Eat your weeds

Laboring on WWI (Weeds, Wildflowers, and Invasives), I was reunited with the work of Euell Gibbons, who (50 years ago) served as a cheerleader for eating foods from nature, rather than agriculture. Eat your weeds!

From Wikipedia:

Euell Theophilus Gibbons (September 8, 1911 – December 29, 1975) was an outdoorsman and proponent of natural diets during the 1960s.

… [He turned a novel-in-progress into a] book on wild food. Capitalizing on the growing return-to-nature movement in 1962, the resulting work, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, became an instant success. From the cover blurb:

A delightful book on the recognition, gathering, preparation and use of the natural health foods that grow wild all about us. The lore here can turn every field, forest, swamp, vacant lot and roadside into a health-food market with free merchandise.

Gibbons then produced the cookbooks Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop in 1964 and Stalking the Healthful Herbs in 1966.

… His favorite recommendations included lamb’s quarters, rose hips, young dandelion shoots, stinging nettle and cattails. He often pointed out that gardeners threw away the more tasty and healthy crop when they pulled such weeds as purslane and amaranth out from among their spinach plants.

The Wikipedia piece draws from a charming piece by John McPhee, “A Forager”, in A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968), pp. 65-118. Originally published in The New Yorker, April 6, 1968 (pp. 45-104), this informative profile of Gibbons recounts the two men’s week-long November camping trip, made without aid of fishing rod or shotgun, subsisting on foodstuffs gathered along their route in central Pennsylvania.

On to the wild foods mentioned above: lamb’s quarters, rose hips, dandelion shoots, stringing nettles, and cattails. Several of them are common, unwelcome, weeds, and several are invasives (note: cultivated roses are everywhere, and unthreatening, but wild roses can be rampant pest plants).

Lamb’s quarters. (Or lambsquarters, lamb’s quarter, etc.) Edible species of goosefoot or pigweed. From Wikipedia:

Chenopodium is a genus of numerous species of perennial or annual herbaceous flowering plants known as the goosefoots, which occur almost anywhere in the world. It is placed in the family Amaranthaceae

The genus Chenopodium contains several plants of minor to moderate importance as food crops as leaf vegetables – used like the closely related spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and similar plants called quelite in Mexico – and pseudocereals. These include white goosefoot (C. album), kañiwa (C. pallidicaule) and quinoa (C. quinoa) … goosefoots have a history of culinary use dating back to 4000 BC or earlier


C. berlandieri, the pitseed goosefoot, is a weed of waste places all over North America, but was used by prehistoric Native Americans as a food source

On the family:

The Amaranthaceae, the Amaranth family, represent the most species-rich lineage within the flowering plant order of Caryophyllales. Now including the former goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), the extended family contains approximately 180 genera and 2,500 species.

… Some species, such as spinach (Spinacia oleracea) or forms of beet (Beta vulgaris) (beetroot, chard), are used as vegetables. Forms of Beta vulgaris include fodder beet (Mangelwurzel) and sugar beet. The seeds of Amaranthus, lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) and kañiwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) are edible and are used as pseudocereals. (Wikipedia link)

Rose hips make a tea that’s rich in vitamin C (and the wild dog rose is sometimes grown as a source for them):


Dandelion shoots. As I recently wrote,

dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) — these plants are quadruple-threat invasives, spreading their tiny seeds on the wind, growing very fast, tolerating drought, and suppressing the growth of surrounding plants

Still, they’re pretty, and their leaves are edible, in fact, tasty when young. A drawing of the plant showing several stages in its growth:


Now, a flower and a seedhead, close-up, so you can appreciate them as wonders of nature:



My Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother went a-gathering dandelion shoots in the spring, often with my help, and then served them in “wilted dandelion salad”, with a hot dressing of crumbled bacon and curdled milk. She never wrote this (or any) recipe down, nor did she show anyone how she made the dish — and though I’ve found lots of recipes for wilted-greens salad with a hot vinegary dressing, none of them looks quite like Grandma Sue’s. (Sue died 50 years ago.)

(Wilted-greens salads can be made with any of the bitter greens listed above, or several together — after the brief springtime dandelion season, Sue used curly endive — or with other greens, like spinach, sorrel, or watercress.)

From Wikipedia:

Taraxacum … is a large genus of flowering plants in the family Asteraceae and consists of species commonly known as dandelion. They are native to Eurasia and North America, and two species, T. officinale and T. erythrospermum, are found as commonplace wild flowers worldwide. Both species are edible in their entirety. The common name dandelion (… from French dent-de-lion, meaning “lion’s tooth”) is given to members of the genus. Like other members of the Asteraceae family, they have very small flowers collected together into a composite flower head.

Stinging nettles. Urtica dioica:


The leaves are much like the leaves of various plants in the mint family, including mint itself and the lamiums (or deadnettles!), so people walking in the wild are easily stung by the plant.

From Wikipedia:

Urtica is a genus of flowering plants in the family Urticaceae. Many species have stinging hairs and may be called nettles or stinging nettles, although the latter name applies particularly to Urtica dioica.

Urtica species grow as annuals or perennial herbaceous plants, rarely shrubs. … The green parts have stinging hairs. [The generic name is related to the Latin verb urere ‘to burn’.]

… Much historical evidence of use of Urtica species (or nettles in general) in medicine, folk remedies, cooking and fibre production relates to one species – Urtica dioica

On the family, from Wikipedia:

Urticaceae …, the nettle family, is a family of flowering plants. The family name comes from the genus Urtica. Urticaceae includes a number of well-known and useful plants, including the nettles, ramie (Boehmeria nivea), māmaki (Pipturus albidus), and ajlai (Debregeasia saeneb).

Cattails. By the waterside, Typha latifolia:


From Wikipedia:

Typha [the name for the cattail in Ancient Greek] … is a genus of about 30 species of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the family Typhaceae.

… These plants have many common names. They may be known in British English as bulrush, or reedmace, in American English as cattail, catninetail, punks, or corn dog grass, in Australia as cumbungi or bulrush, in Canada as bulrush or cattail, and in New Zealand as raupō.

The rhizomes are edible. Evidence of preserved starch grains on grinding stones suggests they were eaten in Europe 30,000 years ago.

… Although Typha are native wetland plants, they can be aggressive in their competition with other native species. They have been problematic in many regions in North America, from the Great Lakes to the Everglades.

More invasiveness.

Typha is the type genus for the family, Typhaceae. According to Wikipedia, until recently Typha was the only genus in the family; a second genus was added in 2009.

Plant families. Three more plant families in this posting: Amaranthaceae, Urticaceae, Typhaceae. New total: 31.

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