Treat Yourself to the Wonders of Weeds

Stop pulling and start eating: Weeds are great for your health!

| March/April 2005

  • Chicory
    Karen Bergeron,
  • Burdock
    Karen Bergeron,

  • Plantain
    Karen Bergeron,
  • Sheep sorrel
    Karen Bergeron,
  • Red clover
    Karen Bergeron,

Ah, spring. Time to think about your lawn — not to mow it, but to harvest it. Wild spring greens and roots useful as food and medicine abound in lawns, flower beds, parks and vacant lots. Many of these weeds are edible greens and roots packed with vitamins and minerals. And they’re almost always free for the taking.

Many countries consider wild weeds as traditional fare. In Greece, I found raw or steamed wild greens on every menu, offered as horta.

Play By the Rules

Herbalists who search the hills and dales for edible and medicinal plants call it wildcrafting. Before you harvest, you must learn the wildcrafting rules. First, be able to identify without question any wild weed you collect (see “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” on Page 34). Second, make sure your weeds haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Of course, you’ll have control of your own yard, but check before harvesting your neighbor’s property or a park. Finally, avoid areas next to well-traveled roads, which will be polluted by traffic exhaust. Most herbalists recommend harvesting a minimum of 50 feet away from major roadways.

Let’s say you have made a positive identification and know that the plant you’re seeking is not endangered or threatened. It’s time for wildcrafting. Look for healthy plants that are not bug-eaten. Whenever possible, take gently from the plant to assure its survival. Don’t rip or pull, but treat the plant as if you are pruning it. If the area hasn’t been watered or rain-washed recently, rinse off your wild herbs after harvesting them. If you’re storing the herbs for future use, dry them in a warm place with plenty of air circulation and out of direct sunlight. Store them in an airtight container.

Responsible Wildcrafting

The wild herbs described in this article are rampant weeds. In fact, they are European natives that made themselves at home throughout North America and beyond. Once you learn to recognize them, you’ll encounter them everywhere, even through cracks in the sidewalk. Harvesting them won’t negatively impact the environment. However, that’s definitely not the case with all wild plants. Some favorite herbal remedies are becoming scarce from overharvesting; others are disappearing because civilization has taken over areas in which they grow. With some herbs, only a small percentage of the patch should be picked. Other herbs are too rare to collect at all.

In an effort to preserve wild medicinal herbs, herbalists have formed United Plant Savers, an organization dedicated to promoting herb cultivation as an alternative to wildcrafting (see Page 28 for more about United Plant Savers and endangered herbs).

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