Across old Europe country cooks waited eagerly each spring for the first wild greens to emerge in the countryside. Served in fresh salads or cooked up into delicious pies and sautéed dishes, these greens were consumed to revitalize the body after winter. Today we regard these beneficial plants as ‘weeds’ and work tirelessly to eradicate their existence.
And that’s why the ultimate in garden up-cycling is giving the lowly weed a spot in your garden to flourish and thrive. Because it turns out that common weeds (springing up in your garden right now) like dandelion, chickweed, cleaver, curly dock—to name but a few—are verifiable super-foods, containing waaay more anti-oxidants, vitamins, omega acids etc. than any of the domesticated greens sold in our supermarkets.
Weeds are deep divers and feeders so they contain minerals and trace elements not available in the over domesticated topsoils of our gardens and farmland. And in a time when nearly all our food is grown in depleted industrial soils and natural and organic foods cost a literal fortune—should we really continue to dig these plants up or worse, spray them with toxic chemicals? Today we pay top dollar for pricey greens to add to our smoothies, yet the freshest, organic, most nutrient rich greens are growing freely in our own backyards.
Plus, they’re delicious! The world’s top restaurants currently give wild edibles (weeds) a starring place on their menus and you can easily prepare them in tasty dishes at home. It can be as simple as adding a little miner’s lettuce, chickweed and sorrel to your salad or baking spring nettle (instead of spinach) into your spanakopita. And whether you like your chard or kale braised or steamed—why not toss in some wild garlic or spicy mustard cress for enlivening flavour?
Most of these greens grow abundantly in our front and backyards and learning to identify and prepare them is easy. There are many resources online and books abound in the public library. Of course, never consume anything unless you’re absolutely sure what it is. But having said that, rest easy—the majority of common backyard weeds are edible.
And let’s not forget that weeds can actually help your garden thrive. Their roots help to break up hard-packed ground allowing domesticated plants nearby to stretch their roots and feed deeply. They also allow moisture from underground water to flow upward helping less hardy plants withstand drought better than they could alone.
Weeds also serve to drive away bad insects and attract good insects. Leaving a few spots for milkweeds, dandelion and goldenrod in your garden will help to repel pests like wireworms and armyworms. And keeping a small patch of lamb’s quarters several yards away from your garden plot will attract leafminers and Japanese beetles away.
Upcycling is taking an item that is no longer needed or wanted and giving it new life as something either creative or useful. By “upcycling” our weeds we turn something discarded and destroyed as “noxious” into a delicious and vital source of nourishment for ourselves and our families. So nurture your dandelion and chickweed and give them an honoured space of their own.