Eat Your Yard! 21 Weeds and Flowers For Your Dinner Table
A surprising array of pretty flowers and ordinary weeds are edible.
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Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
This suburban lawn scourge boasts a truly useful nature. Flowers (minus the green parts) are edible and have more beta-carotene than carrots. Add them to salads, bread and fry them, or ferment into a fruity wine. Young leaves offer the mildest flavor and are a gourmet salad green, rich with vitamins. Harvest the roots, dry, roast and brew them for a coffee substitute.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Celebrate easy-growing beauty by planting a handful of nasturtium seeds. Both flowers and leaves are edible on this annual, offering a tangy, peppery punch. Reduce the zinginess of the flavor by keeping plants well-watered. Leaves are rich in vitamin C and make a fine addition to salads or soups. Chop flowers to add to seafood salads, or use whole blossoms to decorate cupcakes.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Gather the fresh flowers of this cheery weed to use in teas or salads. You can also pan roast blooms until crispy. Red clover flowers are packed with protein and also rich in beta-carotene, bioflavonoids and vitamins C and most of the B’s. Young leaves are somewhat tasty in salads, but they’re more of an acquired taste. Older leaves are edible, but not the best tasting. Many people are allergic to clover but don’t know it, so consume it in small amounts at first.
Bamboo (Fargesia spp.)
Harvest bamboo shoots for a healthy dose of fiber. Cut off shoots under two weeks old; older shoots are too fibrous. To prepare, peel outer leaves along with any fibrous, tough flesh. Slice shoots into pieces, cutting across the grain—aim for a thin slice that’s roughly 1/8-inch thick. Boil bamboo pieces in an uncovered pot for 20 minutes minimum, longer if shoots taste bitter at the 20-minute mark. Add bamboo shoots to salads or stir fries, or serve them solo with soy sauce.
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
The colorful buds and flowers of daylily are edible and make fun additions to mealtime. You can eat the cultivated varieties in your garden, or harvest wild daylilies, Hemerocallis fulva. Chop them into egg or seafood salads, or toss torn petals with salad greens or fruit. Individual blooms make a lovely edible garnish for slices of cake and are also used to thicken soups. Sautee buds in oil with a little salt and gobble them up. Tubers are also edible, but a lot of work. Prepare them like a potato.
Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Wood sorrel is a common weed (the little yellow-flowered plants) and also an ornamental, like this Oxalis purpurea. All sorrels are edible, although some have stiff stems that are difficult to chew. Harvest leaves, which are rich in vitamin C, to eat raw in salads or cooked like greens. Roots are starchy and can be boiled like potatoes. The pointed seedpods of sorrels offer a lemony, refreshing flavor burst.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Harvest leaves, stems and flowers on chickweed to serve a nutritious salad packed with vitamins and minerals. Many herbalists harvest chickweed in early spring to take advantage of the early green and consume the nutrient-rich leaves. Research has shown that chickweed is also high in omega-6 fatty acid derivatives. Serve chickweed raw in salads, or prepare it like a cooked green. Use it as you would spinach, but don’t consume too much at once, or you risk a bout of diarrhea.
Heartsease (Viola tricolor)
The cute flowers of johnny jump-up multiply freely in a garden through self-sowing. Those same cute blooms are also edible. Toss them with salad greens or add to fresh fruit salads. Many cooks preserve the flowers in sugar before using them as decorative touches on cakes. Heartsease leaves taste fine in a tossed salad and are a traditional thickener for soups and stews. They also help jams and pies to set. The name heartsease refers to the flower’s use as a remedy for a broken heart.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
This hard-to-eradicate weed features thick, fleshy stems and leaves that hug the ground. Happily, you can toss in the trowel on beating this weed and start harvesting the growing tips to eat. Use purslane as a spinach substitute. The leaves and stems are packed with nutrition, including iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and C. Some herbalists prepare leaves by sauteeing in butter with salt and pepper.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.)
Found in nearly every state, prickly pear cactus offers multiple plant parts for eating. The pears produced by plants are sweet and can be eaten raw. Don’t handle fruits with your bare hands; burn or wash off the nearly invisible spines or glochids before handling the fruit. Prickly pear fruits are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Harvest young, small pads for eating. Remove skin, trim and dice. Toss with salads for a lemony bite, or fry, boil or sautee it.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Leaves, stems and roots of stinging nettle are edible. It takes skill to prepare raw leaves for eating without receiving stings. Don’t do it without training. Use leaves as a spinach substitute and add them to soups, casseroles or omelets. This weed also makes a wonderful pesto. Stinging nettle leaves are rich in vitamins, protein and minerals like calcium and iron. Tea made from roots is used for medicinal purposes only. Always wear gloves when gathering stinging nettle to avoid stings. If you do get stung, dig a few root pieces to rub on stings or use jewelweed flowers.
