Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
As a general rule, weeds aren’t especially well-liked. Even among the prepper community—a group of people known for salvaging everything that can be salvaged and putting to use everything that can be used—weeds are seen as little more than a bothersome obstacle that gets in the way of growing plants that are of actual value.
Nevertheless, there are certain so-called “weeds” that are not only edible but also quite nutritious and sustaining. Below is a list of weeds that, in a situation where you are forced to be self-sufficient, you should be eating rather than killing.
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Clover usually isn’t considered as much of a nuisance as some weeds, and in most cases, the plant is overlooked entirely both when it comes time to harvest and when it comes time to kill the weeds. Nevertheless, clover is a great food source for both honeybees and humans.
Clover leaves can be an addition to a green salad or sautéed, while clover flowers are slightly sweet and can be eaten raw or used to make tea. Normally clovers have three leaves, but occasionally they have four, as in the picture above.
2. Curly Dock
Curly dock is one of the most widespread weeds in existence, and you should have little trouble finding a supply of curly dock if times get tough (or if you are just looking for a new dish to try). Best of all, curly dock leaves are incredibly high in vitamin C and zinc, providing you with a natural immune boost, while curly dock seeds are a great source of fiber and calcium.
Curly dock leaves are typically boiled or eaten raw in salads, while the seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack or, like dandelion roots, used as a coffee substitute.
To avoid pushing up daisies when times get tough, consider eating daisies instead. Though a little bitter, daisy leaves and flower petals are completely edible and actually quite nutritious.
Both can be eaten raw or cooked, and the flower petals can also be used to make a tea that Austrians have used for centuries to treat various gastrointestinal disorders.
One of the most commonly killed weeds, dandelions are actually quite tasty, and every part of the plant can be prepared and eaten. Dandelion leaves make a great addition to a salad and can also be boiled, steamed, or added to a soup.
While dandelion leaves may be a little too bitter for some people’s taste, dandelion flowers are sweet and crunchy. These flowers can be eaten raw, though one common way to prepare them is to bread them and fry them and, if you know what you’re doing, they can even be used to make dandelion wine.
Lastly, the roots of a dandelion plant can be dried, roasted, ground up, and used as a substitute for coffee beans. While you likely won’t want to be replacing your Folgers with dandelion roots if you have a choice, desperate times call for desperate measures.
5. Garlic Mustard
Neither garlic nor mustard, garlic mustard is still tasty in its own right. It’s considered an invasive species in North America but, nevertheless, makes a good addition to a salad or as a seasoning to foods such as mashed potatoes, fish, and soups.
Garlic mustard is also a natural diuretic, an immune booster, and a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C.
6. Lamb’s Quarters
If you’re searching for a post-disaster replacement for spinach, lamb’s quarters is the answer. While a lot of leafy greens taste similar to spinach, lamb’s quarters is probably the closest you are going to get in the weed category.
As you might imagine, lamb’s quarters is cooked and used in the same ways as the vegetable it tastes like—either boiled or eaten raw in salads.
7. Japanese Knotweed
If you’re not located in the Midwest or Northeast, this weed might be a little harder to get your hands on. If you are able to locate a source of Japanese knotweed, though, you’ll have a great little plant that tastes a lot like fresh rhubarb.
Just make sure you harvest the stems before they get too big and woody, then remove the leaves and rind before you steam the stalks.
If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em. At least this was the approach that those living in the Southern United States took with the highly invasive Japanese weed, kudzu. Introduced in the 1800s, kudzu is now estimated to cover a total of 7 million acres.
Once they realized they weren’t going to be able to get rid of it, though, people began exploring different ways to cook kudzu. It turns out, there are many ways to prepare this weed, from simple dishes such as boiling or steaming to more interesting preparations such as pickling the flowers and making a jelly out of the leaves.
If you want to get the medicinal purposes out of the plant, consider boiling the leaves and making kudzu tea.
There’s a tasty fruit called plantain, but this isn’t it. Instead, the plantain we’re referencing is one of the most common lawn weeds in North America. Nevertheless, the weed called plantain is just as edible as the fruit named plantain.
The leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, or sautéed, while the seeds of the plantain plant can actually be ground up and used to make flour.
Surprisingly enough, this lowly garden weed is the best source of omega 3 fatty acids of all leafy greens and vegetables. It’s a small plant, so you’ll have to gather a lot to sustain yourself, but the good news is that it’s abundant, especially in shady areas.
Purslane is another great salad addition and can also be sautéed or added to a stir-fry. It has a peppery flavor and can be used as a seasoning for a variety of dishes.
People ordering gourmet salads complete with watercress may not realize they are ordering a weed. Yet that’s exactly what watercress is, and you can find it growing alongside streams and rivers with relative ease. The sweet tasting plant does make a great addition to salads and is best eaten raw.
Best of all, watercress is a great source of antioxidants.
Now that you know you can eat these weeds, next time you see them in your yard you’ll be delighted rather than annoyed, right? If you’ve ever eaten any of these edible weeds, leave a comment and tell us what you thought of it!
