when dried.
17. Onion Weed (Asphodelus fistulosus)
Smells like onion, but spreads like a weed. Thankfully, you can munch on this invasive plant.
Tastes like: As the name implies, it tastes like an onion.
How to identify: Look for this edible weed growing in the shade. It’s a delicate, thin-stemmed plant with drooping white flowers.
Eating: The leaves are delicious raw, and the has a mild onion flavor.
Caution: Don’t yank it out of the ground. Carefully remove onion weed by digging it out to prevent it from spreading.
18. Horsetail (Equisetum)
Once used as a medicinal treatment for several conditions including arthritis.
Tastes like: The leaves taste like grass. Made into a tea, it resembles the flavor of black tea.
How to identify: an odd brown stem at first until the weed turns green and branches out.
Eating: Consume the shoots in the early spring. Once the cones turn brown, this plant turns bitter.
Caution: Despite its name, don’t let horses eat this weed. It’s poisonous to them.
19. Lady’s Thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
How could a weed ever have such a proper-sounding name? More often used as a medicinal plant rather than eaten, lady’s thumb is related to buckwheat.
Tastes like: This plant has a lovely pepper flavor.
How to identify: You’ll find this weed by looking for flower spikes that sit atop a stem with a base of long slender leaves that often feature a dark spot.
Eating: You can eat the leaves, shoots, flowers, and seeds of this plant.
Caution: Don’t eat this plant if you’re suffering from a kidney ailment.
20. Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
A horribly invasive species, kudzu was introduced to North America in the 1800s. The fast-growing plant is so prolific that it is becoming a major problem in some areas. Thankfully, the one good thing about this rapid-growing invader is that you can eat it.
Tastes like: For being such an invasive plant, it has a delicate flavor a bit like snow peas.
How to identify: Look for a vine with leaves in a group of three and crimson flowers when blooming.
Eating: Don’t try to eat the vine of this plant, but you can eat the leaves, flowers, and roots. It’s great chopped up in quiche and eggs.
Caution: This is an easy edible weed to forage, but don’t ever plant it on purpose. In some areas, planting kudzu is actually illegal.
21. Pigweed (Amaranthus)
You’ve probably had an encounter with pigweed without even knowing its name. It’s also known as amaranth. In some places, lamb’s quarters are called pigweed, but they’re two distinct plants.
Tastes like: This plant with a funny name has a mild lemon taste with salty notes.
How to identify: Look for a tall stem topped with small, clustered flower spikes.
Eating: Young leaves are best, but you can cook or dry the older leaves as well. Roast the seeds for a treat.
Don’t: Don’t be in a hurry to eliminate this plant, because pigweed can also help you with pest control.
22. Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea)
How could something that smells like pineapple ever be considered a nuisance?
Tastes like: The name says it all. This plant tastes like a mild pineapple.
How to identify: Look for a bare-bones version of chamomile, because it is easy to mistake the two plants. If you crush the leaves between your fingers, you can be sure it’s pineapple weed because of the scent.
Eating: If you come across this in the wild, pick and eat the leaves and flowers on the spot. It also makes a wonderful tea. The older the plant gets during the growing season, the more bitter it becomes.
Caution: Don’t eat it in large quantities at first. Some people are allergic to this weed.
23. Burdock (Arctium)
A biennial with a bad reputation because of its sticky, grippy little burrs. Surprisingly, burdock is packed with antioxidants.
Tastes like: Burdock tastes like artichoke, though that depends on which part of the plant you’re eating.
How to identify: This plant looks like something you should avoid, thanks to its annoying little burrs.
How to eat: Peel and boil the stems. You can also eat the immature flowers or young leaves.
Caution: Don’t plant burdock on purpose. It’s a problematic plant in many regions. The burrs may harm animals or at the very least cause discomfort if stuck to their fur or skin.
24. Mallow (Malva)
This low-growing plant is related to okra and hibiscus, and it’s not only edible but has medicinal properties as well. On top of that, it’s handy to have around the kitchen because the leaves secrete a mucus when boiled that can be used as an egg white substitute or a thickener for liquids.
Tastes like: The fruit tastes a bit like capers, and the leaves are mild. They will take on the flavor of the things you cook them with.
