Garden Rx > Eat Your Weedies

So you thought you had the garden under control and it was safe to go away for a few days, only to come home and find that the weeds had taken your garden hostage. Before you resort to weapons of mass destruction to eradicate the invaders, take a closer look at them. Wild foods, including plants that we call weeds, nourished native peoples for thousands of years. Our colonial ancestors harvested many of the weeds in their gardens, eating them right along with the veggies.Bonnie Smiley, who has lived most of her eighty-five years in Henniker, grew up eating wild-collected greens like dandelions, watercress and lamb’s quarters. She has passed her edible-weeds wisdom along to family and friends, but finds foraging to be a forgotten art. Herbalists such as Maria Noel Groves of Wintergreen Botanicals in Allenstown and Wendy Snow Fogg of the Misty Meadows Herbal Center in Lee are helping to revive interest in wild foods. “A garden lies outside your door, whether you planted it or not,” Groves says. Weeds are an overlooked renewable resource. Why not reap what you didn’t sow?In some countries, plants that we consider to be weeds are delicacies, and are wild-harvested or even cultivated. Called quelites in Mexico, wild greens such as purslane, lamb’s quarters, amaranth and mustard are cooked until wilted, chopped, then served with onions, garlic, tomatoes and chiles. Nutritionally, many wild greens are higher in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and antioxidants than spinach, according to ethnobotanist Dr. Peter Gail. The National Cancer Institute is studying some compounds found in weeds for their cancer-preventing properties.

Weeds are good for you, delicious, free and growing in abundance in your own back yard, but before you charge outside and begin grazing—a word of caution. There are harmful and even deadly plants growing out there, too. Make your first stop the library or the bookstore to get an identification book of wild edible plants, such as:

• Peterson’s Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants by Lee Allen Peterson, which has some color photographs along with line drawings to aid in identification.
• The Handbook of Edible Weeds by James A. Duke, which lists more than one hundred edible plants native to the United States.
•Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steve Brill, which has lots of information on identification cation and use of wild plants.
• Edible Wild Plants of New England by Joan Richardson, which identifies edible and poisonous plants with great detail.
• Edible Wild Plants of New Hampshire by Garrett Crow and Richard Fralick, which identifies twenty common edible plants found in our state and lists the poisonous plants to avoid.

If you would rather learn in person, Groves and Fogg offer wild plant identification walks.

“The only rule to gathering wild foods is to be 100 percent sure the plant is what you think it is and in the form it should be eaten,” Groves says. “This takes time to learn, but [foraging] quickly turns into an enjoyable hobby.”

She suggests getting to know one plant at a time. Do not overlook the importance of properly identifying what you are about to eat. Something as sweet and innocuous looking as a buttercup can make you sick.