Long used as cleansing tonics, easy-to-find spring weeds are rich in vitamins and minerals. Local weeds’ leaves, flowers and roots make yummy additions to salads, soups and other dishes. If you’re collecting weeds in the wild, be certain you are foraging from a location free of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Proper identification is essential; invest in a great guide like A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants or seek out a local herbalist or botanist to take you on a “weed walk.” Otherwise, you can grow weeds with virtually no maintenance in a container or your yard. You’ll be eating up the free harvest in no time!
Chickweed (Stellaria media): Delicate and high in vitamin C, chickweed leaves taste like spinach. Steam young leaves, or use leaves and flowers in soups, salads and stir-fries.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Best harvested in early spring before the plant flowers, young dandelion leaves have a tasty, mildly bitter flavor. With high levels of iron, potassium and beta-carotene, dandelion stimulates digestion and aids the liver. You can also eat the roots–scrub and slice them, then sauté in sesame oil and soy sauce.
Lamb’s-quarters (Chenopodium album): The leaves taste like spinach and are supernutritious–they’re loaded with calcium, beta-carotene and vitamin C. Eat them raw or cook them into casseroles, grain salads and egg dishes.
Nettles (Urtica dioica): This classic spring green, known for its stinging hairs, sounds intimidating to eat (and gloves are necessary when collecting), but the leaves lose their sting when cooked. Usually added to soups or steamed like spinach, nettles are high in immune-boosting iron, beta-carotene and vitamin C, and help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea): High in alpha-linolenic acid, a brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acid, and vitamin C, purslane leaves, stems, flowers and roots are all edible. Purslane can be added to cold soups or blended into pesto.
Violets (Viola spp.): In shades of purple, white or yellow, violets are the most beautiful of the spring weeds. Add the lovely flowers, rich in vitamin C, to salads, stuffings or desserts, or try the young, tender violet leaves steamed or in salads.
Favorite Wilted Greens
Gather fresh, wild weeds such as chickweed, dandelion, nettles and violet leaves. You can mix these with cultivated greens such as spinach, kale, arugula and chard.
8 to 10 cups fresh and cultivated greens
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Wash greens and remove tough midribs if necessary. Spin or pat greens dry. Chop roughly.
2. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic. Stir 1 minute. Add greens, stir and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until greens are bright green and tender. Season lightly with salt and pepper and enjoy. Serves 2
— Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox