Eat Your Weeds

I've been working on my program for the Madison, Wisconsin Herb Society, April 24, "Eat Your Landscape." For that program I'll focus on some of the surprising landscape plants useful for food, as well as a few native plants. I'll also put in a pitch for not using chemicals on the lawn. What good is an entire lawn of just boring, green grass, when all it does is cost you money for chemicals, and time mowing?

You may have heard me say before that I insist that the plants I grow to justify the space they occupy in my garden and landscape. Being edible is an instant justification. So the lawn, of just grass serves as open space, green grass and meditation time (me, sitting on the lawnmower). But I don't want just grass. I'd rather have a lawn full of wildflowers and edible plants, mixed in with the grass. Following here, are edible plants from my lawn. You might notice if I used lawn herbicides, none of these great spring flowers would exist.

This great little plant, chickweed, (first photo, above), is a money maker for the lawn chemical companies. You can buy the herbicide and spread it, and like magic, the plant turns yellow and dies. Mine does that, without chemicals. Once it blooms, as you see here, it sets seed, turns yellow and dies. Don't spray it. Mix it with some of the other plants that follow and cook like spinach. Or, just a plain, chickweed quiche. It also makes a good first-aid salve for insect bites.

The next plant, henbit, is the nightmare for those anal gotta-have-a-perfect, weed-free lawn guys. (Men, for some reason, when they retire, become obsessed about green grass in their front yard. I know men who physically dig individual dandelions, obsessed with just one "flaw" in their lawn. My theory is they've had a business, or worked for one, where they had control over people and events. Once retired, the only thing they really have control over, is their own lawn. The lawn reminds them, they've been put out to pasture!) Like chickweed, henbit dies on its own soon after flowering. Cook it with other greens and serve it with cornbread. It's best harvested before flowering for best flavor. Wild onions, seen here with both the tops and the bulbs, just adds seasoning. They're strong flavored but in a quiche, or a pot of greens, they're perfect. Those onions you buy in the store - those are just educated cousins of the wild ones.

To the pot of greens, you can add some dock,  seen below with the long, narrow leaves. Add that along with violet leaves. The flavor just gets better, the more you add. Dock should be picked when young, before it gets tough. The smaller, younger leaves are the best to use.

Then the dandelion, which isn't native to the U.S., but escaped here 2 or more centuries ago. An incredible wine can be made from the flowers, and I've described it as, "liquid sunshine." I gather the young leaves and add them to the greens pot, or to any of several dishes.

Fiddlehead ferns, though, are in a different category of wild plants. These tasty little morsels are too good for the greens pot. Rub off some of the fuzz with your thumb and forefinger, put a pat of butter in a saute pan and simmer for about 5 minutes, salt and serve. Or dip in a batter and fry. Stir fry in a dish with mushrooms and chicken. Make fritters. Or....fiddlehead soup, a real spring treat. Here's a recipe.

Then there are violets, the source for violet freezer jam I wrote about in the previous post. Whether it's the one pictured here, called, "Freckles" or the regular wild purple violets, the leaves are good enough to eat, too. Same uses as the plants above, greens, omelettes, quiches, pick the tenderest leaves and flowers for adding fresh to salads.

So there you have it, all the food from my lawn, all of which would not exist if I sprayed the lawn with chemicals that kill everything that isn't grass. I'll gather enough for several dishes before these helpful wildflowers are gone for the year. They justify their existence quite nicely, require no maintenance, and cost nothing to tend. All I have to do is look out the breakfast window at the lawn and be grateful for a non-perfect, wonderfully edible yard.

In my opinion, the very best field guide to edible wild plants, and the recipes for using them, is still Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. You can still find copies here.

Save money and chemicals, let your lawn go native this year and you will be rewarded with something other than boring, green grass. Free meals and a beautiful, natural lawn. Happy gardening!


Anonymous said...

dude, I have that chickweed all over my lawn, never knew what it was, or that you could eat it...so cool........so recipe?

mas said...

