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.
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.
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, there 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Need more inspiration? Here are 10 things to make with plantain.
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…
- Pickled Purslane ~ Homespun Seasonal Living
- Purslane Stew ~ Food52
- Purslane Dal (Lentil Curry) ~ Chef in You
Queen Anne’s Lace
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.
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:
- Potato, Leek and Nettle Soup ~ Adamant Kitchen
- Stinging Nettle Spanikopita ~ Learning and Yearning
- Nettle Omelet ~ Nourished Kitchen
- Stinging Nettle Pesto ~ Small Footprint Family
- Nettle Chips ~ Craft Invaders
- Stinging Nettle-Ade ~ Grow Forage Cook Ferment
- Nettle and Lemon Cake ~ Veggie Desserts
- Nettle Infusion ~ Nourished Kitchen
- Nettle Fruit Leather ~ Craft Invaders
Still need more inspiration? Check out these 40+ Ways to use Stinging Nettles.
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.
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.
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:
- Foraging and Using Yarrow
- Identifying and Using St. Johns Wort
- Winter Foraging ~ 50+ Wild Foods to Find in the Snow
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