How to identify: Look for a plant growing along the ground with long, geranium-like leaves sprouting from a central point.
How to eat: Eat the leaves and flowers raw or cooked. All parts of the plant can be eaten.
Caution: This plant is a prolific grower.
25. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
This edible weed is related to French sorrel and tastes much the same.
Tastes like: Sheep sorrel has a tangy, citrus flavor with a slightly bitter edge.
How to identify: This plant grows in a clump of arrow-shaped leaves with a red rosette in the springtime.
How to eat: You can eat the leaves from this plant, which are delicious chopped in salads. The seeds are also good raw or cooked. Ground up dried leaves can be used to make a flour for baking or to thicken soups.
Caution: Don’t each too much raw sheep sorrel at a time.
26. Violets (Viola sororia)
Violets are almost as hated as dandelions when it comes to lawn maintenance, but I think the native wildflower gets a bad rap. Though they can spread like, well, a weed, the pretty flowers are delicious, and the plant also has medicinal properties.
Tastes like: This pretty little plant has a mild, sweet pea flavor.
How to identify: When the plant is blooming, keep an eye out for the little purple flowers. When it isn’t blooming, you can spot it by the low-growing, heart-shaped leaves.
How to eat: The flowers can be eaten raw and add a bit of color to a salad. You can also candy them or turn them into jelly. The leaves can be eaten raw.
Caution: Since this plant is not loved by homeowners, be sure you are collecting specimens that haven’t been poisoned.
27. Mullein (Verbascum)
This weed isn’t a prolific spreader, but it grows freely in barren soil. People have used the soft, furry leaves as toilet paper throughout history, which is why it is sometimes called Cowboy Toilet Paper.
Tastes like: It has a slightly bitter, earthy, astringent flavor.
How to identify: This plant is easy to spot. It is a fuzzy grayish mound of large leaves in its first year. In the second year, it sends up a tall stalk covered in yellow flowers.
How to eat: You can eat the leaves and flowers raw, but it is best turned into a tea.
Caution: The hairs on this plant can irritate the skin for some people.
28. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
This edible weed clearly doesn’t want you to get near it. It’s covered in little spikes from head-to-toe. The effort is worth the result, though.
Tastes like: The raw leaves are bland, the stem and root taste like a Jerusalem artichoke.
How to identify: Bull thistles look like any thistle except they have short daggers on the surface of the leaf.
How to eat: You can eat the cooked root or stem as you would any veggie, either baked or boiled. You can also eat young leaves raw. Flowers can be roasted when they are young, and you can also roast the seeds.
Caution: Wear gloves when harvesting. Make sure you remove all of the sharp bits before eating.
Edible weeds are one of those hidden treasures that are everywhere once you know how to look. It may even make you look at weeding your own garden in a whole new light. If you have a favorite plant that others consider a weed, be sure to let us know in the comments below.
20+ Edible Weeds in Your Garden (with recipes!)
Eating edible weeds is an easy way to increase your garden’s productivity. While everyone loves to bring in the harvest, weeding is most people’s least favorite part of gardening.
What if weeding could be harvesting? When you know how to identify and use edible weeds, basic garden maintenance becomes more like a scavenger hunt.
Having children makes you think a lot about your own actions and motivations. Not for any purposeful, metaphysical reason…but simply because they’re always asking, “Why?”
My 3-year old is uncommonly helpful, and she’s my regular foraging companion. She’s great at spotting chanterelles and knows all about foraging tasty edible flowers.
Outside of foraging with mama, she’s a huge help weeding the garden. She used to ask, “Is this a weed mama?” before pulling out an unknown plant. Now the tiny forager in her asks, “What’s this plant?”
More often than not, I find myself explaining what it is, and how it can be used for both food and medicine. That leads my inquisitive little one to ask the next logical question. “If it’s food, then why are we pulling it up?”
We spent the afternoon “weeding” our strawberry beds and harvested dozens of varieties of edible weeds. Yes, we still pulled them up, because strawberries are amazing, and nothing gets between me and a homegrown strawberry, but we also ate them.
Knowing how to identify edible weeds turns weeding into harvesting and makes the exercise a lot more fun, not to mention tasty.
