Your yard is probably full of edible weeds throughout the year. Here are 16 common weeds you can eat, plus recipes for how to use them! 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. Take advantage of weeds in your garden by harvesting them for nutritious treats. Try these purslane recipes, and learn about more edible garden weeds.
16 common edible weeds growing in your yard… with recipes!
Perhaps the simplest definition of a weed is a plant growing in a place where a human doesn’t want it.
Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”
In practical terms, weeds are often non-grass species of plants growing in a lawn where grass is the only plant desired. What a shame!
Pickled wild garlic (Allium vineale). Wild garlic is a common weed found in lawns throughout the US.
Personally, we retract in horror when we see an all-grass lawn. Why?
We think grass lawns are one of the most absurd, ecologically rapacious landscape designs imaginable. Rather than use space in this article ranting about all-grass lawns, you can read our musings on this subject here: The new American lawn: monoculture grass farm or organic food farm.
Are weeds edible?
Many common weeds are edible. Other weeds are edible (and maybe even medicinal) but they don’t taste good. Still other weeds are poisonous.
Thus, learning is required before you start eating wild plants…
Before you become a weed eater (ha), a few warnings:
We strongly encourage you to read our article Beginner’s guide to foraging, 12 rules to follow. Perhaps the two most important rules to follow when it comes to eating weeds is:
- Always make 100% certain you’ve correctly ID’d the plant and you’re 100% certain it’s edible.
- Be 100% certain that the plant has not been sprayed by herbicides or other biocides.
Not all edible weeds are worth eating
In this article, we’re not going to outline all the edible plants that you’re likely to find in your yard. For instance, you can technically eat grass and clover, but they’re not very tasty. You can make and eat acorn flour, but oak trees aren’t a “weed.”
Instead, we’ll do our best to identify a list of the most common and useful edible weeds that you’re likely to have growing in your yard at some point during the year.
16 common edible weeds growing in your yard
The common edible weeds below are listed alphabetically:
Edible weed #1. Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is neither harry nor bitter. It’s texture is smooth and it has a pleasant, mustardy flavor.
Bittercress edible parts/uses:
The leaves, flowers, and seeds of bittercress are all edible.
Bittercress is a dainty, cold weather plant that tastes like a mustard green (it’s in the same plant family as mustard). We often use it as a garnish or in mixed green winter salads.
Bittercress is common in warm-mild states throughout the US. Bittercress is absent only in the coldest, northernmost states.
Bittercress harvest/growing season:
Bittercress grows from fall-spring, going to seed as soon as the weather warms in the spring.
Edible weed #2. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
A handful of late winter chickweed. Chickweed is also one of our ducks’ absolute favorite greens, yet another reason we love this edible weed.
Chickweed edible parts/uses:
The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of chickweed plants are edible. (See: How to identify and eat chickweed.)
Chickweed leaves taste like corn silk. Chickweed is one of our favorite edible weeds, because: 1) our ducks enjoy it even more than we do, 2) it grows in dense, lush patches which makes harvesting large quantities of chickweed easy.
Chickweed grows in every US state.
Chickweed harvest/growing season:
Chickweed thrives in cool-cold weather. It grows from fall – spring in our area (Zone 7b), seeding out and dying as the weather warms in late spring.
Edible weed #3. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale and Taraxacum erythrospermum)
A syrphid fly foraging a dandelion flower.
Dandelion edible parts/uses:
Every part of the dandelion plant is edible: leaves, flowers, and roots.
- Leaves – Dandelion is a nutritional powerhouse, but many people object to its bitter-flavored leaves. For best taste, pick the leaves when the plant is still young and before it begins producing flowers. Rather than eating an entire dish of dandelion leaves, use them as an accent. For instance, add them to a soup. Or use the leaves in a mixed green salad with a honey-vinaigrette dressing.
- Flowers – Dandelion flowers are used to make wines and jellies.
- Roots – Dandelion roots are typically used to make a tea, due to its medicinal benefits.
(we’re dying to making this)
Dandelion grows in every US state.
Dandelion harvest/growing season:
Dandelion greens/leaves are best harvested in late winter-early spring before the plant blooms. Flowers are harvested spring – summer. Roots can be harvested any time.
