Photo by @CogntiveDish
Spring is here in Minnesota and although the temperature says otherwise, one look at the weeds on your lawn leaves little doubt the warmer weather is upon us. Most American homeowners have a hate-hate relationship with weeds, viewing them as a perennial menace to be mowed, pulled, whacked, or poisoned. But to foraging foodies like me, there’s a particular wonderment to these bountiful botanicals as many of these plants can be eaten and are quite delicious. Don’t believe me? Read on, friends, as we look at the beauty of backyard edibles.
A weed is just a flower in the wrong place
If you look hard enough, you can find beauty in all living things as everything is interconnected, energetic threads that make up the tapestry of the collective Universe. Making a meal out of the backyard fundamentally changes the way we interact with the natural world around us. There’s no running to the grocery store or ordering from Instacart. It’s just you and your lawn. Weeds are nutritious, amazingly tasty, and free. So, open your mind as you trowel for your next meal. Here are some weeds to consider that are indigenous to the state of Minnesota:
Purslane — a hearty and tough plant that’s high in nutritional value, purslane likes areas with compacted dirt such as driveways and sidewalks. Commonly mistaken for Prostrate spurge, a potentially poisonous plant that’s also indigenous to this area, purslane has a different leaf configuration and are glossier and more succulent. Its sap is clear whereas spurge sap is milky white. Purslane can be eaten raw in salads or cooked and added to root vegetables such as parsnips or carrots. It has a sour flavor and crispy texture.
Wild violet — foraging for wild violets is easy because they grow everywhere around here in late winter/early spring. Not only are they nutritious in micronutrients, but medicinal as well. Used in Native American and Chinese medicine, violet leaves have been used for the treatment of swollen glands and some types of cancer. The stems, flowers, and leaves can be dried, boiled, and drunk as tea. The flowers can be infused in honey to enjoy with dessert or tea.
Ostrich fern — also known as “fiddleheads”, the Ostrich fern is gaining in popularity as a delicacy. They can be found in wild and wet areas, like riverbanks or swamplands and usually for only a short time in early April. Fiddleheads are ferns before they become ferns. The taste is akin to asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. Many fiddleheads resemble the Ostrich fern but cannot be consumed as they are toxic. It’s best to consult with an expert forager, herbalist, or guide before eating a fiddlehead. Make sure to cook the fiddleheads thoroughly by boiling them in water then sauté in butter.
Wood Sorel — yellow wood sorrel is also known as “sour grass” because of its sour flavor. Every part of the plant is edible from the stem to the leaves and flowers. It’s high in vitamin C and in moderate doses can aid in digestive issues as well as act as a natural astringent. It grows best in open areas like along roadways or open fields. Take care not to pick wood sorrel from known contaminated areas or those sprayed with pesticides (like golf courses).
Dandelion — perhaps the most well-known backyard edible, dandelion greens are not only bountiful and easy to locate but delicious. The dandelions yellow flowers are edible and fabulous in salads. The leaves which can be eaten raw or cooked, are an excellent source of vitamins A and K, as well as iron, and calcium. However, as with Purslane, there are plants that resemble the dandelion that should not be consumed. When in doubt, look for that signature yellow flower and while you’re at it, rub under your chin to see if you like butter.
And there you have it, my foraging friends – a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to eat your greens, get your vitamins, and become one with nature. So, go forth and pick your backyard. You might just discover something new.
*DISCLAIMER – Before you forage for your next meal, make sure to properly identify the plant you intend to consume as many plants look alike. If you’re unsure of the identity, check online or with a smart phone app such as Seek by iNaturalist. If you’re still unsure, throw it out. Don’t consume plants you know to be sprayed with pesticides. Thoroughly rinse the plants with water to remove dirt. As always, if you’re trying a new food for the first time, eat a small portion to see if you can tolerate it.
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →
Dandelion Greens Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
- 2 cups dandelion greens (leaves not the flowers) – picked from your backyard or store bought
- 2 cups organic spring greens
- ¼ cup red onion sliced thin
- ¼ cup toasted candied pecans – coarsely chopped
- ½ lb bacon
- 1 cup of roasted red beets, chopped into 1.4” pieces*
- 3 scallions – sliced
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbs butter
- ¼ cup crumbled goat or feta cheese (I like goat cheese because of the texture)
- 2 tsp stone ground mustard
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Thoroughly wash the dandelion and organic greens. Dry on a paper towel.
- *In a small bowl, toss the beets with the olive oil and scallions. Spread on a sheet pan lined with nonstick aluminum foil (or spray foil with cooking spray to prevent beets from sticking to pan). Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
- Add butter to a large pan and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Set aside.
- Add the bacon to the pan and cook in batches. Place on a plate lined with paper towels (you really only need three pieces of bacon, but you’ll need the grease from about six pieces).
- Drain all but 3 tbs of bacon grease from the pan. Add vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper to the hot pan, whisking vigorously until blended (about three minutes). Remove from heat.
- When done, remove beets from the oven and let cool.
- Add the dandelion greens, organic greens, and onions to a large shallow bowl. Top with warm vinaigrette. Add the bacon crumbles, pecans, beets, and goat cheese.