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wild edible weed seeds

My own homemade knotweed mini pies. The filling includes 1 cup chopped knotweed, 1/4 cup sugar and a bit of cinnamon and allspice.

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?”

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

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 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.

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.

Consider the following weedy plants as food crops, and try a couple in your next vegetable garden. Amazingly, all of these are available as certified organic seeds.

Claytonia (Miner’s Lettuce) – Known also as Winter Purslane due to the succulence of its leaves and stems, this native west coast weed is actually sweet tasting, not tart like true purslane. It has such wonderful flavour that it really adds to salad mixes. Claytonia is quite cold hardy, which makes it one of the top candidates for winter harvest greens.

Most of the vegetables we eat on a regular basis are cultivated adaptations from some older source. A good example is broccoli, which is the very same species of plant as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi. All of these were bred over time from a common ancestor. The modern tomato, even in its various heirloom forms, is highly developed through generations of breeding from its original wild form. Plant breeding is in no way a bad thing — rather, it has given us a wealth of variety from a handful of sources. There are a minimum of 296 varieties of peas being grown for food in the world, and more than 4,000 types of potato.

One of the basic principles of cultivating good food crops is the removal of all plants that would compete for space, nutrients, light, and moisture: Weeds. These plants grow quickly and seem to spread like viruses. They can easily take over a neglected patch of soil in no time. But how many of these end up in the compost heap rather than the salad bowl? How many of these garden foes are actually edible, nutritious, versatile, and delicious? It turns out that lots of them are. Growing edible weeds can be easy and rewarding.

Dandelion – This plant hardly needs a description. Cultivated in good garden soil with a bit of balanced organic fertilizer, dandelions are delectable and nutritious. Eat the young leaves raw, or cook the mature leaves like spinach. Scatter the edible flower petals over salad, or collect the unopened buds (a lot of them are needed) for making dandelion wine. The bitter leaves are a rich source of iron and vitamins A, B1, B2, and C.