List of Edible Weeds
Here’s a list to get you started eating wild weeds from A to Z. I’ll keep adding to the list as I find more fun plants in the garden to spark my memory, but if I’ve missed one of your favorites leave me a note in the comments at the end.
Burdock (Arctium sp.)
With a 2+ foot long taproot, burdock can be particularly difficult to remove from the garden. The sticky burrs are perfect for sticking to clothes, and I often find it growing alongside paths waiting to stick to clothing. The sticky seeds can be prolific, and if one goes to seed at the edge of the garden you’ll have your work cut out for you the following year.
Good news, burdock is an edible weed and every part is tasty. It’s actually cultivated as a vegetable in Asian cultures where it’s called gobo. The root is often used in curries, or roasted like any other root vegetable, and we make a really effective anti-inflammatory burdock tincture with it.
Burdock flower stalks are also edible, and creamy centers taste like freshly steamed artichokes to me. The leaves are edible too and are great for wrapping dishes cooked in the campfire. I also found a recipe for burdock leaf kraut in the book Fermented Vegetables, which contains all manner of unconventional and inspiring recipes.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
One of the earliest spring greens you can forage, chickweed can take over a garden fast. It spreads quickly to form a low-growing mat, but it only really thrives in the early spring with cool temperatures.
That’s enough though, to choke out young seedlings in the garden. Harvest it young, so it doesn’t take over and enjoy it as a tasty snack right in the garden. Or, bring it inside to make chickweed tincture, a natural antibacterial used externally, or anti-inflammatory and antihistamine used internally.
Chickweed pesto is mild and tasty, and a great way to save a big harvest for later. On the medical side of things, a chickweed salve is great for doctoring gardener’s hands after a long day of weeding…
Cleavers/Bedstraw (Galium sp.)
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.
Cleavers is especially invasive and difficult to eradicate once established, so I work hard to keep this one out of the garden and mostly harvest it as an edible weed along woods edges.
Our local species Galium mollugo, also known as Common Bedstraw and false babies breath.
Clover (Trifolium sp.)
I have a friend who absolutely hates clover because a clover patch means bees foraging nectar and she’s terrified of bees. The bees have the right idea though, those clover flowers are sweet and tasty….and both bees and clover run rampant in my veggie garden.
Each flower contains a tiny drop of honeydew at its base, and rural children in New England spend summers harvesting the blossoms for a teeny tiny sweet treat. The flowers are often made into clover tea.
The blossoms can also be ground into clover flour, which can replace flour in baked goods. The blossoms can also be baked into things whole, like in these clover and strawberry cookies. Clover greens are an edible wild salad green, though not one of my favorites.
Not just an edible weed, clover is also medicinal. Herbalists recommend a tea for colds, flu, and coughs, and it’s also used to help treat skin conditions like eczema. Studies show that red clover can help balance hormones in menopausal women, and my midwife specifically recommended I drink red clover tea during my pregnancy.
Curly Dock (Rumex sp.)
There are a lot of dock species (Rumex genus), all of them are edible weeds. The leaves are cooked into curries or baked into chips, the seeds can be ground into dock flour that’s similar in some respects to buckwheat and the roots are cooked too.
Dock plants form long tap roots, and they’re persistent perennials, producing thousands of seeds each year. Once one gets a foothold it’s hard to get them out of the garden unless you dig out the whole root system.
Luckily, the roots are not only edible but medicinal. They’re used as a blood cleanser similar to burdock, but I’ll admit this is one of my least favorite medicines. Few things taste worse than dock root to my palate, but plenty of people love them.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
More and more people these days know that dandelions are edible weeds, and many are willing to pay $5 for a bunch of dandelion greens on the shelf at the whole foods. Still, there’s something deeply ingrained in our culture about our hatred for a dandelion-filled lawn.
Leave them if possible, they’re a great early spring nectar source for the bees. In our garden, if left unchecked they’ll completely take over and we harvest them by the wheelbarrow full.
Just about every part of a dandelion is useful as food or medicine, and there’s a pretty absurd variety of ways to use them. The blossoms make lovely dandelion wine or dandelion ice cream for the kids.
