Blue Heron Local Cuisine

Cooking, Eating, and Drinking on the North Shore (and beyond)

Weeds. It’s What’s for Dinner July 21, 2008

Filed under: Recipe — blueheronlocal @ 1:01 pm
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What’s a weed?  Everyone who’s ever had so much as a row of radishes knows that weeds are every gardener’s foe.  Weeds—those plants you are not trying to grow—even more than weather, neighbors who burn their brush pile under your black walnut tree, marauding deer, hedgehogs, and rabbits, are always a gardener’s problem.  They appear even if you haven’t had rain in three weeks, you’ve mulched heavily, or if your garden is simply a large mud puddle.  You, as the gardener, then feel guilty for not removing them or else grouchy from having spent 4 hours on your knees pulling them up.  Twice.  In the past week.  How can a gardener stay sane?


Unfortunately, a recent New York Times Magazine article kindly pointed out to us that the weeds are only going to get worse with increasing climate change. This does not bode well for gardens in the future, but there is one way to turn this twist of climate to your favor.  Two summers ago, my battle with weeds changed shape.  I started eating them.  If I was going to spend that much time dealing with them, I thought we’d better be getting something from it.  Most people know a few classic weeds are edible, but don’t bother separating them out.  I suggest that you do, particularly early in the season.  Here are a few options:

Dandelion greens:  Young leaves are sharp, good eaten raw in combination with a few other salad greens.  Older leaves, especially after the plant has flowered, tend to be quite bitter, so blanch them first and then sauté in a fat with an aromatic or two, such as olive oil with red pepper flakes and garlic or in pork fat (bacon grease, lardons) with turmeric, ginger, and garlic.  Stirring into scrambled eggs with scallions (green onions) or chives is another idea.  The flowers and buds can also be sautéed, either alone, or with other vegetables. 


Violet greens:  The young leaves are great salad greens, and even older leaves are nice in salads.  The older leaves may start to have a little bit of the mucilaginous texture found in okra, but that varies with where the leaves are grown.  The flowers, of course, are edible, especially when candied.


Purslane:  Purslane in one of the few vegetables high in omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s are the reason cardiologists want everyone to eat more fish).  I don’t particularly like purslane, but it can be eaten raw in a salad (even added to potato salad), or sautéed like spinach.  The stems of larger plants are tough, so some people prefer to pick the leaves off the stems.  I think it would make a great substitute for okra in gumbo and it is commonly added to harrira in Morocco.


Lamb’s quarters: Very easily found, lamb’s quarters should be a mainstay on your edible weed list.  It’s a bit high in oxalic acid, giving it a flavor not too distant from spinach or chard.  Young leaves go very well in a green salad or onto sandwiches, and mature plants can be sautéed or steamed and served as you would young spinach.  It shrinks more than you would you think possible when you cook it, so I generally prefer to eat it raw.


Plantain: The weed, Plantago major, not the banana-like fruit.  The young leaves are quite good raw in salad, and older young leaves can be cooked like any tender green, but old leaves tend to be very tough—kale-like tough, and a bit thready.  It’s relatively innocuous in flavor, but the herbalists credit it with being anti-inflammatory, good for wound-healing, and good for respiratory problems.


Sorrel:  Sorrel is what started my whole weed-eating approach to keeping the garden presentable and productive.  English or French sorrel is fantastic—lemony, tender, good in soup, stuffing, or raw.  Chopped finely with a little spinach, bread crumbs, grated pecorino romano, some breadcrumbs, stuffed in squash blossoms, and lightly fried or steamed, it makes a lovely and impressive appetizer.  Wood sorrel can be eaten raw in salads, but unless you’re just using a little as an herb added at the end of cooking, I do not recommend you cook it.  Caveat: sorrel is also high in oxalic acid, so if you tend toward kidney stones, do not overindulge.


Mulberries & other invasive berries (i.e. wild blackberries): Eat raw, in summer pudding, on ice cream, over biscuits, on cereal, in salad, in smoothies… you get the idea?  Mulberries tend to be sweet but the flavor is generally not complex, so if you may prefer to cook or dress them with a bit of lemon juice, another acidic fruit, or some sort of liquor.


***CAVEAT: Find someone or a very good guidebook to teach you how to ID your weeds before you eat them if you aren’t sure what they are. You’re less likely to accidentally kill yourself with a handful of leaves than mushrooms, but you could easily make your digestive system pretty unhappy.  You should also avoid collecting edibles by major roads and on land where pesticides or other chemicals may have been applied.***


Weed Salad I

two handfuls violet leaves
one handful dandelion greens
two handful lamb’s quarters
3 Tb. balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 c grated percorino romano
1/2 c cubed cucumber
1/2 c carrot shavings

Mix well.  Serves four as a side.


Weed Salad II

two handfuls violet leaves
one handful lamb’s quarters
one handful sorrel
1/2 c mulberries, blackberries, or diced strawberries
3 Tb. white wine or raspberry vinaigrette
1/4 c toasted and salted sunflower seeds (or other nut)

Mix well.  Serves four as a side.




2 Responses to “Weeds. It’s What’s for Dinner”

  1. blueheronlocal Says:

    groundcherry, what do you know about chicory?

  2. groundcherry Says:

    Not much, beyond the whole chicory coffee thing (drunk in India as well as New Orleans). It’s never been much of a problem in my gardens. According to Wikipedia, you can eat the young greens, but Wikipedia also says that it is the same and endive (false– they are probably actually related the way broccoli and turnips are).

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