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Pamela Mathis says
While home schooling our son we had a section on edible weeds and had lamb’s quarters in a salad. It wasn’t bad! I also used dandelion leaves in a Passover meal in children’s church for the bitter green and no one cared much for that – which, I think, was the point.
Unless the kudzu is on your own property and you know you have not tried to kill it, it may not be a good idea to eat it. There’s a very good chance someone has tried to kill off the kudzu and it might have poison residues.
Note that many, if not most, edible weeds will have a medium to high Vitamin K content.
Lynda Jones says
Plantain is very useful in treating bug bites. Simply pick a (clean) leaf. Then chew on it slightly, not enough to tear any holes in it, just enough to make it kinda wet and see-through. Then place it on top of the bug bite. You can hold it in place with a band-aid if you want, but it will stick to your skin. It reduces swelling and takes away the itch. It especially works well on chigger bites. (I hate chiggers!)
All good to know for supplements when things get tough. The more sources you have the better. Food, clothing, shelter need to kept in mind and harvested. If it hits the fan for real then you will know how vital it is. Good luck and good eating.
Donald May says
I still have a quarter of Mason jar all dandelion dried roots from last spring! I enjoy it but it don’t take the place of coffee!! Spring is coming poke will start popping up wild onions are already, be careful with Polk you have to really cook it several several several times before eating it only get the very young! While onions are good but little before afraid of them too if it looks and smells like an onion it’s an onion! Thanks for your list I knew most from the old fart, I thought most of my younger friends call me!
Bemused Berserker says
A good information source can be found in most State’s Agricultural Extension Office. Generally, they have a list of and information about the plants endemic to your State that are edible, best time to harvest and often some suggested uses. Fandelion leaves are more palatable when they’re young (by the time seeds start forming, the leaves become increasingly bitter. Cattails are another edible too.
Elbert Jones says
How many of your readers actually benfited from the tax cut passed by the G.O.P in 2019 It mainly helped people who have $100,000 or more in their bank accounts. The tax cut mainly helped people who could afford to give $50,000 to the G.O.P> . Plus not worry about paying their monthly bills two days later
P. B. Johnston says
What? What part of that was edible?
Ummmm, where do you suppose the dandelion you purchased grew? (HINT: It ALL grows in the ground!)
dennis wood says
Oh wow I am 56 tearold man and grew up poor in the western NC mountain,,,I remember eating alot of weeds ,the dandilion,,the lambs quarter,,the water cress,,the curly dock among others but my favorite I think,,,was not listed what about polk salad?
Eoin Stewart says
Polk! I’m 60 and grew up in upper East Tennessee. My mother gathered polk when I was young. Grew kale too, which is now seen as a superfood. My dad told me that if you didn’t cut the stems away it could be poisonous. Have you heard that? We also used horehound and sassafras root for tea if you had a sore throat.
Yes, Pokeweed must be harvested and processed carefully to make it safe to eat. There are a few restaurants that serve it, around the South.
Marcia Ballard says
My mother raised 12 kids. Dandelion was on our table often.
Pick before it blooms for best taste.
Fresh in salads , sauteed or wilted with bacon fat and vinegar .
Do not eat dandelions out of the ground. They are not digested properly and caused me to have irregular heart rhythms. Only the store bought organic versions are safe.
Carl Brewer says
Huh? Where was the ones from the store grown?
I have used Plantain many times. As a fresh green leaf, squeezed and rolled up causing the juices to the outside and placed over a bleeding cut. Even heavy cuts that required stitches. I did not think you could eat this due to the slight swelling it causes around a cut. What would it do in your mouth or throat?
That’s weird, normally plantain will reduce swelling. For example, I’ve heard of people using it to reduce swelling from bee stings. Maybe you’re having a slight allergic reaction? If you are, then you probably shouldn’t eat it.
Rick Lecluse says
After I read this I noticed we had plantain growing wild in our yard.
The curiousity overwhelmed me to try.
I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was.
I’ve been using dandelion for quite a while. I was thrilled when I found purslane growing in my garden. Mine tastes like a lemony spinach. Just be sure it is purslane and not spurge…they look very similar so I always do a break test, if a milky white substance comes out it spurge and deadly, no milky while liquid is purslane and safe. Also the leaves of purlane are kind of like a succulent while spurge are very flat. The third difference is that purslane grows more upright as it spreads along the ground while spurge grows flatter to the ground
At the beginning of the article, you have an image of a plant that’s labelled “clover”. This is not clover. That plant is called wood sorrel. Wood sorrel is edible, and tasty, even. It has an invigorating lemony flavor.
Here in western PA, we have two types of clover that are very common. White clover has white flowers that are round like a marble, and doesn’t grow very tall. This is a common lawn ” weed”.
Red clover is also common here. Red clover commonly gets to 25 or 30 inches tall, and grows in thick, tangled mats. They often grow along the edges of mowed lawns, disturbed ground and forrest edges.
Thank you for the many good articles I’ve read over the past several months since I found you
Thanks for pointing that out! I found a picture of a four leaf clover to replace it.