The roots can be roasted and made into dandelion coffee, or steamed whole and eaten like carrots. They also are a key ingredient in dandelion tincture and dandelion bitters, both of which are medicinal. Even the unopened flower buds are edible, and they make a remarkably convincing wild foraged dandelion caper when pickled.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Though it’s considered one of the worst invasive weeds, garlic mustard happens to be really tasty. The name gives you an idea of the taste, a bit garlic-y, a bit mustard-y, and basically green and mildly spicy. Used sparingly, it makes a good salad green, or it can be cooked as it is in this garlic mustard frittata.
Personally, I’m less excited about using it as a green and more excited about using it as a seasoning. This garlic mustard chimichurri sounds perfect.
Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
One of the most invasive weeds out there, and very difficult to eradicate. Luckily, it’s also delicious, with a taste a lot like rhubarb raw and a bit like asparagus cooked.
I’m glad we don’t actually have any Japanese knotweed on our land, but I do go out of my way to forage it from a patch just up the road. A tincture of the root is one of the few herbal treatments for Lyme disease, and the shoots can be used in all manner of recipes.
I wrote up a long list of Japanese knotweed recipes some time ago, including strawberry knotweed pie, and even a few cocktails like a knotweed gin and tonic.
My own homemade knotweed mini pies. The filling includes 1 cup chopped knotweed, 1/4 cup sugar and a bit of cinnamon and allspice.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
One of the best natural remedies for bug bites and poison ivy, jewelweed is handy to have around. I keep a few jars of jewelweed salve in the medicine cabinet just in case, and it’s come in handy a few times.
Jewelweed is also edible, and the seed pods taste a lot like walnuts. Harvest carefully because they’re built to pop when touched, sending the seeds flying in all directions. If you harvest very carefully though, you can enjoy that pleasant pop on your tongue followed by the taste of fresh walnuts right from the garden.
Lambs Quarter (Chenopodium album)
Another edible weed that grows prolifically in our garden, I tend to leave lambs quarter anywhere I can. I love the sweet succulent taste of the young leaves. It’s actually a form of wild quinoa, and you can harvest lambs quarter grain if you allow them to mature and go to seed.
The plants have a sheen on the underside of the leaves because they bio-accumulate minerals. If dried, they can be burned to use as a wild foraged salt substitute. Just dry the leaves, then burn them and save the ash.
Mallow Species (Althaea sp.)
Mallow plants love moist rich soils, and they’re everywhere in our garden. There’s a cultivated variety (Althaea officinalis) that’s grown in formal perennial gardens, and it was once used to make marshmallow candies. There are also many varieties that just grow wild, readily self-seeding and taking over unweeded vegetable gardens.
The variety we get here grows huge, about 4 feet tall and just as wide. If they grow in an out-of-the-way spot, I’m likely to leave them for their beautiful flowers and edible leaves. The leaves are a tasty salad green and work well cooked into dishes like this mallow leaf ravioli.
Beyond their use as an edible weed, they’re one of my favorite remedies for dry coughs. The roots contain soothing mucilage compounds that help to coat throats and protect mucous membranes. The plant’s soothing nature makes it good for digestive and skin issues as well.
A native bee on a wild marshmallow plant growing in my blueberry bed. We leave all these wild plants whenever possible, and they grow without any care.
Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
One of my favorite perennial edible weeds, milkweed shoots taste a lot like asparagus when sauteed in butter. Every stage of growth is edible, from the young shoots to the flowers to the unripe seed pods. And at every stage of growth, it tastes a little different and results in a totally new vegetable.
I let milkweed grow in with my asparagus, particularly because I actually think milkweed shoots taste better than asparagus and also because I really love the intoxicating smell of their mid-summer blooms.
Be careful, some species of milkweed can be toxic and I only eat common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). Be aware that milkweed also has some toxic look-alikes (Dogbane) and you need to be 100% certain on your identification. I’d strongly suggest a good foraging guide, like The Forager’s Harvest, which contains detailed information on identifying and foraging milkweed.
For milkweed recipes, I’ve got quite a few tasty ones listed in this milkweed foraging guide, and there are even more in the book Forage, Harvest, Feast including a delicious looking milkweed blossom cordial that I’m going to make this summer.
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.
Around here though, my little ones just love eating the tiny golden flowers fresh in the garden.
Plantain (Plantago sp.)
