Foraging for wild edibles is among one of my very favorite outdoor activities.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, “A weed is just a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”. Weeds around the world have been used medicinally for centuries to treat a number of ailments from headaches, nausea, menstrual cramps, labor and birth, cold and flu symptoms, and many more. Your local library should have a plethora of books on native plants and wild edibles specific to your region.Here are a few of my favorite edible weeds that grow in the Midwest and some throughout the United States:
Chickweed is a wonderful plant packed with nutrients. It is a common weed found in most backyards. It grows in both sunny and shady areas. If you wild harvest chickweed, make sure the area you harvest from is not sprayed with chemicals. Chickweed is high in Vitamins C, A, and B. Chickweed is packed with phytonutrients, magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese, and zinc. I enjoy taking nature walks with my children. They love to help me harvest chickweed because it is easy to pull! We bring it home, wash it, and make a salad with it. I make a first aid salve that works well for cuts and scrapes which combines beeswax and an oil infused with chickweed, plantain, comfrey and dandelion.
Dandelion has a plethora of medicinal uses. The roots are a powerful antioxidant and are a friend to the digestive system. Dandelion roots can even be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.The greens make an excellent pesto or salad and are high in vitamins and minerals. The flowers are high in iron, beta carotene and vitamin C. Dandelion is a powerful detox herb. Aesthetically, the flowers make a nice garnish for any dish and are absolutely gorgeous in a refreshing herbal lemonade. Dandelion fritters are one of my favorite wild food dishes to make.
Black Locust Flowers
The Black Locust tree is native to the Appalachian region of the U.S. and is thought to be invasive in other parts of the U.S. The rest of the tree is thought to be toxic but the flowers are edible. They have a high flavonoid content. The flowers have a very pleasant fragrance. You can smell the black locust flowers in the spring in the Midwest from a few hundred feet away in May and early June. The flowers are sweet and have a lovely floral flavor. Most people make them into sweet dishes such as pastries or fritters. The white flowers are the ones that are typically eaten but the pink ones can be eaten as well. The flowers can also be made into tea or wine.
Plantain has been used throughout history as a panacea, meaning a medicine that is used to treat everything. Plantain has antibacterial, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. Young plantain leaves can be eaten raw and are loaded with Vitamin C and Calcium. Plantain is one of the main ingredients in first aid salve. Plantain may be used to treat insect stings quickly. Simply pluck a leaf of plantain, tear it apart and use a little saliva to make an instant plantain paste. Hold it on the sting for at least a minute.
Red clover is a wonderful weed that can be found growing wild in pastures and fields around the globe. Red clover is native to Western Asia, Europe and Africa. Red clover is a wonderful overall women’s health herb, as it is a source of phyto estrogens, natural plant-based estrogens. It can aid in menstrual cramps and other symptoms of PMS and can be used to tame hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. Red clover can also be helpful in treating the common cold and flu, as it helps loosen phlegm. Red clover is good for the heart, helping to keep arteries flexible. Red clover is rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin C.
Red Bud Flowers
The Eastern Red Bud tree is native to the Eastern U.S. and is one of the first trees to bloom in the early spring. They bloom from late march to early May. Red bud flowers can be collected and eaten raw. I like to add them to a foraged salad of dandelion greens, young plantain, sassafras leaves, and wild onion. Red bud flowers are a gorgeous purple color and are rich in Vitamin C. The flowers can be dried and preserved to make a lovely floral tea. The flowers can also be added to water in ice cube trays and frozen into pretty ice cubes.