We've all been brainwashed by year-round grocery store food to prefer out-of-season watermelons and hothouse tomatoes shipped from Argentina to the nutritious, free deliciousness growing plentiful and untouched, waiting to be enjoyed by those willing to literally go back to the land. Honestly, though: you don't have to be an urban-foraging hippie to appreciate the edible greens and flowers that grow like weeds over most of North America. You know, because they're literally weeds. Delicious weeds, we swear.
Read on, and never go hungry on an afternoon chilling out in the park again. (Just consult local experts to make sure you know what you're eating won't harm or kill you. We don't want anyone going all Chris McCandless.)
Grab a bottle of dressing and go forth in search of free salad.
1. Curly Dock
Like rhubarb, curly dock is part of the buckwheat family: "the "curly" moniker comes from the wavy or crisped margins that often characterize the leaves and "sour" speaks to their pleasing, lemony flavor," writes Erica Marciniec of Eat The Invaders. This dark-green, leafy clusters are frequently sighted in the abandoned lots and empty fields bordering Denver, Colorado, where they can grow as high as three feet above the grass-line. The plants get bushier as the season goes on: pick them early to avoid bitter gnarliness, and cook them just like you would spinach.
Common in marshes and wetland habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, cattails, or bullrushes, are a forager's staple and a great survival food if you ever get lost in the woods. "The cattail rhizome is full of starch. In fact, no plants produces more edible starch per acre than the cattail.," writes Green Deane of Eat The Weeds (And Other Things, Too.) To harvest that tasty, tasty starch, clean the roots, then crush or cut them finely, before putting the bits in clean water. After the minced root sit in the water for at least five minutes, the starch will settle to the bottom. Carefully and slowly pour off the water to remove the extra fibre, then use it in pancakes, biscuits, or stir-fry.
3. Lamb's quarters
Lamb's quarters, according to Penn State's weed management handbook, is "one of the five most widely distributed plants in the world." According to Joan Richardson's Wild Edible Plants of New England, lamb's quarters also "outclass spinach as a storehouse of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin C, and great amounts of vitamin A, not to mention all the minerals pulled out of the earth by its strong taproot. It also lacks the puckishness of spinach." Recognize it by its whitish coating on the leaves, which is totally normal and can be washed off before eating raw or cooked like spinach or swiss chard. Here's a video on how to forage this super-common weed.
It seems sacrilegious to eat something this adorable; however, if you're into chowing down on delicate little blossoms, violets leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach, and the flowers either eaten raw, or candied, like they used to do in the nineteenth-century as a delicacy. Violets tend to blossom in the spring - but in warmer climates, you'll see them looking this good all the way until fall. Warning: don't eat the roots, which Green Deane of Eat The Weeds (And Other Things, Too) warns can "clean you out." Not so pretty.
Every homeowner knows these tenacious little yellow buggers - and their very ubiquity makes them one of the safest plants to forage wild. In addition to being easy to find, they're also great for you: half a cup of dandelions contains more calcium than a glass of milk, more iron than spinach, and surpasses carrots in Vitamin A content, if you eat the leaves. Harvest in spring to enjoy the sweetest flavour - and, as a bonus, send a menacing message to the rest of their yellow brethren about what'll happen to the next weed to infiltrate your precious lawn. Here are 16 delicious ways to dig in.