Though it grows best in compacted soils, rather than fluffy garden beds, wild plantain still makes its way into garden paths and beds. There’s a huge spreading patch of it at the entrance to my garden, and it’s a common weed in lawns and along sidewalks.
Herbalists know plantain as a potent medicinal, great for insect bites, stings, and minor cuts. I keep a homemade plantain salve in my medicine cabinet, and we end up using it several times a week all summer.
It’s also an edible weed that can be eaten like any other salad green. The leaves can be a bit tough, but they’re a good substitute for spinach (like on this plantain leaf pizza). They can also be made into leafy green chips using recipes for kale chips.
Broadleaf plantain. Image Courtesy of Melissa Keyser.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
I remember weeding out the purslane from my garden in southern California. It was so vigorous in that hot desert heat! These days, I actually plant purslane in my Vermont garden and tend it along with my salad greens. Most of the world considers purslane to be a cultivated green, and it’s especially popular in the Mediterranean and the middle east where it thrives in the wild.
It has some of the highest naturally occurring levels of Omega 3’s in plants, along with a host of other nutrients that put it in the class of “superfoods.” Try a simple purslane salad to get started, but then get creative…
~ Homespun Seasonal Living ~ Food52 ~ Chef in You
A potted purslane start about to be planted in my garden. This is one of the few edible weeds that I actually plant rather than weed out.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)
Also known as wild carrots, that pretty well sums up Queen Anne’s Lace. The root is a wild form of our domesticated carrot and tastes pretty similar. Queen Anne’s Lace flowers and greens are also edible and can be made into dishes like this carrot top pesto or this floral soda.
The trick is, the plants can easily be confused with very toxic water hemlock. When in bloom, I think it’s easy to tell them apart, but this is one mistake that can be deadly. I’d recommend avoiding Queen Anne’s Lace until you’re really confident in your identification. For more information on positively identifying this edible weed, read up on the difference between it and poison hemlock.
Queen Anne’s Lace Flowers ~ This edible weed gets its name from the tiny red flower in the middle, supposedly where Queen Anne pricked her finger when making the lacy flowers.
Quickweed (Galinsoga parviflora)
Originally native to South America, quickweed has been introduced just about everywhere in the world. It often doesn’t show up in gardens until later in the summer, but then it grows at an alarming rate, quickly outpacing everything else. One day the garden is weed-free, and a week later you could fill a garbage bag in just a few minutes with this prolific edible weed.
Forager Chef says it’s “the hardest working green I’ve met so far…It can be used raw, or cooked. Got a call from a farmer that the spinach was killed by hail? Don’t worry, just toss some Galinsoga in that pasta. While you’re at it, put it in the salad mix and on the fish entree, then throw the purchased microgreens in the compost where they belong, as fodder to grow interesting, edible weeds.”
The scientific name, galinsoga, is often mispronounced and it eventually took on the common name “gallant soldier” as a result. There’s nothing particularly gallant about this weed, but it does soldier on all summer, remaining tender and edible well after flowering.
Since it’s a South American native, it’s incorporated into their traditional cuisine. It’s a key ingredient in a dish called Ajiaco, a Columbian chicken stew.
Stinging Nettles (Urticia dioica)
Honestly, I really hate stinging nettles and I’m glad they’re not a problem in my garden. My neighbors though, they have a huge stinging nettle patch taking over the corner of their garden, and I learned about it the hard when I walked through it in sandals…
Stinging nettles sting you see, and it can be quite painful. Once cooked, the stinging leaves are absolutely delicious and lose their sting completely. If you harvest with care, using gloves and long sleeves, foraging stinging nettle can be a really satisfying way to turn a menace into a meal.
Here are a few stinging nettle recipes to try:
~ Adamant Kitchen ~ Learning and Yearning ~ Nourished Kitchen ~ Small Footprint Family ~ Craft Invaders ~ Grow Forage Cook Ferment ~ Veggie Desserts ~ Nourished Kitchen ~ Craft Invaders
Still need more inspiration? Check out these 40+ Ways to use Stinging Nettles.
Harvesting Stinging Nettles. Image Courtesy of Melissa Keyser.
Thistle (Cirsium sp.)
