Five Garden Weeds To Spruce Up Your Salad

perilla weed

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Has the heat killed your garden and left nothing but weeds?Then why not eat those weeds?

Last year at this time we reported on five healthy weeds likely growing in or near your yard: dandelion, plantain, purslane, lamb’s-quarters, and stinging nettles. Each one of these is a tasty powerhouse of nutrition.

Raw purslane, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, offers a perfect tart punch to any smoothie; lamb’s-quarters, one of the most nutritionally dense foods known, cooks in seconds in a stir-fry and has a nutty spinach taste.

The list of edible weeds doesn’t stop there, though.

Here are five more, as surprisingly tasty and nutritious as they are common, even in severe drought conditions.

Just be aware of air and soil quality of where you harvest, along with any allergies you might have to similar-looking or tasting foods.

Burdock

Daylily

Queen Anne's Lace

Also known as the wild carrot, Queen Anne's lace is in full bloom across much of 'temperate' North America, Europe and Asia right now. The white flower head is edible raw or lightly battered and fried. The seeds work well in soups and stews and can flavour tea, too.

If you catch these plants early enough, you can eat the roots and leaves. These are indeed wild carrots, the ancestor of all cultivated carrots. By the time the flower appears, though, the root is too woody to eat.

A few words of caution: Hippocrates prescribed the crush seeds as a form of birth control more than 2,000 years ago, and modern studies find some truth in the fact that the seeds and flower heads should be avoided by women pregnant or hoping to conceive. Also, to the untrained eye, Queen Anne's lace looks a little like poisonous hemlock, which will kill you in an hour if consumed. The latter has a hairless stem and doesn't smell like carrots. (I don't know what it tastes like.)

Mare's Tail

This vigorous crack-dweller has a dozen names, a sure sign that most people consider it unsightly and invasive. It is one of those 'oh, so that's what it is' kind of weeds. Also known as horseweed and, more properly, Conyza canadensis, the mare's tail is prolific in both rural and urban settings and will grow with hardly any water or soil straight and tall, up to 4 feet high. Again, that's a lot of food.

The leaves are most palatable when young. By midsummer, only the top foot or so of a 3-foot plant is tender enough to eat after a quick boil. They are peppery and, in fact, you can dry them as a spice. As with many dark, leafy greens, the plant is a decent source of calcium, potassium and other minerals.

And now for some Boy Scout trivia: Mare's tail is the weed of choice for making a fire via the drill-friction method. The very straight, hard stem rotates perfectly between the hands to make heat. What other plant can make the fire needed to cook it?

Perilla

A prized herb called shiso in Japan, perilla is yanked from backyards with resentment by many a Western gardener. Pity. This green- or red-leaf plant has a unique taste that is a cross between mint and fennel, is very high in vitamins A and C and sundry minerals, and can boost the immune system. The red-leaf version is sometimes called beefsteak.

Most agricultural websites treat perilla as an invasive weed, and for good reason. It is mildly toxic to horses and cattle, and farmers don't want it on their pastures. Some gardeners are slowly warming to the red variety, though, because the vibrant leaves can add deep colour to the garden when other plants start turning brown.

This nascent love of perilla's aesthetics will benefit weed-eaters everywhere, because a single perilla plant will produce thousands of seeds, ensuring that those tasty leaves will appear throughout the neighbourhood, should you know what to look for.

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