Edible weed #4. Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)
Young dead nettle in one of our rock walls. The leaves on young dead nettle plants are green. They don’t begin to blush purple until they mature.
Dead-nettle edible parts/uses:
The leaves, stems, and flowers of purple dead-nettle plants are edible.
Dead-nettle leaves and flowers have a grassy, slightly mushroomy taste, although the flowers’ nectaries add a bit of sweet. Use dead-nettle in mixed-green salads or in dishes that call for cooked greens.
Dead-nettle grows in all but a handful of US states. (Only the driest hottest southwestern and the driest coldest northwestern states are absent of dead-nettle.)
Dead-nettle harvest/growing season:
Dead-nettle is a cool weather plant that emerges and blooms as soon as the ground thaws in late winter through early spring. It’s a great source of food for early-emerging pollinators as well.
Edible weed #5. Dock (Rumex crispus – curly dock and Rumex obtusifolius – broad-leaved dock)
Curly-leafed dock (Rumex crispus).
Dock edible parts/uses:
The leaves of dock plants are edible.
Though dock’s large taproots look like they’d be edible, they’re unpleasantly bitter and fibrous. The roots are used medicinally, but not for culinary purposes.
In our area, dock can grow into an enormous plant. Above ground leaves stretch to 2′ tall and parsnip-like tap roots grow over 3′ deep, especially when growing in rich soil.
(Greek-style stuffed leaves)
Dock can be found in nearly every US state.
Dock harvest/growing season:
Dock is best harvested in cool/cold weather. The leaves have a mild, tangy-spinach flavor when the weather is still cold. As the weather warms and the plant begins growing quickly/producing a flower stalk, the leaves become more bitter and fibrous.
Edible weed #6. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
It’s late April, so the henbit in our area is pretty much gone when this photo was taken. This patch isn’t in great shape but you can still see the leaf shape, flower color/structure, and square stem.
Henbit leaves, stems, and flowers are edible. Henbit is in the mint family, but doesn’t taste at all like mint. It’s closely related to dead-nettle (#4 on this list).
Henbit offers a similar taste to dead-nettle: grassy and mushroomy. In other areas of the country, people describe henbit’s flavor as having notes of celery and pepper. Perhaps our henbit’s flavor is different due to our particular subspecies or terroir.
- substitute henbit in dead-nettle recipes from #4 on this list
- add henbit leaves and flowers to mixed green salads
Henbit grows in every US state.
Henbit is one of the earliest plants to flower in late winter – early spring, depending on where you live. For us, henbit is at peak from February – March, and gone by April.
Edible weed #7. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Japanese honeysuckle flowers. My mom lives on the coast in Mt. Pleasant, SC, a much warmer climate zone than where we live at the base of the mountains in Greenville, SC. Mom always makes sure to send me pictures of her garden and foraging hauls, which helps to rub in the fact that she gets earlier harvests than we do. She’s making our sparkling honeysuckle cordial recipe with these flowers (see recipe below).
Japanese honeysuckle edible parts/uses:
The flowers are the only edible part of Japanese honeysuckle plants. Honeysuckle nectar tastes every bit as good as the flowers smell.
Hopefully, you have childhood memories of slurping drops of nectar off of the pulled stamens of honeysuckle flowers. If not, you should be angry at your parents for making you miss out on this essential childhood rite.
We’ve got good news: as an adult, you can now easily capture the exquisite flavor of honeysuckle with our honeysuckle flower cordial recipe below.
Recipe: Sparkling honeysuckle cordial
- Honeysuckle flowers, organic cane sugar, water (preferably non-chlorinated), citric acid (or lemon juice)
- Gather a bunch of honeysuckle flowers, doing your best to keep the whole flower intact.
- Measure the quantity of lightly packed honeysuckle flowers (for instance 1 cup), then place flowers in glass jar/container.
- For each cup of honeysuckle flowers, add 1 cup sugar, 3 cups water, and 1 teaspoon citric acid. (Substitute a couple tablespoons lemon juice if you don’t have citric acid.)
- Cover the jar with a paper towel or cheese cloth, held in place with a rubber band or string.
- Vigorously stir the concoction at least twice per day with a spoon.
- After 5-7 days, the mixture will be bubbly/effervescent and the flowers will have released all their honeysuckle flavor. Strain off flowers.
- It’s now up to you as to when to stop the fermentation process. For a sweeter honeysuckle cordial, store in bottles in fridge immediately after straining. For a “dryer” (less sweet) honeysuckle cordial, continue to stir daily for up to 10-14 days so more of the sugar will be consumed.
- Once bottled and refrigerated, honeysuckle cordial can last for up to 1 year. Don’t store bottles out of the fridge or the bottles can explode (refrigeration keeps the cultures dormant which reduces CO2 production).
Japanese honeysuckle range:
Japanese honeysuckle is considered an invasive plant. It has now spread to all US states with the exception of some states in the northwest and midwest.
Japanese honeysuckle harvest/growing season:
Harvest honeysuckle flowers from spring through summer. Due to the plant’s invasive growth habit, consider removing honeysuckle from your yard to prevent its spread and forage the flowers elsewhere.
Edible weed #8. Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album and Chenopodium berlandieri)
Lamb’s quarters about to be made into pesto. Lamb’s quarters may be my favorite edible weed since it’s a summer green that produces large quantities of leaves on giant plants.
Lamb’s quarters edible parts/uses:
All parts of the lamb’s quarter are edible: leaves, seeds, and flower shoots.
Closely related to quinoa, lamb’s quarters were one of the most important Native American crops. They’re highly nutrient-rich, offer flavorful greens in the middle of the summer when most leafy greens have long since disappeared, and produce a protein-rich seed/pseudocereal harvest as well.
Lamb’s quarter leaves taste like nutty spinach. Another great feature is the plant’s size: we’ve had lamb’s quarters plants grow over 6′ tall!
Lamb’s quarters recipes:
- use lamb’s quarters leaves as a substitute in any spinach recipe
Lamb’s quarters range:
Lamb’s quarters grow in every US state except for Hawaii.
Lamb’s quarters harvest/growing season:
Lamb’s quarters grow in the warm months from spring – summer, before going to seed in late summer/early fall. Place a bag over the mature wind-pollinated seed heads if you want to harvest their seeds.
Edible weed #9. Pigweed Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.)
Pigweed amaranth edible parts/uses:
All parts of pigweed amaranth are edible: leaves, flower shoots, and seeds.
It seems only fitting that pigweed amaranth be next on the edible weed list after lamb’s quarters. Both plants are in the Amaranthaceae family, both were important Native American crops, and both are hated by modern US farmers.
In fact, farmers’ and pesticide companies’ attempts to eradicate pigweed has taken quite an environmental and economic toll. After decades of chemical and biological warfare, pigweed is now resistant to virtually every type and combination of herbicide that has been thrown at it, from dicamba to glyphosate to 2,4-D.
While we certainly empathize with farmers trying to make a profit, one has to scratch their heads at the wisdom of poisoning entire ecosystems in order to kill a traditional food crop that develops resistance to whatever poison you throw at it in order to plant a different food crop (or cotton).
In your home landscape, we’d encourage you to eat your pigweed amaranth weeds, rather than poisoning them (and yourself).
Pigweed amaranth recipes:
- use young tender pigweed leaves as a salad green
- use older pigweed leaves as substitute for spinach in cooked/baked recipes
Pigweed amaranth range:
There are dozens of species of pigweed amaranth, varying by region. Pigweed can be found in every US state.
Pigweed amaranth harvest/growing season:
Like lamb’s quarters, pigweed is a warm weather crop. Raw leaves are best eaten young and tender; older leaves are better cooked. Pigweed flower shoots can be sautéed or stir-fried. Pigweed seeds can be harvested by either cutting entire plant and hanging it upside down over a bucket or placing bags over the mature seed heads.
Edible weed #10. Plantain (Plantago spp.)
A young narrowleaf plantain plant breaking dormancy in late winter.
Plantain edible parts/uses:
Plantain produces edible leaves and flower/seed heads. The leaves have a strong “greens” flavor and are best eaten young. The flower/seed heads have a pleasant mushroom-like flavor and should be eaten when they’re young for best flavor and texture.