Thistles are never fun to find in the garden, especially if you find them with bare feet. All of them are edible to the best of my knowledge, and I’ve personally eaten bull thistle and Canada thistle. The stalks are eaten like celery, and the roots can be cooked like any other root vegetable.
I’ve talked to some people that love them, mostly my more adventurous foraging friends, but I’d class them as a survival food that’s barely worth the bother.
While I’m not a fan of thistles, the bees sure do love them…
Violets (Viola sp.)
Left unchecked, wild violets would absolutely take over my strawberry beds, and they love the shady rich soil underneath my rhubarb. They’re common lawn weeds, sprouting up in moist shady spots, but without grass as competition, they’ll readily grow in sunny gardens too.
Every part of this beautiful weed is edible. The flowers make a lovely violet jelly, and they add beauty to a wild greens salad.
The leaves can be eaten fresh or made into tea. They’re also made into a medicinal salve to support the lymphatic system.
We have so many of them, this spring I posted to Instagram asking for creative ways to use violets…and I got a bunch of answers. My favorite idea was a violet leaf pesto, and I’m planning on making that happen shortly.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Though it’s not actually related to true sorrel, wood sorrel has a similar bright, lemon-y taste. The most common edible garden weed type has three-part clover-like leaves and tiny yellow flowers make it easy to identify in the garden. There are other wild varieties, hundreds in fact, with different blossom colors.
I find wood sorrel to be really refreshing when weeding, and I’ll happily munch the leaves fresh right in the garden.
A wood sorrel plant held in my hand, this edible weed was harvested from the garden and then promptly consumed on the spot.
That’s my list, mostly harvested right from our garden. What did I miss? What are your favorite edible weeds to pull (I mean harvest) from the garden?
More Foraging Posts
Looking for more information on edible wild plants? Check out any of these foraging guides:
I remember grabbing a bag and knife and following my mom to the woods to harvest spring “weeds”. I’ve forgotten most of them, but several of those listed still stick in my mind and people are always shocked when I grab a leaf from the ground and chomp away. Thanks for this article. Reminds me what I’ve been missing.
Yellow nutsedge has little tuber that apparently taste like peanuts in its roots, I don’t know about the rest of the plant though
Same here Byron. My mom and I used to gather Polk and carpenter square. I didnt see these mentioned on the list.
Hey Buddy! Just a warning for others about polk. It’s one of those “vegetables” that only grows in certain parts of the country (like the Southeast…lol). It’s highly toxic and can be fatal if not harvested at the exact right time and properly cooked. I’ve heard it’s very tasty when prepared correctly and that it used to be available sold in the store in the canned goods. However, due to its toxicity and bad reputation, they quit selling it. I would also avoid eating any of our milkweeds. We do have delicious clearweed, at least three edible types of plantain, five types of wild lettuce, violets with leaves that can grow to almost a foot tall under the right conditions, and more medicinal herbs than almost anywhere on the planet!
Hello, thank you so much for doing this, i have learned sooooo much and plan to use that to help myself and my family w/ the medicinal value of these plants!! i love to study and learn about how to make teas/tinctures, etc. There is one plant you missed and i have used it successfully and love it. WILD LETTUCE: i saw it on the lost ways ad, and i have made tea and tinctures from it, as well as using it raw right off the stalk. i’m going for a total hip replacemnt but they can’t get me in till sept. 30th, i’m barely able to walk, since using the wild lettuce, i don’t need a cane to walk and it helps w/ pain, anxiety, used to be used for whooping cough, asthma, and more. helps with insomnia also, i actually got 5 hours of sleep. lmk if you’d like for me to send you link to some of the sites i used to research it. and thanks again for all the great info!!
I totally forgot that one, I’ll have to add it next time I edit this article, thanks! Silly of me to forget, have an article on that one too: https://practicalselfreliance.com/wild-lettuce-pain-relief/
Do you have greenbrier in your area? We find it in the woods climbing up the trees. The new growth is my favorite wild green with lambsquarter being a close second. The older vines have some fierce thorns, so be careful!
