Edible weeds

Posted: Monday 13 May 2013
by Adam Pasco

I don’t like waste, so digging dandelions from the lawn last week got me thinking about the value of weeds.

I don’t like waste, so digging dandelions from the lawn last week got me thinking about the value of weeds. Dandelions are hardly the master of disguise, revealing their position in the lawn with brilliant yellow flowers. I used a long-bladed, old knife to loosen the roots of each rosette, and as I did, I noticed how lush the leaves were.

During my childhood, my Dad used to pick fresh, crisp dandelion leaves to add to salads. They had a strong, slightly bitter flavour – rich in iron if I remember rightly - and while not unpleasant, they were certainly an acquired taste.

Dandelions grow bigger, with longer leaves, in wild areas than they do in lawns, where mowing keeps them flat and close to soil level. Apparently, the French often eat them as a salad leaf, and why not? Dandelions develop a bitter taste as they mature, and particularly once they start flowering, so look for the young leaves if you fancy picking some for salad.

And what of other weeds? Earlier in the month, I was struck by glorious patches of nettles developing in rough areas, while walking the dog. Young nettle tips, picked well before plants start forming flower stems (with gloved hands) are tasty to eat. Wash them well, steam them like spinach, then top with a poached egg, sprinkled liberally with freshly ground pepper. Believe me, they are delicious.

Although I'm loathed for making space for nettles in my garden, the sight of large patches of them brings joy to my heart. These spiteful weeds are the perfect host for four of our native butterflies to lay their eggs on, including peacock, red admiral, comma and small tortoiseshell. Without nettles in your area, you're unlikely to enjoy adult butterflies visiting your garden.

Which other weeds could I welcome as food crops? Bittercress lives up to its name. It’s often inadvertently imported on the surface of compost of potted young plants, but I don’t make it welcome. It's a pest, albeit a tasty one.

Ground elder was the invasive thug we battled with in my childhood garden, though thankfully never in a garden since. I recently read that we have the Romans to thank for ground elder, they introduced it to provide fresh vegetables for troop and planted it along roadsides. An interesting account of ground elder on Herboristeria makes it sound like the perfect crop. Has anyone tried it? I did once, steamed like cabbage - it tasted disgusting. Perhaps I should try it again, but pick very young shoots and try them in salad instead.

A garden deliberately planted with weeds sounds a bit far fetched, but then again, why waste weeds if they're edible?

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biofreak 04/06/2013 at 17:59

I make Nettle Jelly every year, it is wonderful with roast lamb and also add it to Pecorino to make wonderful savoury scones.

Bookertoo 04/06/2013 at 18:10

Please, please give us the recipe if you would?  I have had nettle soup and it was lovely, the idea of nettle jelly sounds wonderful.

The dreaded ground elder was introduced as a pain killer and comfort for those suffering from gout, the Romans brought it here.  It is still quite effective as a tea - it was called Bishops Wort because only the bishops were thought to be rich enough to get gout from heavy eating!  Take a good large handful of the very youngest leaves, steep them in a mug of boiling water, drain well, sweeten with a little honey if you want, and drink.  It is harmless, and does have a slight sedative effect taken just before bed.  It doesn't taste delicious but is not revolting either, slightly cabbagy. 

Bookertoo 04/06/2013 at 18:11

A few young dandelion leaves make a nice addition to a green salad, but they will make you wee more than usual. 

biofreak 05/06/2013 at 14:01


1 kg d'orties, 1 citron, sucre

* Remplir une casserole avec 1 kg d'ortie, bien tassée.
* Couvrir d'eau , cuire en une décoction concentrée.
* Une fois cuite, presser les orties afin d'en extraire le jus.
* Peser le jus et ajoutez le même poids de sucre.
* Ajouter un jus de citron
* Cuire et mettre en pots.

Vous obtiendrez une confiture surprenante

A déguster sur du pain de campagne ou dans des gâteaux

biofreak 05/06/2013 at 14:18

Quick translation! 1Kg Nettles/1 Lemon/1Kg Sugar

Boil nettles/Sieve/Add lemon Juice plus Sugar and Voila make Jelly! Sorry it was in french. It's a good Norman recipe and I forgot to translate it!

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