Long before our ‘civilized’ society started a war on weeds, we sought them out for food and medicine.
By trial and error, we learned which plants were safe and healing and which were dangerous and deadly to consume. We passed this important information from one generation to the next.
Today, things are undeniably different. We have more brand recognition than plant identification. We’ve lost touch with nature and free food sources in favour of the convenience and luxury of grocery stores. Since we don’t depend on these flowers and weeds as sources of sustenance, many see them as an unsightly nuisance.
While I’ll never understand my neighbour’s disdain for dandelions, and the costly chemical lengths people go through to rid their lawns of anything but grass, I do understand that most just don’t know what they’re missing.
Foraging for your own salad greens, berries, veggies, and flowers is extremely rewarding. It reconnects you to your roots, provides free healthy food, and keeps you active.
However, you need to know what you’re doing. Foraging can go wrong pretty quickly if you don’t know what you’re looking for or how to sustainably gather your goods.
So what are you looking for? Well, there are dozens of edible flowers and weeds everywhere from your backyard to roadsides and forests. Here are some of the most common edible flowers and weeds you’re likely to come across. Be sure to always triple-check what you find and leave well alone if you’re unsure. Remember, many plants look alike and not everything out there is edible.
Specs: Tall, gangly green plants topped with blue, star-shaped flowers that hang downwards. The leaves are green and covered with whiteish fuzz until maturation, whereby the fuzz becomes rather prickly.
Edible uses: The beautiful blue star-shaped flowers of this annual plant make great additions to salads, smoothie bowls, soups, and granola parfaits. They can also be used as eco-friendly dessert decor.
The leaves can be used to make tea and the seeds can be used to make an anti-inflammatory oil.
Health info: According to WebMD, borage seeds contain a fatty acid that is used to treat skin disorders and inflammatory issues. The flowers and leaves are also used for fever, cough, depression, breast milk production, and sedation.
Where it’s found: You can find wild borage flourishing in forests and open pastures. You can also plant them in veggie beds to help deter pests.
Specs: Lettuce-looking deep green leaves grow from a base that supports stalks topped with bright yellow flowers. Often the first ‘weed’ to pop up in spring and feed the bees.
Edible uses: The whole dandelion plant, from the root to the flower, is edible. The roots are used to make herbal tea. The leaves compliment summer salads. The flowers can be eaten as is or concentrated into jelly or syrup.
Health info: Dandelions are antioxidant-rich, boasting high concentrations of vitamins A, C, and K. They also have vitamin E, folate, iron, and calcium. They’re basically a multivitamin ready for the fresh picking.
Eating dandelions may help prevent cancer and reduce inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure. They may also aid in weight loss and boost your immune system.
Where it’s found: Pesticide-free lawns, roadsides, and parks.
Specs: You’re looking for the North American Ostrich Fern. This is important to note because not all ferns are edible. This fern type will have smooth (not hairy) green shoots that curl inward at the top like a violin. The leaves will fan outward in typical fern fashion.
Edible uses: Do not eat these raw. They must be properly cooked before consuming or you risk food poisoning. First, clean your fiddleheads and then boil them for 15 minutes. The Canadian government advises we do this “before sautéing, frying, baking, or using them other foods like mousses and soups.”
Health info: Fiddleheads are exceptionally high in the antioxidants Vitamin A and C. They also contain core nutrients like potassium, iron, and manganese.
Where it’s found: Wet forests and alongside wooded hiking trails.
4. Pineapple Weed
Specs: At first, you might think you’ve stumbled upon some chamomile because these two look a lot alike. The difference is that these blooms boast no petals, just a conical yellowish-green head, and upon crushing, the cones emit a distinct pineapple-apple scent. This plant is also shorter and bushier than the chamomile.
Edible uses: The blooms are best used in tea or salad.
Health info: Rich in antioxidants, this ‘weed’ is used for certain gynaecological disorders, as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and as a sedative.
Where it’s found: They don’t call this one a weed for nothing. It’s commonly found is harsh environments like cement cracks, alongside dirt roads, and wastelands.
5. Wild Violet
Specs: A short plant with low-laying spade-like leaves. Purple or white blooms that hang downward from thin stems. The bloom’s centre is white, deep, and slightly furry.
Edible uses: You can add these blooms to salads, smoothie bowls, granola parfaits. You can also candy them or make them into jelly or jam. Additionally, you can forage the leaves to make tea.
Health info: Wild violets are high in vitamins A and C. They have been traditionally used for sore throats and to ease swollen lymph nodes. They are also said to help rheumatic issues and skin issues like eczema.
Foraging for your own wild food is a rewarding process that requires the utmost care and attention. Don’t go wandering into the woods and pulling on this and picking up that. Know what you’re looking for and how to properly identify it before touching. If you’re unsure about what you’ve found, leave it well alone. Ask online forums and community experts for help or take a local foraging class.
When you do find what you’re looking for, have an understanding of sustainable foraging. Don’t dig up plant roots or transplant from one area to another. Don’t harvest a plant in full. Instead, take a little and spread the harvest across many plants. Give the plants time to replenish. Be respectful of the free food so it remains for many years to come.