The most common wild plantains are narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). Both produce edible leaves and flower/seed heads. Both species grow wild in our yard.
The best plantain for culinary purposes is ‘Buck’s horn’ (Plantago coronopus), which we also grow in our garden.
Buckshorn plantain leaves and edible flower head.
Another great benefit of plantains: nothing works better to dull the pain of a fire ant or bee sting (at least for The Tyrant and me). We chew up a plantain leaf and plop it on the sting. The pain subsides almost instantly.
Plantain (Plantago spp) can be found in every US state.
Plantain harvest/growing season:
Plantain offers the best flavor in cool – cold weather from fall through spring. Our wild plantain usually dies back to the ground after heavy freezes, then re-emerges in the spring. Our domesticated ‘buckshorn’ plantain grows straight through our relatively mild winters, even without cover/low tunnels.
Seed shoots emerge as the weather warms in late winter through spring, and should be harvested while still firm and dense.
Edible weed #11. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane edible parts/uses:
The leaves, flowers, and seeds of purslane are edible. Purslane doesn’t pack a ton of flavor, but the flavor is mild and pleasant, not unlike lettuce. Purslane is a succulent, so it adds wonderful texture to various raw dishes (our favorite way to eat purslane is raw).
Like grass-fed beef and eggs from truly free-range ducks/chickens, purslane packs a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. Purslane is also very high in Vitamins E and C.
Chickens purportedly love purslane. Our ducks, unfortunately, don’t seem to care for it. More for us.
Purslane can be found in every US state.
Purslane harvest/growing season:
Purslane thrives in poor soil. One of the unfortunate side effects of building our soil health over the years is that many edible weeds that grow in poor/degraded soil (like purslane) no longer grow in our yard, so we have to forage them.
Purslane seeds germinate in the spring and the leaves and flowers can be harvested vigorously throughout the summer.
Edible weed #12. Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep sorrel leaves have a distinctive arrowhead shape. Domesticated garden sorrel produces much larger leaves.
Sheep sorrel edible parts/uses:
Sheep sorrel leaves, stems, and flower shoots are edible. Sheep sorrel tastes like lemons and can even be used to make “lemon pies.” When I was a kid, I loved chewing on the young flower stems of sheep sorrel, which also impart a nice lemony flavor.
Like many other edible plants, sheep sorrel has high concentrations of oxalic acid, so people with kidney conditions should avoid eating large quantities of it at once.
As you may have noticed from its scientific name, sheep sorrel is closely related to dock (#5 on this edible weeds list) in the Rumex genus. We love sheep sorrel (and related garden sorrel) so much, that we have another article all about how to grow and use sorrel.
Sheep sorrel recipes:
Sheep sorrel range:
Sheep sorrel grows in every US state.
Sheep sorrel harvest/growing season:
Sheep sorrel goes dormant in the winter and bounces to life in the spring, spreading rapidly via underground runners and seeds. The leaves are best harvested in the late winter – spring before the plants produce flower stalks.
Sheep sorrel stems are best eaten when they’re still young and tender and can be pinched off with your fingernails. Older stems are more fibrous and can’t easily be snapped off by hand – at this stage they’re not very good for eating.
Edible weed #13. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle growing in late winter at Tyrant Farms, the perfect time to harvest.
Stinging nettle edible parts/uses:
The young leaves and growth shoots of stinging nettle are edible.
Stinging nettle is the bane of many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts’ existence. Yes, it packs a painful sting, but it’s also a delicious high protein superfood that’s loaded with nutrition.
Once cooked or fermented, stinging nettle loses its stinging ability and becomes a delicious vegetable. Pulverizing raw stinging nettle in a blender with citrus juice also neutralizes the sting (even without cooking it).
We love stinging nettle so much, we intentionally planted this fast-growing “weed” into a section of our garden where it can’t easily escape. Read: Why and how to grow stinging nettle in your garden.
Stinging nettle recipes:
Stinging nettle range:
Stinging nettle can be found in every state except for Hawaii.