Everything you say is true. I use to spray my yard to kill these weeds but soon realized I wasn't doing the environment any good. Now I just let them go and after they bloom they just go away. I never have tried eating any of them but now I would like to try.

Judith said...

Our lawn started out as a grassy mixture,but over the years moss has largely taken over. I was a bit disappointed until my son's Japanese in-laws were visiting and were amazed and quite reverent about the moss. They even asked if it was okay to walk on it. So I agree, let it be, let it be.

Marty Ross said...

Hi Jim: Thanks for your comment on my Lowe's blog, I'm glad you found it! I knew you could eat chickweed but I didn't know you could eat henbit. Great idea; I know some places where it could be a cash crop. What about buttercups?
Have a great time in Madison, it's a cool town and there are some fun people there, including my sister. I hope you'll have time to go to Olbrich. M

compost in my shoe said...

So what is the best salad dressing on that chickweed.....the gods know I have plenty of it to much on!!!

Elyse said...

Were you taking pictures in my garden?? Glad to see this post - I've been preaching the same message. I LOVE chickweed - not only is it good to eat, but it's a great green manure or compost additive.
What you called henbit looks to me like purple deadnettle, are the top leaves a bit reddish? They're both Lamiums, but henbit has squater, rounder leaves and they're not fuzzy. Either way, I've also heard this called "fairy plant" (because the garden fairies love it), so I always hate to pull it, at least until it's done flowering and the bees are finished with it.
It's too much trouble for me to dig the onions (except the ones that pop up in my vegetable garden), so I just cut the tops and use them like scallions.
I've never eaten the dock, but I do love the dried seed heads in flower arrangements.

Garden to Table

Lindy said...

This is definitely one of your best posts. I am absolutely passionate about not spraying toxic poisonous chemicals on our Earth.

Thanks for the great rundown w/pics. on the wild, edible herbs and plants.


Deborah said...

Great post, Jim! I've referenced it in my own blog post about wild greens. Thanks for such good info and clear pics that make identifying the plants easy enough for anyone.


Jim Long said...

My favorite way of eating chickweed is to pick it young, before it's flowering much. Probably, although I've never tried it, you can prune it back and then harvest more of the new growth. But it's so vigorous, I just look for the most tender stands and use the scissors and just shear it off.
Then I wash it briefly and set aside. In a saucepan, I chop up some already cooked bacon, about 3 slices, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and some chopped onion or scallions and saute those until the onions are tender. Add the chickweed and about a half cup of water and simmer until tender. Drain off any excess water and sprinkle with 2 or 3 teaspoons of one of the following: apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Toss and serve as a side dish. Corn muffins are especially good with this, so are morel mushrooms.

Grumpy Gardener said...

Let me just say that on behalf of the O.M. Scott Company, you are in BIG trouble, Jim. Telling people to eat weeds, when they should be spraying and poisoning the hell out of them! Why don't you and your ilk move to Russia and eat their chickweed? Don't come near my yard, boy, unless you want some 2,4-D right in the face!

Jim Long said...

Yeah, but Grumpy, Scott's Co. pays you to say such things. You already drank the Kool-aid! lol

Carolyn's Designs said...

Hello Jim ,
This is the first time I've visited your site. I really enjoyed it.I always enjoy reading how people uses herbs (what other people calls weeds) .
I now have on my counter & table red clover & rose leaves drying !!
I make liniment also people says it works for them I know it helps me.
Thanks for sharing !

Roxanne said...

Hi Jim,
A friend just sent me a link to this blog. I agree with Elyse: that's not henbit but purple dead nettle. :-)
Been a fan of your articles in various magazines for years and bought your Dream Pillows book a number of years ago. Later this summer, once I have gathered/dried a generous supply of various herbs from my garden, I am going to do a dream pillow workshop at the assisted living home where my dad lives. I think the old folks will enjoy that.