Interesting, I’d never heard of it. I looked it up, and apparently, NH and Maine have it on the coast but there’s none over here in inland VT. Range map here: https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SMRO
Wild Greenbriar is also called Smilax. The top 5 or 6″ is tender and delicious. It grows wild here in NE Georgia. You can also harvest the long vines and using a rose thorn remover tool, can pop off the thorns and make beautiful baskets with it since it is a lovely bendable vine.
In our garden in Albuquerque we have a pigweed we’re using to provide shade for (and draw leaf eaters from) our basil, but, like lamb’s quarter, it’s another type of wild amarath with edible leaves, although you have to be careful with it because it draws excess nitrogen from the soil and can contain dangerous levels of nitrates if the ground is over-fertilized. So, probably best to harvest it from your yard rather than your garden.
Great post! I learn so much every time I check out your blog! Thank you.
Thanks for the great website!!
Which of these plants, how to harvest/forage them, with abundance for future? Perennial, annual, selective harvesting techniques, etc. Thanks
We make a wonderful smoothie with violet flowers, yogurt and ice… A little bit of sugar if desired,
I love this material. I am inspired to create a garden space dedicated to weeds.
I’m in Central Vermont, too. I wish I had the heart for traditional gardening. Until that grows stronger, I decided to learn about casual gardening – foraging wild edibles. I’m delighted to learn about all the local ones. So I thank you for sharing your localized knowledge. It’s a bit of a mind shift to look out upon a field of “weeds” to realize most of the plants for the offering are edible. So far this year, I’ve added ramps, stinging nettles, common violets to my diet. I hope to at least triple that list by this fall.
Funny thing is I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so dandy and violet flowers are my favorite things to nibble on. I can see why the bees like the flowers.
If you ever decide to offer a foraging guide class, please let me know.
Wonderful that you’re getting into foraging. I’ll definitely let you know if I ever host a class, but that’s not likely, at least until my kids are older.
Thanks for this article! I loved to read about all the plants you are using. Several of them I already knew, but here are two that we have in our (Scottish) garden that you forgot: Ground Elder (good for salads, stir fry, pesto), and wild garlic (wonderful for garlic butter which I use in fish dishes).
You may not have it there, but we have wild salsify here that’s a fairly early “weed” It’s also known as goatsbeard to some. The leaves, which look like coarse grass, are edible raw. It’s domesticated cousin is also known as oyster plant because the root tastes somewhat like oysters when it’s cooked. If I could post a picture, I could show you a beautiful example from my yard.
Thanks for the post. Going to have to check the latin and compare languages on some of these. Just want to add a little something on Dandelion straight out of my head. Among many other uses, my granny and ancesters used to make savory pancakes with the young leaves in it. Also coffee was made from the grinded roasted roots. During the WWII when there was a shortage of coffee, people used Chicory root to make a instant coffee. Before all that Dandelion root was used. Chicory is still used in the olden use of words for this coffee. The Dandelion root is also dug in for the winter and covered, so the new shoots don’t get sunlight and are ‘bleached’, hence this special salad. Now, this is also exactly how we created the unique ‘witlof’ (wite leaf) North of Brussel. Dug in -as we do with other veggies to overwinter- and let it sprout but covered. Hence Cichory and its connection to Dandelion of olden days. They are not connected by name, but are by family and roots. I would like to add to this story: What many years ago was food for the poor, thrown away by rich or considered inferior food is now highly wanted and paid for. That is a shame, but they are stories like this that bring our ancestors back to life and in their turn keep us alive. And a harring is not always a harring if you don’t treat it the way our ancestors did if you know what I mean…and I’m not even sure a 5 star chef knows what to do with it. Greets and stay safe. p.s Cichory: cichorium intybus foliosum. Here in Lapland I mainly use Fireweeds in all forms.
Thank you so much for sharing that. So glad you enjoyed the post.
I’m so excited after reading your article about foraging! I immediately went out and started looking around. I found clover and chickweed within a short time. I live in Lake Ozark Missouri in densely wooded area. I believe I’ll be finding a lot more wild edibles. I’m hooked! Thank you for the great info.
That’s so good! I love it. You’re very welcome. We’re so glad you enjoyed it.
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Meet Ashley from Practical Self Reliance
I’m an off-grid homesteader in rural Vermont and the author of Practical Self Reliance, a blog that helps people find practical ways to become more self-reliant. Read More…