Stinging nettle harvest/growing season:
Stinging nettle is one of the first plants to break dormancy once the ground thaws in winter/spring. You can harvest stinging nettle aggressively from the time it emerges until warm weather triggers the plant to go to seed.
Tender young leaves and growth tips (including tender new stems) are best.
Edible weed #14. Thistle (Cirsium horridulum and others)
Thistle edible parts/uses:
The roots, leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds of most thistle species are edible.
There are dozens of species of thistle, but farmers and ranchers tend to hate them all. Most homeowners with manicured lawns hate thistle too.
Did you know that artichokes (bred for their edible flower buds) and cardoons (bred for their edible stems) are types of thistle? Or that seeds from the milk thistle plant make a delicious tea that has been used to treat liver conditions?
A veterinary pharmacist we met told us, “I’ve seen animals on the brink of total liver failure come back after addition of supportive therapy and milk thistle.” Silymarin is the primary flavonoid in milk thistle seeds believed to offer medicinal benefits.
While some thistle species are better than others for eating, chances are the thistle growing in your yard has multiple edible parts — and potentially even medicinal benefits. Another thistle benefit: there are about 60 species native to the US and pollinators LOVE their gorgeous, nectar and pollen-rich flowers.
- Milk thistle seed tea: grind ~1 tablespoon of milk thistle seeds; let powdered seeds steep in near-boiling water for 5-10 minutes; strain, sweeten and serve.
- Recipes for other parts of the milk thistle plant can be found here
There are species of thistle found in every US state.
Thistle harvest/growing season:
Thistle emerges from seed as soon as the ground thaws and produces tall flower stalks with gorgeous showy pink flowers from spring – summer. Thistle plants are very spiny, so wear thick gloves when harvesting or processing the plant.
- Thistle roots can be dug and roasted.
- The midrib of younger thistle leaves is best; compost the spiny outer edges.
- Thistle flowers make great sun teas and ferments.
- The centers of young thistle stems taste like cardoons.
- Thistle seeds are ground and made into delicious teas that taste creamy and nutty.
Edible weed #15. Wild garlic (Allium vineale)
Cleaned wild garlic ready for the kitchen.
Wild garlic edible parts/uses:
The bulbs, leaves, bulbils, and flowers of wild garlic are edible.
Wild garlic grows prolifically in the southeastern US where we live. It looks similar to wild onion, aka Canada onion (Allium canadense) which also grows in most of the US. Not surprisingly, wild garlic tastes more like garlic whereas wild onions taste more like… (you guessed it) onions.
We like pickled wild garlic bulbs and pickled wild garlic bulbils (the bulbils make an exotic and beautiful garnish). Wild garlic also makes an excellent addition to soups, stocks, stews, and other savory cooked dishes.
Wild garlic recipes:
- Pickled wild garlic – Dig or pull wild garlic bulbs. Clean thoroughly and remove roots. Place in jar with your favorite brine recipe, then refrigerate. Let sit for at least one month before eating for best flavor/texture. (gnocchi-like dumplings)
- Chop and add wild garlic bulbs and leaves with any wild mushrooms (like morels – yum!)
Wild garlic range:
Wild garlic grows in the eastern and western US. There’s a band of states in the middle of the country, from the Dakotas down to Texas, where wild garlic is seldom if ever found.
Wild garlic harvest/growing season:
Wild garlic grows year round in our area. The bulbs are best dug in either late winter (before the plant has started putting energy into leaf growth) or fall (after a full growing season). The leaves can be eaten any time. Wild garlic bulbils/flowers can be harvested in spring.
Edible weed #16. Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Wood sorrel shoot with flowers. A gorgeous edible weed that tastes like lemons!
Wood sorrel edible parts/uses:
The leaves and flowers of wood sorrel are edible.
Wood sorrel looks very similar to clover. It shares a common name with sheep sorrel and garden sorrel, and it even has the same lemony flavor. However, wood sorrel is not closely related to either of these plants.
There are innumerable species of wood sorrel in our bioregion alone, and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We see wood sorrel with multicolored leaves. We see it with pink leaves and yellow leaves; small, dainty plant habits and mounding plant habits.
