Foraging for local plants has become a hugely popular past time, but you don’t have to spend hours hunting in the woods to enjoy nature’s bounty. In fact, you are probably already harvesting some of these plants and don’t even realize it. A lot of very common weeds in the southeast are actually quite tasty and nutritious!
As with all foraging, it is important to be sure of the plants you are picking, as some plants can be toxic. There are many books and online resources to help you identify these and other edible plants.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Young, tender leaves (before flowers form) are delicious in salads. Larger leaves will be tougher and more bitter, and are better suited for sautéing or braising. Dandelion leaves are rich in potassium, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C. The bright yellow flowers are edible as well, with a mildly bittersweet flavor that makes a nice addition to salads, or can be battered and fried to make fritters. Yummy, AND they contain more beta-carotene than carrots!
Plantain (Plantago major):
Can be used like you would use collards or kale. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches, or try sautéing with garlic and a little soy sauce as leaves mature. Be sure to remove stringy stems for better eating. Plantain is rich in magnesium as well as vitamins A, C, and K.
Chickweed (Stellaria media):
Probably the tenderest and tastiest of edible wild greens, chickweed is also pretty abundant (at least in our yard). It’s also becoming a very popular – I’ve even seen bags of it for sale at our local farmer’s market. Chickweed thrives in cooler weather, so look for it in the fall and spring, and even during winter in milder months. Leaves, stems, and flowers can all be eaten raw or cooked and have a nice flavor reminiscent of spinach. Chickweed is high in vitamins C, A, D, and B. It also contains iron, calcium and potassium.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea):
Another weed that grows everywhere, so you’re likely to find some nearby, purslane is a crisp succulent with yellow flowers whose leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. They will add a nice peppery flavor to a salad, sandwich, or stir-fry, and can be used to thicken soups. Packed with nutrition, purslane is rich in vitamins A and C, and contains omega-3 fatty acids.
*Note, purslane is similar in appearance to hairy-stemmed spurge which is poisonous. Hairy-stemmed spurge can be distinguished by a milky sap, which you can see if you break and squeeze the stem.