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.
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.
How to identify: Look for a droopy plant with small star-shaped flowers.
19. Lady’s Thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
Caution: Don’t consume borage seed oil without first speaking to your doctor.
How could something that smells like pineapple ever be considered a nuisance?
A perennial that pops up often in the wild, its leaves and roots are edible.
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.
Other than the occasional four-leafed clover hunt, this common lawn weed goes mostly unnoticed, even though it is becoming popular as a lawn replacement altogether. Clover is an important food for honeybees and bumblebees, and clover leaves and flowers can be used to add variety to human meals as well. Small amounts of raw clover leaves can be chopped into salads, or can be sauteed and added to dishes for a green accent, and the flowers of both red and white clover can be eaten raw or cooked, or dried for tea.
The quintessential garden and lawn weed, dandelions have a bad reputation among those who want grass that looks as uniform as a golf course, but every part of this common edible weed is tasty both raw and cooked, from the roots to the blossoms. 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 can be eaten as well, especially as an addition to a green salad. 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 flowers are sweet and crunchy, and can be eaten raw, or breaded and fried, or even used to make dandelion syrup or wine. 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.
This common lawn weed (not to be confused with the tropical fruit also called plantain) is not only a great medicinal plant that can be used topically to soothe burns, stings, rashes, and wounds, but is also a great edible green for the table. The young leaves of plantain can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sauteed, and while the older leaves can be a bit tough, they can also be cooked and eaten as well. The seeds of the plantain, which are produced on a distinctive flower spike, can be cooked like a grain or ground into a flour, and are related to the more well-known psyllium seeds, which are sold as a fiber supplement and natural laxative. Note that this is a medicinal plant, so be careful with it.
Although the edible weeds that you can find in your yard might be different ones than the ones I find in my yard, due to weather, soil conditions, and geography, here are some of the most common garden weeds that can be used for both meals and medicine.
The young shoots and leaves of Lamb’s Quarters (also known as goosefoot) can be eaten raw in any vegetable dish, or sauteed or steamed and used anywhere spinach is called for. The seeds of the Lamb’s Quarters, which resemble quinoa, can also be harvested and eaten, although it takes a lot of patience to gather enough to make it worthwhile as a main dish.
This rather unassuming garden weed can be harvested and used for both food and medicine. Chickweed leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten either raw or cooked, where it adds a delicate spinach-like taste to any dish. The plant can also be used as a topical poultice for minor cuts, burns, or rashes, and can be made into a tea for use as a mild diuretic.
But when a plant that we identify as being a weed is found growing in our lawn or garden, out comes the trowel and hoe (or for the ruthless and impatient gardeners, weedkillers such as RoundUp), and we may spend the entire growing season keeping these opportunistic and resilient plants at bay, in order to have neat and tidy garden beds and uniform lawns. And it’s too bad, really, as many of the common garden weeds are not only edible and nutritious, but can be a great homegrown (and free) addition to our meals.