Tulip (Tulipa spp.)
Both petals and bulbs of tulips are edible, but the bulbs are more of a famine food. Eat tulip petals raw or cooked. Flavor varies with flower color, with red and yellow petals offering the most flavor and pink, white and peach being more sweet. Remove the bases of petals, which can be bitter. Tulip bulbs sustained many Dutch through the last winter of World War II. To prepare bulbs safely, remove the outer papery skin and the yellow center, which is poisonous.
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
The invasive vine that’s covering the South is edible. In Asian cooking, chefs steam and boil roots until tender and serve with miso or soy sauce. Pickled flowers are a favorite preparation, as is flower jam and jelly, which tastes like a cross between peach and apple. Or try batter-frying flowers for a flavorful treat. Pick young leaves for juicing or eating as a green. Harvest shoots and prepare like asparagus. Please note that pods and seeds are not edible.
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)
This bane of shady lawns goes by a host of names, including gill-over-the-ground and run-away-robin. It’s a member of the mint family, and young leaves bring an almost bitter, minty flavor to dishes. Eat young leaves raw in salads or on sandwiches for a tangy bite. Or cook like spinach and add to omelets, soups or casseroles. Harvest older leaves for brewing medicinal teas. Historically, creeping Charlie leaves have been used to brew beer, acting like hops to clear, flavor and enhance keeping qualities.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus)
The blue and lavender toned blooms of this weed are familiar faces along roadsides. Flowers, buds, leaves and roots are edible. Add blooms and young leaves to salads for a gourmet pick-me-up, or try pickled flower buds. Roots can be boiled and eaten, but harvest them before the stalks appear and boil them with several water changes. Otherwise, they’re bitter. Dried and roasted, roots are often ground to add to coffee or even used as a coffee substitute.
Cattail (Typha latifolia)
These denizens of the water’s edge were actually a staple food in the diet of many Native American tribes. Nearly every piece of a cattail is edible. The trademark brown cattail portion can be harvested in early summer and eaten like corn on the cob. It has a corn flavor. Boil leaves like spinach, and the white part of the stem base can be eaten raw or boiled. Roots or rhizomes offer a crunch. Munch them raw or boil them.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Also known as lamb’s lettuce, goosefoot or pigweed, lamb’s quarters is an effective stand-in for spinach—raw or cooked. Harvest young leaves and shoots only; older leaves can be tough. For best flavor, harvest from plants under 12 inches tall. A real taste treat is creamed lamb’s quarters. It’s also delightful in a wilted salad.
American Cress (Barbarea verna)
Also known as land cress or winter cress, American cress bears many similarities to watercress, which sells for a few dollars a bunch at the grocery store. This edible weed plants itself and is free for the picking. The leaves can substitute for either spinach or watercress in food preparation. Leaves taste peppery raw, but are mild and sweet when cooked. Prepare as part of a stir-fry, or cook like any traditional green. Cress is packed with vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron.
Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)
This little weed can be the bane of dormant warm-season lawns, showing up bright green above the dormant turf. Use wild garlic like onions or chives. Chop and sprinkle over dishes like scallions, or add to salads and sandwiches. Combine with basil to make a flavorful pesto. Wild garlic shoots tend to be thin, so you’ll need to harvest a handful for seasoning family-size dishes.
Plantain (Plantago major)
Leaves taste best when they’re young and offer high levels of calcium and vitamins A and C. Eat young leaves raw in salads, or boil like cooked greens. Plantain leaves also work well steamed. Prep leaves like any tough green (think kale). Blanch leaves first and then saute in butter with garlic for a yummy treat. As they age, leaves tend to become bitter and stringy. Chew a leaf of plantain to a paste and apply to insect stings for instant relief and to prevent swelling.
Rose (Rosa spp.)
One of gardening’s most beloved and recognized flowers is also edible. Which roses taste best? Use fragrance as a guide. The more fragrance a rose has, the more flavor it has. Pink and yellow roses offer the best flavor. Harvest roses after dew dries. Use immediately or refrigerate until use. Dig into recipes and you’ll discover that rose petals can flavor ice cream, drinks, sauces, cake frosting—all kinds of desserts. Avoid using roses from florists or even ones from your garden if you use systemic pesticides.