Eating Weeds

Eating Weeds

Part of Ep. 302 It's Planting Time!

Join Dr. Astrid Newenhouse, UW-Extension horticulturist, to learn the benefits of eating weeds.  Add common purslane, dandelion and lambsquarter to your salads.

Premiere date: Apr 30, 1995

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

We just showed you how weeds can be a problem in the garden. There are also some surprising benefits to them. I'm with UW Extension horticulturist Dr. Astrid Newenhouse. We're in her father's garden in Gotham, in southwestern Wisconsin. Astrid, before we talk about the benefits of weeds, I have to ask you, how did your father feel when we asked him to let us use the weeds in his garden?

Astrid Newenhouse:

It was really funny to ask him if he would please stop weeding so that we could come in and eat the weeds.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A little bit painful, I imagine. What are the benefits to eating weeds?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Well, the three weeds that we'll eat today are full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and calcium.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So they're good for us, too.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

They're good for us. They're available. They're free.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's true! I recognized one we just finished talking about, the wild common purslane right there. That's the stuff on the ground.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes, that's the common purslane. There also is a cultivated, imagine this, a cultivated weed, a cultivated variety of purslane.

 

Shelley Ryan:

The one in the pot is actually grown on purpose.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes. Purslane has been used for centuries in China, Mexico.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Can I eat it?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Go right ahead. China, Mexico and India.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It has a lemony citrus flavor.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Mildly acid, and it's really crisp.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yeah, there's a texture to it. So it's eaten raw in these countries?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes, it's eaten raw. It can also be cooked. You can take the young shoot, the stem, cook it like you would a vegetable. You could stirfry it. You could even pickle the purslane.

 

Shelley Ryan:

If this is a cultivated variety, it means we're starting to realize we can actually grow this and eat it, too, or use the wild.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes, you get the same benefits from the wild purslane in your garden or this cultivated variety.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What about the dandelions? I've always heard they were used for edibility, but how do we do that?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Here's a young dandelion. That's the stage at which you want to eat the leaf.

 

Shelley Ryan:

When it's a real baby.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Very tiny. Here, we've already dug some up. There's two things you can do here. You can eat the young leaf. Try that.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Now that's more bitter. The purslane and the dandelion would be nice combined in a salad together. You'd have a contrast in flavors.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes, and mixed salad greens are really popular now.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's true.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

You can eat the young leaf. Or you can cut the root, and cut the leaf off, and eat this white or blanched part as you would radicchio or endive.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Those are very popular right now, too.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Dandelion tastes just like that.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I know with the purslane, it really can be eaten throughout its growing season, and in fact, during the hotter weather, it's great when a lot of our other lettuces are getting too bolted. Is there a cutoff point for dandelions?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes, there is. As soon as you see the flower bud on a dandelion, don't eat it. Don't eat the leaf when you see the flower bud.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Why?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Because the leaf becomes bitter.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Not so tasty anymore.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

This one here is too huge.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I know the flowers actually have been used to make dandelion wine.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Right.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So it's got a lot of uses. That was deliberately brought into this country as an edible green.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

It was brought in as a drug. The root has medicinal properties. In fact, it's still listed as a drug in the US.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What about the lambsquarter?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Here's lambsquarter. It's another common garden weed. You can identify it by its beautiful green color and the shape of that leaf, and also by this gray powder on the young shoot.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It almost looks dusty.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Yes.

 

Shelley Ryan:

How do we eat this one?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Lambsquarter, you'll want to eat the leaf and the shoot exactly as you would spinach.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So again, raw in a salad?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

You could eat it raw. I prefer it cooked, steamed, like I would eat spinach. It has a richer, more full-bodied flavor than spinach. It's really great. It's one of my favorites.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You like it better than spinach?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Absolutely.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Is there a cutoff point for harvesting this?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Are you talking about my six-foot lambsquarter that I have in my garden?

 

Shelley Ryan:

I was actually thinking about mine!

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

When your lambsquarter gets to be too tall, more than ten inches, you can still eat the young shoots that come off from the main stalk, and you can eat the very top.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So, the young tender parts, again, is what we stick to. You seem to be very much into eating weeds. How did you get into this?

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Oh, I love eating weeds! For me, looking around the environment and identifying the plants, and being able to then carry those plants to my table and eating them is a way to appreciate the cycles of nature and the variety that's found in the plant kingdom.

 

Shelley Ryan:

And maybe really zip up a salad, too. I see two problems. I would be worried about a beginner going out and eating something that might've been sprayed.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Right, stay away from anything you think may have been sprayed. If you don't know, don't eat it.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So maybe stick to your own backyard at first.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Good idea.

 

Shelley Ryan:

The other concern is proper identification. You don't want somebody eating the wrong thing.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Absolutely. Stick with plants that you know, for example the dandelion. Or if you don't know, spend a great deal of time learning identification. What I have found useful are books. Here's a good one, "A Handbook of Edible Weeds" by James Duke.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, so something like this is a good companion when you're starting to get into this.

 

Astrid Newenhouse:

Right.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Thanks, Astrid. So if you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.