In our culture, people often perceive weeds to be a nuisance. We pull weeds next to our gardens, in our yards, and the cracks of the driveways. But, wild weeds are resilient, they thrive without being watered or fertilized and they grow without being planted.
It’s time we change our perspective and appreciate what these resilient weeds have to offer. Let’s call them beautiful gifts instead of pesky burdens. Instead of spraying harmful chemicals on the weeds growing between cracks in the sidewalk, we can thank them for growing in disturbed areas and trying to repair the microbiomes. It is a common misconception that weeds are a hindrance that need to be removed, but in actuality, many weeds bring nutrients back to disturbed soil to make it sustainable for other species. We recognize that some weeds are invasive and can take over gardens, but many of them have an abundance of benefits.
At The Kiva Center, we’ve spent some time this semester teaching children how to forage and identify edible/medicinal plants. Most of the plants we’ve identified are wild weeds. There’s something so special about watching them talk to, harvest, and enjoy the wild weeds of the land. They’ve used the nutritious weeds to make green juice, salves, and teas. These are just some of the ways we can reap the benefits of wild weeds. This blog will take us through a journey of 5 different helpful and common wild weeds.
You may notice the little yellow flowers that pop up all over and turn into white puffy balls that spread seeds in the wind. These dandelions are usually the first flower of spring and awaken the pollinators out of hibernation. Just as the bees are drawn to these flowers, our taste buds crave their bitter taste and muscle toning properties. As spring begins, our bodies need bitter foods to help activate our digestive systems after cold months spent eating dense foods. It’s like the earth knows what we need, so it facilitates the quick growth of tasty bitters -dandelions. As our bodies need it, the earth provides it.
Dandelions deserve to be celebrated as every part of the wild weed is edible and medicinal. The roots and leaves contain many vitamins and minerals. The leaves are perfect in a salad and the roots can be roasted to make coffee or tea. The plentiful pollen in the flowers is nutrient-dense, it can be added to any meal to increase the nutrient content. Katrina Blair does a wonderful job highlighting the benefits of dandelions and other weeds in her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds. To summarize the beauty of dandelions she wrote: “Although it is important to be mindful of where we harvest the wild weeds, it is also very possible that a dandelion freshly harvested from the sidewalk crack of a city may have superior nutritional value than a commercially grown salad green sold in a store.”
Check out this recipe for dandelion fritters, a delicious way to satisfy your natural bitter cravings. Be quick! It’s peak time to harvest dandelions, you won’t want to miss out.
Plantain tends to grow in heavily trafficked areas, making it extremely accessible to humans in civilized regions. Fun fact: the Latin name for plantain (Plantago major) derives from “planta” which means “the sole of the foot”. This frequently stepped on and overlooked plant is packed with medicinal properties. Most plantain species are long and narrow (except broadleaf plantain) distinguishable by their veins that run all the way to the tip of each leaf. Plantain leaves come in handy when first aid is required. Katrina Blair explains it as “... an incredibly effective healer because of its ability to draw out toxins while at the same time tightening and toning tissues.”. For the perfect bee sting remedy - chew a plantain leaf to make a poultice and wrap it around the sting to alleviate pain and swelling. Plantain can also be used to relieve itching, stop bleeding, reduce fevers, and so much more.
On top of its many medicinal properties, the entire plantain plant is edible too. You can add the leaves to salads and the roots to soup to promote a healthy heart. It is packed full of potassium, making it particularly beneficial for the functioning of female organs as well. Looking for a healthy snack? Get outside and harvest some plantain leaves to incorporate into a delicious hummus. Check out this article for 10 fun and creative things to make with plantain.
Mallow is a perennial herb that often grows in neglected and disturbed areas like lawn edges and walkways. While mallow handles these compacted areas, it also makes the soil viable over time so other species can thrive. This highly adaptable plant can survive harsh climates from sea level to 10,000 feet elevation. Mallow leaves are circular with tiny jagged edges. They are known for their long petioles (the part between the leaf and stem) and slightly fuzzy texture. You can crush the mallow leaves and add to water to make a slimy mixture that’ll coat the mucous membranes and draw out toxins if you drink it. Similarly to plantain, apply it to your skin to relieve pain, itching, and swelling. Make a delicious mallow tea for muscle pain and tension headaches.
Tea isn’t the only tasty treat you can make with mallow. You can use mallow to make marshmallows and mallow mint ice cream. It’s gentle taste is packed with minerals and makes a great addition to any salad, soup, juice, etc. Since mallow is one of the first to grow in spring and last to leave in the fall, you have plenty of time to check out these fun recipes using mallow root.
Also known as curly dock, yellow dock, butter dock, this perennial plant has many medicinal and edible uses at each stage of life. Dock starts growing as a cluster of leaves that flourishes into a stalk reaching up to 2-5 ft tall. As the stalk flowers, it grows a plethora of seeds full of nutrition and dietary fiber. This high source of fiber makes it beneficial for our digestive systems. The roots contain the most medicinal properties. They have a diuretic effect that can help with bloating and urinary tract infections. The soothing effect of the roots can treat a variety of inflammatory skin conditions. For tips on harvesting dock roots check out this article.
Each part of dock can be used in a variety of recipes. The young leaves are the most delicious and taste like lemony spinach so they can be used to replace greens in any recipe, like this Mediterranean dock soup. If harvesting the leaves you want to do so during early spring because, when the plant matures oxalic acid in the leaves increases and can cause a burning sensation, headaches, and dizziness. The seeds can be used to make dock flour that you can use in many recipes like crackers, sponge bread, and brownies. Don’t like these recipes? Check out a Kiva Center original recipe below for curly dock pancakes.
Lambs Quarter is another resilient, annual plant that flourishes in disturbed soil. This nutrient dense plant is a great cover crop (plant grown to improve soil health) because it withstands cold weather… Lambs Quarter has a variety of looks - the stems range from silvery-green to reddish-purple and the average plant grows about 3ft tall. On top of the young leaves and the underside of its mature arrow-shaped leaves this plant has a unique whitish powder. This whitish color covers the plant’s flower clusters that produce as many as 100,000 seeds per plant, according to Katrina Blair.
The seeds are packed full of protein and can be cooked just like quinoa. Lambs Quarter’s high nutritional value makes it an incredible substitute for spinach. The leaves are rich in iron, when eaten raw they can heal anemic blood conditions. Before harvesting, make sure to try a leaf first to see if the taste is agreeable with your body. The leaves are most commonly enjoyed while they are younger, but each variety tastes different. Juice the leaves, sauté them, or chew them up for a poultice. Check out these recipes for a delicious dip and a hearty frittata. You can even turn lambs quarter into a shampoo!
As you can see, there are many wild weeds growing all around us that do so much more than take up space. They’re full of benefits for our bodies, especially our taste buds. While we want everyone to enjoy these wild gifts, it is important to know for certain what you are harvesting before you consume it. There are a variety or resources online you can use to help identify plants, such as these plant files. In addition, it's imperative to know if any herbicides or pesticides have been sprayed in the area. Most city governments have their chemical policies online.
We hope you view wild weeds in a positive light and are full of ways to appreciate their offerings.
In this blog we often cited The Wild Wisdom of Weeds by Katrina Blair - you can check out her book, recipes, and more on her website.