Regardless of how it grows, it makes a Vitamin-C packed edible plant with a distinctly citrusy flavor. It’s also a stunningly beautiful garnish that gourmet chefs should pay more attention to.
Wood sorrel recipes:
Wood sorrel range:
Wood sorrel grows in every US state.
Wood sorrel harvest/growing season:
Wood sorrel is dormant in the winter, but abundant in all other seasons.
Foraging books and more weed recipes
Want to take your foraging and weed-eating game to the next level? Get loads of great recipes and wild ideas about how to eat wild food?
Good recipe and foraging books if you want to make “eating the weeds” a regular part of your life.
Here are a few great books we recommend you add to your collection:
by Mia Wasilevich; by Pascal Baudar; by Rob Connoley by Marie Viljoen
Lastly, we hope our list of 16 edible weeds will have you looking at your yard the same way you look at a produce section in the grocery store.
Even if you’re not an intentional gardener, chances are your yard is full of wild edible plants — assuming you don’t treat your landscape like a chemical warfare battlefield. Once you learn to identify your edible weeds, you’ll be able to incorporate loads of new veggies into your seasonal diet!
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.
16 Edible Weeds: Dandelions, Purslane, and More
Weeds are widely believed to be a gardener’s arch-enemy. They stifle crops, steal water, hog sunlight, and create what some deem an eyesore in otherwise impeccably groomed flowerbeds and lawns. They’re not all bad, though: Edible weeds, it turns out, are exceedingly useful.
Instead of burning your abundance of dandelions, chickweed, or wild amaranth—or worse, spraying them with toxic weedkiller—take the zero-waste approach and repurpose them into dandelion tea, amaranth seed polenta, or chickweed pesto.
Here are 16 edible weeds and how to incorporate them into your diet.
Do not eat any plant unless you have identified it with certainty. Steer clear of plants that grow near roads and railroad tracks and of those that could have been sprayed with garden chemicals.
Though they can ruthlessly invade flower beds and vegetable gardens, weeds are wonderful in other ways. They can be remarkably attractive—particularly the chipper yellow pom-pom blooms of the dandelion and the dainty, daisylike flowers of chickweed—and you have to commend them for their tenacity, as they seem to thrive even in the least hospitable places.
What Are Weeds?
A weed is any wild plant that’s undesirable in its setting—usually a human-controlled setting—whether that be a garden, lawn, farm, or park.
The term “weed” is in itself so relative that its definition is ever-changing. Historically, weeds have been associated with invasive plants, but research within the past couple decades has revealed that many species regarded as weeds today evolved from domestic (i.e., native) ancestors. Their defining quality is, therefore, undesirability: They’re either unpleasant to look at or pose some sort of biological threat.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
The quintessential weed, dandelions are rich in vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins. Every part of this flowering herb, from the roots to the bright-yellow blossoms, can be eaten raw or cooked.
Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any point in the growing season, and while the youngest leaves are considered to be less bitter and more palatable raw, the bigger leaves make delightful salad additions. If raw dandelion leaves don’t appeal to you, they can also be steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup, which can make them taste less bitter. The sweet and crunchy flowers can be eaten raw or breaded and fried. Use them to make dandelion wine or syrup. The root of the dandelion can be dried and roasted and used as a coffee substitute or added to any recipe that calls for root vegetables.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Purslane is a heat-loving succulent that has fleshy, jadelike leaves and grows in small clusters low to the ground. It thrives in harsh environments, like in sidewalk cracks and in gravel driveways. The humble garden weed is a nutritional powerhouse, outrageously rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Purslane has a sour, salt-and-peppery taste similar to spinach, and it can be used in much the same way as the more mainstream leafy green. Add it to salads, sandwiches, and stir-fry, or use it as a thickener for soups and stews. It has a crispy texture, and the leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. When cooking purslane, be sure to sauté it gently and not for long, as overcooking it can create an unappetizing slimy texture.
Clover’s spherical flowers and supposedly lucky leaves are a common food source for honeybees and bumblebees, but they make great additions to human meals, too. There are several types of clover, the most common being red clover (which grows tall) and white clover (which spreads outward). Both are rich in protein, minerals, and carbohydrates.
Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be chopped into salads or sautéed and added to dishes for a green accent. The flowers of both red and white clover can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for clover tea.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters, also known as goosefoot, is loaded with fiber, protein, and vitamins A and C. The plant can grow up to 10 feet—although it normally doesn’t—and produces oval or triangular leaves with serrated edges. One of its most identifiable features is the pop of blue-green at the top of the plant.
Though it has a cabbagelike taste, this weed is commonly used as a replacement for spinach. Its young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or it can be sautéed or steamed and used anywhere spinach would be used. Its seeds, which resemble quinoa, can be harvested and eaten, although it takes a lot of patience to gather enough to make it worthwhile as a main dish.
Not to be confused with the tropical fruit of the same name, this common weed is made up of a nutritious mix of minerals, fatty acids, vitamin C, carotenes (antioxidants), nitrate, and oxalic acid. Plantain can be identified by its large, oval leaves that surround tall spikes sometimes covered in white flowers.
The young leaves of the plantain can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, and while the older leaves can be a bit tough, they can also be cooked and eaten. The seeds of the plantain, which are produced on the distinctive flower spike, can be cooked like a grain or ground into flour. Check with your doctor before consuming plantain while pregnant.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed is a broadleaf weed belonging to the carnation family. It has small, white flowers, each containing five split petals (appearing as 10 petals), and it grows in clusters on hairy stalks. Chickweed is a resilient plant that may appear on roadsides or riverbanks and can thrive in just about any soil type. It’s rich in vitamins A and C and contains about as much calcium as dandelions.
Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw—added to sandwiches and salads or ground into a pesto—or cooked. The plant has a grassy, spinachlike taste.
Chickweed can look very similar to radium weed, a poisonous plant that grows in similar conditions, so consult an experienced forager before picking and consuming chickweed.
Mallow, or malva, is also known as cheeseweed because its seed pods resemble a wheel of cheese. It shares a family with cotton, okra, and hibiscus, and apart from its distinguishing seed pods—also called “nutlets”—you can identify it by its funnel-shaped flowers, each with five petals and a column of stamens surrounding a pistil. This hardy plant can grow almost anywhere—even in harsh, dry soil conditions.
Mallow’s leaves, flowers, and seed pods can be eaten raw or cooked. Both the leaves and flowers have a very mild taste that’s often more tender and palatable in juvenile plants. Older leaves and flowers are best steamed, boiled, or sautéed. Mallow is high in vitamins A and C, protein, and carotenoids.
Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus)
Wild amaranth—or “pigweed”—leaves are another great addition to any dish that calls for leafy greens. While the younger leaves are softer and tastier, the older leaves can also be cooked like spinach.
Displaying either green or red leaves and small, green flowers in dense clusters at the top of the plant, wild amaranth has been cultivated since ancient times. The Romans and Aztecs reportedly regarded it as a staple food.
Wild amaranth seeds can also be gathered and cooked just like store-bought amaranth, either as a cooked whole grain or as a ground meal. It does take a bit of time to gather enough seeds to make a meal of them, but it’s worth the work, as they’re packed with 16% protein.
Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
Curly dock is an oft-overlooked plant that has slender, rigid leaves and tall flower spikes packed with flowers and seeds. The plant contains more vitamin C than oranges, which means it’s also high in oxalic acid. Consuming more than 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day could lead to a buildup of oxalate in your kidneys.
The leaves can be eaten raw when young, or cooked and added to soups when older. In younger plants, foliage is less curly and leaves are round and broad. Mature plants develop stems whereas leaves emerge right from the root when young.
The leaves taste tart and spinachlike. Because of their high oxalic acid content, it’s often recommended to change the water several times during cooking. Newly-emerged stems can be peeled and eaten either cooked or raw, and the mature seeds can be boiled, eaten raw, or roasted to make a coffee substitute.
Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)
Wild garlic is ubiquitous throughout Europe, but this favorite foraging find is also widespread among the damp woodlands of the eastern U.S. and Canada. It’s so abundant, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers it a “noxious weed,” or one that could be harmful to the environment or animals. It’s not, however, harmful to humans, who typically love stumbling upon a blanket of its signature long, pointed leaves and white flowers sprawled beneath the trees.
