Backyard Bounty: 8 Useful Weeds

Are weeds our friend or our foe? Discover a world of uses for eight of our favorites and decide for yourself.

| July/August 2013

  • Burdock is commonly used to cleanse the liver.
    Photo By iStock
  • Chickweed flowers can be enjoyed raw in salads.
    Photo By iStock
  • Chicory's roots can be brewed into a coffee-like beverage.
    Photo By Fotolia
  • Dandelion greens are easy to find in summer.
    Photo By Shutterstock
  • Plantain is excellent for minor wounds and stings.
    Photo By Shutterstock
  • Studies show pretty red clover can help relieve menopause symptoms.
    Photo by iStock
  • Sheep sorrel adds a lemony flavor to dishes.
    Photo By iStock

Although gardeners may curse the wild greens and roots that abound in lawns, flower beds, parks and vacant lots, many of these “pesky” weeds are actually quite useful. The following plants—all considered weeds—taste great in soups and salads, are rich in vitamins, make great additions to the first-aid kit and have long been used as cleansing tonics. Best of all, they’re almost always free for the taking (make sure not to harvest weeds from areas that may have been treated with chemical pesticides or insecticides). Take advantage of the weeds near you with the following tips.

Wild Greens Recipe

"Wild Things" Wild Greens Soup recipe

Dandelion

Let’s begin with the easiest weed to recognize. While you can find dandelion growing almost anywhere, it’s especially fond of lawns.

Dandelion is one of the most versatile weeds. Finely chopped dandelion leaves make great salads, especially when they’re picked young and tender before the flowers form. If you like bitter greens such as arugula, you’ll find dandelions a good wild replacement. Steaming dandelion greens (removing the central rib first) or mixing them with other greens will mask their bitterness. For Italian-style dandelion greens, steam then lightly stir-fry the greens with pine nuts in olive oil.



Harvest dandelion roots in spring or fall. The root can be used medicinally to treat liver and urinary tract problems. Dandelion roots also are a diuretic that won’t leach potassium from the body, unlike most of the drugs for this purpose. Dandelion flowers can be used to make a delicious, delicate wine. Learn much more about how to prepare dandelion, including recipes for a wilted dandelion salad, a dandelion calzone and dandelion wine, on our All About Dandelion page.

Chickweed

Chickweed makes an excellent ground cover, as it grows outward instead of upward. This delicate and delicious weed was used historically as a strengthening tonic for the frail. Although science has not confirmed this folk use, studies have shown chickweed to exhibit anti-inflammatory action. Chickweed leaves, flowers and stems can be included, raw or cooked, in salads, soups and stir-fries. Brew the leaves into a tea to soothe bladder and bronchial irritation and ulcers, or include them in a salve to relieve skin disorders ranging from diaper rash to psoriasis.



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