Eating Weeds – How Do They Taste?

Eating weeds is either a fascinating idea (food you do not pay for), or a repellant one to snobs who cannot see how a weed could possibly measure up to foods that you buy.

The biggest fear that I’ve noticed in people, who might want to try them, is a fear that they might taste horrid. They somehow feel that if it has been overlooked as a commercial food, that it must not be palatable. That simply is untrue.

The fact is that most cultivated foods are not cultivated because of their superior flavor or ease of growth. Some DID have a superior flavor at one time. Long ago. Before they were bred for durability. Durability and flavor do not go hand in hand. Most produce items on the store shelves are there simply because they can be shipped long distances without breaking down rapidly.

The foods listed below are all classed as weeds. But they are also edible foods. They are best when eaten very fresh – same day, or within minutes of picking. Some may be preserved by drying for later use. They don’t really pack and store very well though.

I don’t think anyone can truly answer the question of “What does it taste like?” for someone else. I can tell you what I think it is similar to, or I can tell you that I liked it. I cannot tell you whether YOU will like it.

I can, however, reassure you that I did not stick any of these in my mouth and grab my throat making gagging noises. Most are fairly bland, unremarkable, with familiar flavors that are nondistinctive, much in the same way many lettuces seem to be.

 

Clover, Trefoil

Blossoms, stems, and leaves are edible. Leaves taste bland, stems may taste tangy (pleasantly sour). Cooked, clover quickly darkens to a rather unappetizing color of dark olive green. It gets lost if you mix it with other cooked greens, and you won’t be able to taste it specifically. In a salad, the fresh smaller leaves look pretty, do not seem to have a distinctive flavor unless you run across a stem. Clover sprouts or microgreens taste similar to alfalfa sprouts. I ate clover blossoms as a child, do not remember them as being anything special, just one more thing to nibble on if you found them. They lose their color, and they go gray if cooked, and are prettiest used fresh and raw.

Clover is probably not distinctive enough to feature it in a recipe. It is pretty enough, either leaves, or blossoms, to use for garnishes and to add visual interest to fresh food. I think it is worth using, because it grows so well, is nutritious, and easy to find and harvest. And less costly than buying vegetables! It is up and thriving very early in the spring, before spring vegetables are even thinking about giving you anything to eat.

Purslane

Some people describe it as lemony – but to me, it is just that common tangy flavor of some wild greens. Tart – either mild, or strong. Some say it depends on the time of day when picked, with stronger tang in the morning, lighter in the evening (there’s a scientific reason for this having to do with how it stores and uses nutrients). Our purslane has been very mild flavored, crispy and a pleasant addition to a mixed salad. I’ve only eaten it fresh and uncooked, have not tried it in stirfry, which is the other very common way to use it.

I find this to be good enough to grow intentionally. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a succulent, but it is just really good. I eat a lot of salads, and appreciate some variety in the greens. Purslane grows so easily in such poor conditions, without any encouragement on our part, that it just makes sense to take advantage of it.

Chickweed

Can be eaten cooked or fresh, most commonly used fresh. It tastes… green. Sort of grassy. If you pick it, wash it, and store it in the fridge, it can develop a tangy edge over a few days time. Cut off sprigs, and snip them up into a salad. Or, if you want a very pretty way to dress up the top of a salad, cut just the top 1″ off the sprigs, and scatter those across the salad. I have not tried it cooked. It just did not seem to appeal to me.

This is a green that I’ll be using again and again. It grows well without help, is EVERYWHERE, and is easy to cut and toss into a salad. It tastes good and the ends of sprigs look lovely. It is very pretty with blossoms on it as well.

Henbit

The whole plant is edible, but the tops, with the flower buds, make a very nice garnish. Uncooked it has kind of a fuzzy feel which I don’t much care for. It has a rather non-descript flavor. Cooked, it is similar to spinach, but a little chewier. I like this one best with an assortment of wild greens, tossed in a skillet with some butter and a sprinkle of garlic powder, and heated until the greens wilt. The flowers lose their bright color, but the greens have the same kind of non-spicy flavor as spinach. It would also be good cooked and spritzed with vinegar, or stirred into scrambled eggs.

I don’t think this is anything special, either nutritionally, or for taste. But it is so plentiful where not much else grows, and does make a fairly good all purpose cooked green. For that reason alone, it is one that I am using on a regular basis. I’ll also be drying it for use in the winter.

Mare’s Tail

We picked just the lighter green tips from the plants that were not even close to setting flowers. You can eat this fresh, or cooked, but cooked is recommended. It has the same texture as mature blades of grass – kind of rough, but not stringy. Cooked, it wilts into a green that has a milder flavor than spinach, but remains a little chewier. It can be used in the same kinds of dishes as spinach, where a milder flavor is wanted.

This weed can spread very rapidly, and it seems to me that picking out the tops and harvesting it instead of letting it run rampant and go to seed is an excellent way to get some use out of it while controlling the spread. It is a good edible, and can be used in enough ways that it is one that I’ll continue to look for and take advantage of. It has some medicinal uses, so I’ll also be drying some for tea.

Plantain

Plantain leaves are a good cooked vegetable. Very similar to spinach, with a flavor that is pretty close as well. It can be used interchangeably with spinach.The main problem we had with eating Plantain was getting enough of it to really use. It is not a prolific weed – it does grow in poor conditions, but does not spread aggressively.

I don’t think I’d cultivate it for use unless I needed it for medicinal purposes. If I run across it on a forage, I’d happily add it to a basket, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way for it, and it really isn’t worth creating recipes around due to the small amounts gathered at one time.

Sheep’s Sorrel, and Wood Sorrel

These two wild leafy plants taste very similar, but look very different from each other. They both have a pronounced sour flavor (not unpleasant), better used as an accent than as a feature. The chopped leaves can be sprinkled over a salad to add a bit of tang, or they can be cooked as a pot herb. I have heard of making gravy with them. I have never eaten these at table. I’ve nibbled on them while playing in the woods as a child, and while hiking when I was older. We referred to Wood Sorrel as “Sour Sorrel”.

I don’t think I’d use these as frequent foods. They are fairly distinctive in flavor, and best suited to grabbing to enjoy something fresh on the trail. If I ran across them on a forage I would gather them sparingly, but not in quantity. They aren’t something you’d want to make an entire dish from.

Purple Dead-Nettle

I’ve tried one raw leaf of this rather fuzzy plant. Could not do more than that, the fuzziness of the leaves puts me off. I have also cooked it, used it in a smoothie, and eaten the raw blossoms. The blossoms were a tiny delicate treat, and I did enjoy them. The cooked vegetable has a strong green flavor, with a slight bitter edge. I suspect this weed may taste different depending on the climate, and growing conditions, because I’ve heard it described differently. Either that, or there is no accounting for tastes! It was not bad in the smoothie, just adding a green background flavor.

This isn’t something I’d go out of my way for. It isn’t nasty or anything, just not something I could say I really liked (except for those tiny blossoms). It is something I’ll use in mixed greens or cooked dishes though, just because it is plentiful and often THERE, and it is a free vegetable. It isn’t unpleasant – other than that fuzziness, which is kind of a personal tactile thing.

Wild Garlic

I love the flavor of wild garlic in mixed dishes. It is a little more complex to me than domestic garlic, and adds a nice savoriness to foods without any heat. Use it as a seasoning, and not as a feature.

I like this so well I transplanted some into my gardening pots. Not only is it good food, and has some nice medicinal effects, but it also helps deter some bugs in the garden.

Cleavers

Fuzzy clingy stuff, is edible raw, but I am just not into eating hooky velcro. Cooked, it tastes kind of green, slightly fresh pea flavored. The flavor does not seem to darken with cooking.

Cleavers also has some good medicinal effects, but it depends very much on the type – there are many many varieties of it. I’d use this again if I needed food. Not sure I’ll go out of my way for it under normal circumstances though. It gives me a bit of itch when I pick it, so I don’t like handling it.

 

I’ve eaten other wild foods – mostly berries. The particular foods listed here are remarkable because each one is considered a weed, and many are considered to be invasive pests. Eating them seems to be particularly smart – they are plentiful and free, and unwanted, so you can’t over-harvest.

There are an astonishing number of weeds that are edible, and they occur all across every country in the world. Vegetables are getting harder to afford, and knowing¬† just a few of those edibles can help to offset the cost of greens on the table to a significant degree. Half of the green food I’ve eaten in the last week has been weeds! That is a significant amount of food!

It is worth a try. Make sure of your identification, and then go try them out. Taste a leaf. Then sprinkle some on top of your lettuce salad, or toss some in with your spinach or collards. You can get creative and find recipes that use them if you want – they are all over on the internet – but using them in simple ways will help you know if you like them or not.

Grab your basket, and go hunting!

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