Wild garlic tastes like garlic, of course, only grassier. The flavor is milder than the pungent aroma these plants put off (you’ll probably smell them before you see them). Every part of the plant is edible, from the bulbs to the seed heads. You can grind it into a pesto, add it raw to salads and sandwiches for a tangy kick, or sauté it and eat it plain. Wild garlic is higher in magnesium, manganese, and iron than bulb garlic.
Violet (Viola sororia)
Known for their heart-shaped leaves and delightful purple flowers that cover forest floors and stream banks come spring, wild violets are also called “sweet violets” on account of their sugary flavor. They’re often candied and used to decorate baked goods, turned into jam, made into syrups, brewed as a tea, or used as a garnish in salads. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and rich in vitamin C, but the roots and seeds are poisonous.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
A common winter weed in warm and mild regions of the U.S., hairy bittercress is a low-growing rosette that produces white, four-petaled spring flowers on a tall stem. The plant is part of the mustard family and has a sharp, peppery flavor similar to mustard greens or arugula.
It’s best eaten raw, either as a salad green or mixed into salsas and pestos, because cooking it can remove much of its flavor. Hairy bittercress leaves, seeds, and flowers can all be eaten, but the leaves are said to be the tastiest.
Hairy bittercress, like other plants in the mustard family, is high in antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and beta-carotene.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard is a highly invasive herb that has spread throughout much of North America since being introduced by European settlers in the 1800s. Every part of the plant—leaves, flowers, seeds, and stems—can be eaten, but harvesting them can be tricky.
Garlic mustard should be harvested while young because the shoots harden after a couple of years. They should be avoided in the summer, too, as the heat makes them taste bitter. Any other time, it has a spicy flavor similar to horseradish. It’s great as a chimichurri or a pesto—and it’s abundant in nutritional value. It’s high in fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper, iron, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
This highly invasive terrorizer of homes and gardens can be found throughout the Northeast and parts of the Northwest. It has heart-shaped leaves and produces little, white flower tassels in the summertime. It’s often compared to bamboo—partly because of its hollow shoots and partly because it, too, can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Despite its unfavorable reputation, it’s quite nutritious and tasty. The tart, crunchy, and juicy stems are often compared to rhubarb and turned into pie or chutney. Japanese knotweed is rich in antioxidants, vitamins A and C, manganese, zinc, and potassium.
This plant should be harvested while young, when the leaves are slightly rolled up and have red veins as opposed to being flat and green. Knotweed near roads should be avoided as it is often covered in herbicides. It would also be wise to incinerate scraps rather than composting them to prevent them from sprouting.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle, as its name suggests, “stings” by piercing skin with its hollow, needlelike hairs. As it makes contact, those hairs transmit chemicals to skin, causing an uncomfortable sensation and sometimes a rash. In other words, it’s not the first plant you’d think to reach for if you were hungry.
Nonetheless, stinging nettle is not only edible but also nutritious and tasty. It must be cooked or dried first—don’t attempt to eat the “stinging” leaves raw—but when prepared, it’s entirely harmless and tastes like tangy spinach. You can sauté stinging nettles, blend them into a soup, throw them on a pizza, or incorporate them into a dip. Stinging nettles, identifiable by their aggressive-looking hairs, are a great source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, sodium, and fatty acids. They should be harvested before they flower in late spring.
Sourgrass (Oxalis stricta)
Sourgrass is sometimes called lemon clover because it boasts a refreshing citrusy flavor. It’s commonly found growing in open meadows, lawns, and fields, or occasionally sprouting from sidewalk cracks. The most distinguishing feature of sourgrass is its three-season display of dainty, yellow blooms.
Without its signature sunshiny flowers, it looks a lot like clover. The difference is in the shape of the leaves: clover is oval-shaped and sourgrass is heart-shaped.
Lemon clover tastes sour and tart. It’s primarily eaten raw as an addition to salads, salsas, ceviche, sauces, and seasonings. It also makes a pretty and delicious seafood garnish. Sourgrass is high in vitamin C and oxalic acid, both of which could disrupt digestion if consumed in high doses, so this plant should be eaten only in small amounts.