Autumn is here and vegetable gardening is winding down for the season, but there are no shortages for people who enjoy foraging for edible weeds. In fact, if you look close enough, you may find many nutrient-rich, flavorful weeds growing in your own back yard.
Edible weeds grow in abundance in most areas, and you may be surprised at how tasty they can be, but there are certain caveats to keep in mind before you toss those edible weeds into your salad bowl.
- Never eat a wild plant unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe. Many poisonous plants look dangerously similar to familiar, common plants. Although websites and books are a tremendous help, the safest course of action is to check with a native plant expert in your area. Most cities have local native plant societies, and members are usually glad to share their knowledge with newbies.
- Even if you’ve identified a plant with the help of an expert, it pays to be careful, as experts are human and capable of making mistakes. Begin by sampling a tiny bit of the plant. If you have any type of reaction, think twice about eating more.
- Never eat plants growing along roadways or other areas where herbicides have been sprayed. Similarly, forage for weeds from clean water sources — never from areas where water runs off from agricultural or industrial areas. Always wash the plant thoroughly.
Now that you know the basics of foraging safely, here are three delicious edible weeds to keep on your radar this autumn.
Found in every corner of the United States and most areas of Canada nearly any time of year, watercress is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Look for creeping and/or floating plants in shallow ponds and along creeks. To harvest watercress, twist the plant just above the water level. Don’t worry about picking the underwater part of the plant, which tends to be bitter and tough. Leave it in place so it can continue to grow.
Watercress leaves consist of three to five small, oval-shaped leaflets, sometimes with a hint of red. Don’t confuse the plant with poisonous water hemlock, which is taller and has pointier leaves, often with a greenish-yellow tinge. Again, confirm your find with an expert.
It doesn’t take long to gather a basket of watercress, which you can use any number of ways. Salads are obvious (and delicious), but watercress also makes good pesto and adds flavor and nutrition when sprinkled on pizza, or added to soups and sandwiches.
2. Wood sorrel
Nearly all parts of this little woodland plant are edible and ready to harvest from spring through autumn, including the heart-shaped leaves, flowers, seedpods, stems and roots. Also known as wild shamrock, wood sorrel is usually easy to find in shady, wooded areas. Although wood sorrel is easy to mistake for clover, this isn’t a dangerous foraging error because clover isn’t toxic.
Wood sorrel is good in salads, tossed into juice or smoothies or sautéed in a little butter or olive oil. If you’re adventurous, the roots taste a little like garden-variety potatoes. Discard the lower stems, which tend to be stringy and tough.
3. Garlic mustard
Garlic mustard is an invasive weed that is unwelcome in the garden, but in spite of its annoying qualities, all parts of the plant are edible. While most parts are typically harvested in spring, the gnarled taproots can be used year-round. Garlic mustard is a real pain, so you’ll be doing a favor by removing as much as you can use, and then some.
This plant is easy to identify by its deeply scalloped, fan- or kidney-shaped leaves. If you aren’t sure what to do with the roots, keep in mind that they are very similar in flavor to horseradish, with a distinctive, pungent flavor – not a great surprise as both are members of the mustard family.
To make wild horseradish, begin by trimming the greens and tough, woody parts from the roots. Wash and dry the roots, and then grind them in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Blend the ground roots with a little apple cider vinegar and sea salt. For a change of pace, add a beet root, which imparts a bright color and a sweeter, less bitter flavor.
What are your favorite fall weeds to harvest? Share your advice in the section below: